Forrester recently did a presentation on Facebook marketing, i.e., an argument for social ads. Forrester’s research is useful. Its insights can be a bit suspect though. The recent Facebook presentation is the red-headed stepchild I’ll be picking on today; an argument for a marketing strategy that felt more like an advertisement for Facebook.So the deck started off making an argument for “Why Facebook?” Lots of traffic, good on-site metrics, juicy audience demographics, supposed to eclipse MySpace in 2009. Great. Whatever. You want a hooker, go to a Reno. We get it. (Actually I was surprised to see Friendster traffic increase 65%. I don’t know if it refers to the past year or if it’s a future projection, but I guess that’s where all the eons.com ex-pats have been migrating to.) We marketers make this argument all the time, because it’s the most obvious one, and because it requires the least amount of lying and number fudging on our part.Then it went into explaining how communities inspired trust, including a slide that highlighted the top 10 activities on Facebook, none of which included shopping or anything remotely money-related. This has apparently inspired trust, and resulted in us placing greater trust in our social circle, than we do in advertisements. I assume this is because we appreciate our friends not randomly chiming in with flashing banners and 30 second ad spots during our conversations.Then Forrester mentions that there’s scads of user and network data that we never had access to before. Except that anything that’s important, Google, Yahoo, Amazon and Microsoft already do have access to, not to mention all the financial institutions that are selling the information that actually matters, like how much you’re spending, what you’re buying and the fact that you’re about to do a big faceplant on your 3rd mortgage. But anyway, for the sci-fi geek chick Claremont grad, have we got an offer for you. We know you’re a big Star Trek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Battlestar Galactica fan, so we can offer up cool, relevant ads like um, the latest ST, BtVS and BG DVDs. It’s so relevant! (Not so relevant for the married guy receiving dating ads though.)Then Forrester goes into the “bevy” of marketing opportunities on Facebook, which really reads more like a marketing spiel from the LinkExchange banner ad days. But this includes:
- Data on profiles and networks (which is great for trivia, but mostly useless in reality)
- Facebook pages and sponsored groups (which became popular on MySpace, but is just as useless today as it was before)
- A variety of ads (banner, contextual, social), which are based on the CPM model which has proven its ineffectiveness since the AOL/Compuserve/Prodigy triumvirate days.
- “Applications,” which as far as I’ve seen, seem to do a good job of attracting VC money, but do a poor job of actually building a sustainable, profitable business.
To cut a long story short, then the presentation went into showing off a variety of crap with marketized names. Like how the Facebook inbox is the new hipper e-mail, except it sucks way more and is liking riding a bike with your shoelaces tied together. I guess all this was supposed to show how innovative Facebook has become, when in actuality, it just reminds me how close Facebook is becoming to MySpace.Then there was a couple case studies. The failure was Wal-Mart, which if you’re familiar with some of their other web promotions, shouldn’t come as a surprise. On one hand, they may be web 2.0 failures, on the other hand, they have a $200 billion market cap and make more revenue than any other company in the world. I’m sure they’ll take that trade-off. Interestingly, the successful case study was Apple. I’d argue Apple is never fair to use as a case study, because their user base is so incredibly, illogically fanatic, that everything they do is a huge success or a complete failure. Either way, the numbers (and probably the returns) weren’t that impressive.About 3/4 of the way through, Forrester finally gets to the challenges. Which read sort of like challenges that I’d make up in a strategy deck, e.g., program may be too successful, super quick growth could cause infrastructure difficulties, success inspires jealousy, etc., rosy challenges like that. But they never mention what I’d consider the most important challenge:The complete uselessness of a “social” ad. At some point, I’d like to know what the value of a social ad is to a normal person.Nobody ever mentions this. Facebook’s marketing platform only exists, because at some point they have to start turning a profit (which apparently isn’t going to start next year) to appease their investors. So they started shoehorning ads into the Facebook user experience, because you know, this is web 2.0, and advertising is the only way to make money (which really is fine by me, since at some point, those dollars will get back to what I do), hoping that they’d strike it rich following the Google model. Except they forgot that for an ad to be effective it has to be:
- Targeted, which you could argue that Facebook allows you to be super-targeted (that’s their shtick). Except that most of the “advanced targeting” information is either done better in other ad systems, so broad it’s redundant, or (ironically) so granular it’s useless. Plus, FB doesn’t have a back-end system tying all those various details together like say an Amazon can. And unlike Amazon, none of those interests are tied to things that matter – like purchases. So the fact that I chose not to purchase “V for Vendetta” on Amazon.com, after viewing the product page for 5 minutes, means a heckuva lot more than having “V for Vendetta” in my favorite movies list.
- Contextually relevant, which will be the eternal uphill battle for social ads. Because when is the right time to butt into a friendly conversation with a “relevant” ad? How bout never (unless you want to end up like this). It’s like when you’re walking down the street talking to your friend, and you see your ex standing out on the sidewalk, wearing a double-sided sign, handing out flyers in front of Radio Shack, and you’re so embarrassed, you avert your eyes and quickly hustle to cross the street, to take the way-out-of-way dirty alleyway route, just to avoid that whole interaction. Why would we believe that people online would respond any differently?
So now Facebook’s once clean, totally functional interface has been plastered with ads that are a step classier than the stuff that runs on warez sites. And they’re stuck trying to sell a broken ad model to advertisers, by occasionally selling out their user base. On the plus side, it’s relatively cheap, and probably not any less effective than a Super Bowl ad. On the downside, that seems to defeat the purpose of the value of an Internet ad.Besides, social ads already exist. Amazon’s recommendation system is more targeted, relevant and useful than any social ad that Facebook will ever serve up. To be honest, if there’s ever an SNS that marries the mundane with the money effectively, I’d put my bets on Amazon running it.It feels like the goal of social ads is to eventually leverage your best friends by turning them all into micro-marketers. It’s like Zombies and Werewolves, only with ad jingles and kooky characters. It’s a marketing wet dream I guess. But where’s the benefit for the normal people? If I want to make a recommendation to a friend, I’ll personally make that recommendation. If I want to be part of a pyramid scheme, I’ll join scientology.