To Facebook, or not

10 Feb

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Despite my enormous prejudice against any advertising that includes Facebook and marketing in the same sentence, occasionally I scan the internet to see if anyone has cracked the uncrackable and genuinely used this hugely popular website to boost sales.

With a billion users and now over ten years to perfect their pitch, if anyone can use social media to win big, it should be Facebook. And, as creative director of an agency handling some brands that have yet to become household names, I wanted to know how Facebook might help me. So I hit Google and found this blog from Hubspot, listing nine notable success stories.

My heart sank when I read the first case study: Nike. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like very much what Nike are doing on Facebook. Their page, like most of the other pages selected by the Hubspot blog, is run like a magazine. It is filled with a wealth of content and, being Nike, they have fingers in many sporting and lifestyle pies and so have a huge amount that they can talk about. No doubt they have employed writers and journalists to compile and collate. It is professional. This isn’t a page where, every other day, the client asks its followers what their favourite colour / day of the week / burger combo might be.

So, what exactly is the problem? Well, the problem is that this is Nike. A multi-national sport and leisure brand that has existed for over 40 years. A brand that leapt forwards the moment in 1988 when Dan Weiden penned those three immortal words: ‘Just do it.’ Facebook didn’t make Nike, nor did it make Microsoft, Universal Pictures or Taco Bell – other contenders on Hubspot’s list.

In fact, the learning from this list that is intended to inspire clients to truly embrace Facebook as a viable marketing tool, is that in order for Facebook to work for you, you need to already be famous. And while this is great news for software giants and fast food chains, how does it help a Japanese power tool brand that few people outside of Japan have heard of and which is thinking of setting up a Facebook page?

The message is that, if you haven’t made it using the conventional marketing tools of TV, outdoor, press, radio and PR or, in other words, if you’re not already a household name, Facebook doesn’t have much to offer you. If it did, we would be bombarded with the stories of brands which went from zero to premium shelf space in Tesco’s using only their Facebook marketing.

We can argue too over whether brands should bother with Facebook pages at all – I think they should. The bigger question is why they don’t invest the resource to make them as interesting as Nike’s. Too often, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are seen as a necessary evil – an add-on that agencies charge money for, which no one attaches any proper creative resource to and which transmit information rather than engage with fans of the brand.

Ultimately, social media was designed for people. Facebook originally existed to rate hot girls. It was never built to sell anything. Now that Facebook is well into its second decade, it’s time for advertisers to think clearly before filling up yet more server farms in Iowa with pages that simply tick boxes but don’t sell any.

[this blog also appears at noahlondon.com]

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