Diverged traffic signals split in role of the web

New research into web traffic shows marketers split over whether to send consumers to the brand website or Facebook page. Michael Barnett looks at which channel gets the best results and how f-commerce could force a change of direction.


Most brands now have Facebook pages, but marketers are still not agreed on how best to use the social network in their communications with consumers. As a result, some are attracting far more Facebook traffic than others, according to a report by research agency Compete shown exclusively to Marketing Week.

The study compares the number of unique visitors to a brand’s Facebook page with those going to its website, using data taken from the browsing habits of 200,000 people in th UK between May and July 2011. Of the four sectors analysed, FMCG brands bring by far the highest percentage of their overall web traffic to their Facebook pages, at 35.7% on average. Brands in the other three sectors travel, retail and telecoms trail with 3.3%, 0.8% and 0.4% respectively.

Few FMCG brands have transactional websites, so people are less inclined to visit the company website and go to the Facebook page instead. As a result, these brands generally try to get people to go to the social network and click their ’like’ buttons.

Compete client services director John Thekanady says there are usually specific reasons why people visit FMCG brand websites: “People do go there to look at particular products. If they are students they might be looking to do research, or they could be jobseekers or investors. But in a lot of cases, FMCG brand advertising campaigns are directing people to their Facebook pages.”


Compete’s data focuses on unique visitors as opposed to Facebook likes because a user liking a page is no guarantee they will return, Thekanady argues. For example, Skittles has around 19 million likes on Facebook while Coca-Cola has more than 34 million, but Skittles gets more unique visitors to its Facebook page. The proportion of Skittles’ UK traffic going to Facebook is also the highest of any brand in the study, at 97.3%, compared with 45.9% of Coca-Cola’s.

These figures suggest that Skittles has been more successful than Coca-Cola at convincing those users to keep returning to its Facebook page and engaging with the brand, although there is no way of determining how many likes for each brand came from UK Facebook users.

After Skittles, Heinz tomato ketchup has the next-highest proportion of its traffic going to its Facebook page, at 95%. There is then a big drop to Gillette, at 57.4%. Still, nine out of the 12 FMCG brands in the study get a higher proportion of their traffic on Facebook than the highest-scoring brands in retail, travel or telecoms.

FMCG brands appear to generate most of this traffic as a result of their content strategy. Thekanady says: “In a lot of cases these brands offer bespoke content such as videos or services that users get to once they have liked the page.”

Skittles posts status updates once a day, hosts video content and polls, and in November 2010 ran a campaign where some of its fans allowed it to update their statuses. And Heinz sold the first 2,500 bottles of its new ketchup with balsamic vinegar on its Facebook page. It currently offers vouchers of up to 50p off bottles of its chilli ketchup to visitors that like the page.


By contrast, McDonald’s, categorised as FMCG by the report, gets a meagre 0.02% of its UK traffic on Facebook. This perhaps points to the relatively low importance it places on the social network in its UK marketing strategy. This is borne out by the fact the McDonald’s UK Facebook page has fewer than 5,000 likes, compared with over 10 million on the US Facebook page.

The top-scoring brands in the other categories are Sainsbury’s in retail (3.5%), Expedia in travel (1.8%) and Skype (0.9%) in telecoms. Again, Sainsbury’s seems to benefit from a focus on original content, such as recipes.

Brands in sectors other than FMCG tend to get far lower proportions of their traffic on Facebook, however. Only five out of 34 brands analysed in retail, travel and telecoms get more than 1% of their unique visitors on Facebook, as opposed to their websites. This is partly because of ecommerce offerings on these websites.

In the case of Argos, for example, the company claims to have the third-most visited UK retail website, after Amazon and eBay, with 400 million visits annually. According to Compete’s research, 0.07% of Argos’s unique visitors go to Facebook, highlighting the far greater importance of Argos.co.uk’s transactional function.

Yet even for brands such as these, Thekanady predicts that Facebook pages will grow in importance as brands increasingly introduce transactional, or ’f-commerce’, functions. He gives the example of Amazon, which, out of all the retailers in the study, currently gets the lowest proportion of its traffic on Facebook at 0.02%.

“At the moment you can do a very limited amount of research, but at a very early stage you are directed straight to the Amazon website. I know it is looking to change that because Facebook gets such a massive following. It is easier for something to go viral more quickly through Facebook than through the Amazon website.”

F-commerce is still in its infancy in the UK. Clothing brands ASOS and Lyle & Scott are among the very few that operate permanent, fully transactional stores entirely within Facebook. F-commerce is far more established in the US, where JC Penney, Starbucks and several Procter & Gamble brands including the American arm of Gillette have Facebook stores. Gillette UK brand manager Jared Regan suggests that P&G’s activity in this area is mostly restricted to a “test-and-learn” approach, however (see Frontline, below).


