Can Facebook retain its appeal for marketers?

Experts debate over the future viability of Facebook marketing as more social media channels proliferate

Digitally agile marketers are hungrier than ever to connect with customers on social. And with a profit of over $US1 billion last quarter and over 1.59 billion users worldwide, Facebook remains an attractive and lucrative marketing tool.

But will the social media giant continue to lead the way as the social platform of choice? Branding, social media and marketing experts debate whether Facebook can continue to reign supreme, or whether new and rising social media players will take over.

“In recent times, Facebook hasn’t done itself any favours,” claims chief strategy officer for marketing agency Naked Communications, Brett Rolfe. “Not that long ago, marketers were excited by radically open capabilities, tightly integrated apps, effective organic reach, and an open ‘frontier’ sense of opportunity. As it has become more popular, more commercial and more structured, its inherent appeal – particularly for marketers looking to challenge convention – has waned.”

According to Rolfe, marketers are increasingly exploring social channels beyond Facebook, and as the first mover and the dominant player in the space, he says this is to be expected.

“Other channels are beginning to have sufficient scale to make them useful, particularly with specific audiences,” he says. “They also offer new opportunities through novel functionality. This doesn’t mean Facebook is dead in the water by any stretch of the imagination, but as the market matures they will need to learn how to survive within a more competitive landscape.”

Managing director of Rakuten Marketing’s Australian managing director, Anthony Capano, notes that with Instagram and Pinterest now offering advertising opportunities for marketers, social ad budgets are shifting to take advantage of new platforms.

“But this doesn’t necessarily mean that Facebook is losing its appeal or is any less effective,” he says. “It’s natural marketers will continue to test various platforms in order to see what new or improved opportunities are available. However, we must also remember that Facebook is a tried and tested channel and ad spend is expected to continue to grow.”

With over five billion Facebook posts made each second, Capano says it’s becoming increasingly difficult for advertisers to generate positive results through the platform based purely on organic content.

“My first suggestion is to implement tailored ad strategies that create compelling and relevant experiences in order to generate positive ROI and a successful campaign,” he says. “Consider leveraging a variety of ad types such as personalised dynamic product ads, video ads, multi-product ads and link ads.

“Secondly, I can’t stress enough the importance of utilising available data. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram host a vast amount of information about their users, which advertisers can leverage to accurately target consumers. Based on likes, interests and user actions, advertisers have the ability to serve useful and relevant ads to customers.”

Leveraging Facebook’s new marketing functionalities

Despite these concerns, PoweredLocal CEO, Michael Jankie, believes Facebook marketing is more powerful than ever and here to stay. The Wi-Fi provider’s leader notes the ‘check-in’ functionality, which is a valuable yet immeasurable form of advertising.

“It shows up in the news feed, it’s personal, it’s trustworthy, it’s a referral,” he says. “This means a shift back to bricks-and-mortar for advertising-led sales. This also means that mum and dad businesses, cafes and gyms can embrace local marketing at a very low cost.

“In fact, it matters less and less what a website looks like, or how often you post on a Facebook page, because less and less consumers actually look. What matters is getting users to share or check-in so it shows up on a newsfeed.”

According to Jankie, if the shift in Facebook Australia’s account management procedures is anything to go by, companies are actually spending more and more on its social marketing functions in Australia than ever before.

“Even small accounts have shifted from $1k to $10k a month to now cap out at $100k a month,” he claims. “The honeymoon era of advertising is over for larger companies, but it’s the age of social media enlightenment for SMBs. I think the buyers and sellers community groups and general community groups on Facebook are a goldmine.

“It’s much harder for corporates to get into, but being able to quickly respond to requests for recommendations or sneak in a self-promotion to a significant captive audience who are seeing this info on their timeline is invaluable for marketers. We’ve even started recruiting this way.”

Tactical PR director, Hannah Moreno, says increased functionality of the social media platform will continue to keep Facebook at the forefront of marketer’s social strategies.

Facebook Instant Articles will be made available to any publisher, large or small in April this year,” she says. “It allows publishers to post stories directly to Facebook, which are more interactive, faster to load, and already optimised for mobile. While it’s only available to certain larger media outlets at the moment, this will change in April when any publisher, large or small, will be able to sign up.

“At that point, organisations will be able to upload their own content, post their own ads and keep the revenue, track readership in real-time, and customise articles according to their own branding guidelines.”

Moreno claims a number of marketers will be looking forward to jumping onto this new feature and experiment with its greater interactivity, faster loading times, and instant mobile optimisation.

“This is likely to increase the need for marketers to create or outsource engaging, relevant, and on-message content, which could in turn drive the need for an even greater level of integration between marketing and communications or public relations functions,” she adds.

But with Facebook becoming ever more crowded with marketers fighting for brand visibility and organic reach, Moreno warns it will only be those who share quality content of relevance and interest to their target demographics who will achieve results from this tactic.

“It is true that the highly personal nature of Facebook has rendered it a challenge for marketers wishing to infiltrate user’s social spheres with their corporate content,” she says. “However, Facebook has sought to overcome this by introducing two new marketing-friendly features: Facebook Instant Articles, and Facebook Live.”

The wider social ecosystem

CMO of beauty subscription service bellabox, Stephanie Michel, says while Facebook has great functionalities to bring new opportunities to brands, focusing too much on its capabilities means potentially missing out on key influencers across other platforms.

“On the bright side, Facebook constantly develops tools and options to improve direct and immediate ROI,” she says. “However, brands could be missing out on the influencers’ trend where other platforms like Instagram, Vine, Snapchat and YouTube are way much stronger and where brands can get more integrated advocacy from influential profiles.”

Michel says bellabox sees Facebook as a strong ROI channel, but actually prefers investing its budget in other platforms when it comes to more branding and aspirational campaigns.

“That said, the first thing to do is to define your KPIs clearly,” she continues. “Instagram won't deliver the same marketing value – not yet – than Facebook and you should still keep that in mind. Moving forward, we aim to continue to partner even more with other brands to build engaging campaigns.”

In the short term, VP of performance marketing for creative printing service Redbubble, Seth Berman, expects Facebook and Instagram will continue to dominate. At the same time, Snapchat is quickly emerging as a preferred social media channel for teens and Berman predicts it will become mainstream in 2017.

“For advertising, Facebook is still far ahead of any other social media channel,” he says. “Advertisers can now run the same ads on Instagram as they are running on Facebook with the click of a checkbox, and Instagram will continue to gain in importance.”

For Berman, Facebook’s recently introduced new targeting capabilities for reaching users organically means it's still a place to build a brand and reach a wide audience.

“Facebook is not losing its marketing appeal at all,” he says. “While Snapchat is slowly developing advertising capabilities, and marketers are starting to experiment with both unpaid and paid approaches there, it still has a while to go before it is a channel that can drive the type of results that Facebook does.

“Twitter and Pinterest are useful in their own ways, but neither has particularly effective advertising capabilities.”

At Redbubble, Berman says the brand continuously experiments to find the types of content that works for each channel.

“It varies by channel, and even varies within channels over time,” he says. “You need to develop social-first campaigns that are authentic and unique to your brand.

“For example, Redbubble recently ran an Instagram campaign called Redbubble Art Party where our Instagram followers submitted photos of things they love, and Redbubble artists interpreted them as original works of art. But it’s equally important to focus on paid social efforts on Facebook, and closely track new ad formats and targeting capabilities.”

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia, or check us out on Google+: google.com/+CmoAu

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