Is Facebook failing marketers or are marketers failing Facebook?

Facebook has long been a divisive advertising medium and the blue touchpaper was lit once again last week after Forrester released a report which didn’t mince its words in claiming Facebook was “failing marketers” by “abandoning social marketing”.  

Facebook Marketing Page

Once opinions were thrashed out online over the methodology and data sample used in the study (395 executives), marketers were left debating whether Facebook is failing marketers or whether it is actually the marketing community failing Facebook.

In response to the “Why Facebook is Failing Marketers” report Facebook said it agreed “the promise of social media is still in process” but added the conclusions of the study were “at time illogical and at others irresponsible”.

The social network pointed to evidence such as the fact that it has more than 1 million active advertisers and “countless case studies” – such as a Cadbury Crème Egg campaign, which drove the same purchase consideration shift through Facebook as TV, for a third less – to demonstrate that “Facebook advertising works”. 

In response to the report, Jerry Daykin, European social media marketing manager at Crème Egg owner Mondelez International, said that particular campaign reached more than 15 million people, saw strong lifts in intent and sparked “wider and deeper” conversations with its customer base – all of which is “truly unique to Facebook”.

He adds: “The results continue to show promise and is informing our new EU-wide ‘storytelling at scale’ approach, and it was all possible because of the strong collaboration with Facebook and our agency partners.”

Brands failing to derive value from Facebook can be down to a lack of understanding on how consumers behave on the platform – and how brands fit in – according to Telefonica Europe digital and social media lead Paul Fabretti.

“Where Facebook has unquestionably succeeded is in providing a platform where well over a billion people can connect about the things that matter to them – and I think the loss of sight of this is one reason brands feel let down by the platform. They have listened to the ‘fish where the fish are’ once too often and have over-inflated expectations of what they can get out of the platform,” Fabretti says.

He admits that certain features – such as the fact that brand posts are only visible to an average of 16 per cent of their page’s audience, and apparently now closer to just 12 per cent – are “frustrating” but that is no more than the online equivalent of being in a shopping mall or high street.

He does think, however, that Facebook could do more to promote some of the features that help people hear more from brands.

Adam Kmiec, global head of digital marketing and social media at Campbell Soup Co. shares the view that some marketers can expect too much from Facebook, without also putting the effort and willingness to “rapidly test and learn” from their end.

In a post on his personal blog in response to the Forrester report, Kmiec writes: “Facebook isn’t ‘failing’ marketers but it’s possible those paneled have an unrealistic viewpoint of what Facebook can do for their organisations.

“The greatest tension in the ROI discussion always comes from what you expect your efforts to generate and what they actually generate. Before we point the finger at Facebook, or any other partner, we must first look inward and ask ourselves, did we give the organisation a fighting chance to succeed? If you expect a $50,000 Facebook fan acquisition test campaign to outperform a $10m TV campaign, I’d think Facebook was failing me too.

“Perhaps Facebook isn’t failing us, but we, as a marketing community, are failing Facebook.”

Frank Eliason, director of global social media at Citi, wrote on his LinkedIn page he was “surprised it has taken this long for Forrester to attack the performance of Facebook”.

He says the platform has evolved in ways that have made Facebook “less relevant for brands in the eyes of the consumer” – such as the shift to mobile which means users ”rarely drift outside of Newsfeed”, the decrease in user use of Facebook apps and Edgerank.

However, he too says brands must shoulder some of the blame for their dissatisfaction with Facebook.

He points to brands “struggling [to act] as publishers because they are too focused on themselves and their products” and social media being “over promised and under delivered” as among the reasons why marketers should look inward at their own organisations before blaming the tools they are using.

Nate Elliott, Forrester vice president and principal analyst, continues to stand behind his claim that “Facebook is failing marketers” and has also authored a follow-up blog post explaining the methodology behind his report and findings from the study in further detail.

He asserts that Facebook “focused on ads at the expense of focusing on marketing” and adds that Forrester hears an increasing amount of “consternation, confusion and disappointment” from marketers discussing the platform with the research group.

But Elliott says Facebook can improve by focusing on the initial promises it made around “social marketing” by leveraging its large “database of affinity” and by providing a first class service to all its 1 million advertisers, not just its top spenders, even around products that do not drive revenue.

He adds: “Facebook needs to provide better connections between companies and customers. Some people might say they are focusing on ways to make money and that businesses should do that first but we’ve always been impressed with the way Google, [for example], has worked with marketers even on products where they don’t make money, like SEO.

“So the platform adds value and markets look at Google as a place to go for results. At the same time in its evolution Google was collecting more money with a smaller base of users than Facebook has.”

Facebook as an advertising medium that has come a long way in the past few years, in which time it has made some mistakes and also made many attempts to learn from them as it bids to become the media owner of choice in the eyes of marketers. Even Elliott admits Facebook “is so much better than last year” for brands – although he caveats that by saying it is heading in the right direction but “is not getting there fast enough”.

The reactions to reports like this one from Forrester highlight that Facebook still has a long journey ahead if it is to become the apple of every CMO’s eye – but as with every other advertising medium, a mutual value exchange between the platform and the marketing community is crucial if either are to achieve success.

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