Anticipating the rise of f-commerce, Facebook is now focusing on persuading brands to look beyond the like as a measure of success for social media marketing. Though online ticketing service Eventbrite has calculated each piece of its content shared on Facebook is worth $2.52 in sales, few brands have emulated it in linking users’ social networking activity to revenue figures for the business. Thekanady says that likes are a “limited indicator” of consumers’ attitudes towards a brand, and of their intentions to buy.

“The like does give you an idea that people are favourable towards you, but it is not giving you any hard and fast indicators of how much interaction there is. When a Facebook user likes something, they get the feed on their wall, but will rarely go back to the page and look at what updates there are and what other content has been put there.”

Yet Thekanady adds that the like button will not become obsolete, even if f-commerce really takes off. A brand can still compare the number of likes with the number of sales, and likes still offer the ability to spread messages among users and their friends.

Those brands that already have a head start in attracting traffic to their Facebook pages with compelling content are likely to benefit when rolling out f-commerce stores, Thekanady argues. But they also have much to prove if they are to overcome some high-profile sceptics. Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of advertising group WPP, warned the Royal Television Society Cambridge Convention earlier this month that brands will run into trouble if they try to interrupt users’ personal interactions on social networks with commercial messages.

“I have some fundamental doubts about the ability to monetise social platforms,” he said. With f-commerce, marketers will have perhaps their best opportunity to test those doubts.

The frontline


Matt Hill, Chief commercial officer, Heinz UK

Social media provides a platform for brand fans to engage with the brand and with each other, and provides brand owners with a valuable source of insight and engagement. It can be the ’turbo’ button for word of mouth, but it can also be a very public platform for those who want to challenge the brand.

Our strategy has been to focus on quality not quantity of brand fans. I could go out tomorrow and run a promotion to incentivise a million people to like the brand, but what would I have then? A million people who liked the incentive, but may or may not like the brand. By focusing on true brand fans we are creating a high-quality fanbase as a source of insight and advocacy, and we are rewarding them by giving them preferential treatment.

We give our brand fans information and new products ahead of general release. In March, we were the first food brand to sell products on Facebook with the launch of our limited edition ketchup with balsamic vinegar. We offered it to our fans exclusively for a month before it was available in stores. We sold 1,200 products on the first day, and the media PR generated was worth well over £1m.

Social media is still very much an art, not a science. I am prioritising learning over return on investment in the short term. There are obvious benefits of having consumers spread brand messages and when we get it right the value is disproportionate.


Jared Regan, Brand manager, Gillette UK

I am not surprised by the results of this research. The approach we take on Facebook centres on providing consumers the opportunity to have a two-way conversation with the brand. If the consumer chooses to visit us on the Facebook page rather than our website, that tells us where our efforts should be focused.

Our Facebook page is all about engagement. We don’t target specific ’likes’ or numbers. We have various tracking systems in place, such as responses to posts, and we use these statistics to provide content that is useful.

We have daily content but we also provide periodical activity such as ’the world’s biggest shave’, which involved [tennis player] Roger Federer around the time of Wimbledon. We’ve also had [rugby player] Jonny Wilkinson in a live Q&A session. People could post questions and he would respond on the spot. It gives our consumers a unique experience and the chance to have contact with someone who resonates with them.

We do not have any plans to use f-commerce in the UK. [Parent company] Procter & Gamble is looking into this and a number of brands have done some test-and-learn activity but it is not an objective of ours at the moment. To us, the benefit of having consumers on the site interacting with the brand and engaging with our content is that it puts them in the position to drive advocacy for the brand.


Rich Kemp, Social media manager, LateRooms

We have around 22,000 Facebook fans and we have tools that monitor the amount of messages that are incoming. We can then see which users are popping up repeatedly and know who our brand advocates are on Facebook. We also monitor traffic to the site and how many bookings we are taking. There are a lot of metrics we keep a close eye on.

The number one goal of our Facebook page at the moment is user engagement. We reward our followers with competitions and giveaways, but we feel it is the personal advocacy that really helps. Obviously, the reason we are on Facebook is to increase hotel bookings, but we feel that continuously plugging hotel deals through our status updates might not be the best strategy for Facebook.

We have recently launched the LateRooms Concierge. This is an interactive service designed to answer incoming hotel requests. Customers post a message on our Facebook wall with their desired location, dates and budget. Then we will reply to those requests with hotel options. We feel this indirect approach is more effective than us continually telling them which hotels we think they want. We are turning about a third of those requests into bookings.

Facebook is a social platform, so trying to input too much commercially might not work. However, an f-commerce application that offers something different from what the website or mobile site provides, including a social element to the booking process, is something users cannot get elsewhere and it harnesses the social benefits of Facebook.





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