Social marketing is a challenge for everyone especially for those just getting started. There are many issues that impact a marketer’s ability to achieve good results. Some of the issues are caused by the social sites themselves. When do these issues impact a social site’s ability to achieve its business goals?
Five years ago if you stated that Proctor and Gamble would drop all forms of traditional marketing to focus on social media for its soap operas people would have thought you were crazy. That was the year that Facebook announced business pages. Twitter was only a year old then.
Now of course social marketing is considered mandatory and by many companies crucial to their success. Facebook claims 845 million active users at the end of December 2011 and is the dominant social channel. Users spent more than 10.5 billion minutes on Facebook in January and that doesn’t include mobile use. On March 21, 2012, Twitter celebrated its sixth birthday while also announcing that it has 140 million users and sees 340 million tweets per day.
While social marketing can achieve excellent results it has a steep learning curve if you plan on getting the most out of it. Add to this the fact that the social sites are a moving target for features and interface layouts and it makes it tough for busy people to keep up.
The Timeline changes to the Facebook interface for business pages are not very popular with Facebook marketers because it is difficult to find fan interaction with the company’s posts. Also independent studies have shown that since late last year there has been a considerable decline in company posts showing up on fan newsfeeds. Facebook may have been trying to reduce business posts in a person’s newsfeed. But if you write a custom app, or buy a premium ad, your posts will show up in the newsfeed.
Now instead of one feed we have two with the addition of the real time ticker. And we continue to see more sponsored story ads and social graph apps in these feeds every day. I personally got tired of seeing a notification every time one of my friends read an article associated with a social graph app or listened to a song using Spotify. This sure doesn’t look like my personal social environment anymore!
Remember when business pages had tabs? User interaction was pretty healthy with these tabs because they were front and center in the interface. When tabs were relegated to tiny icons and links under the profile picture, interaction was drastically reduced making it harder for businesses to gain visibility with these tabs. Some users to this day don’t even know these were links to other sections of the Facebook page.
With the new Timeline layout tabs are front and center again yet you only have the ability to display three tabs (since the Photos tab cannot be moved). Marketers cannot set a default landing tab anymore (which was a great strategy for increasing Likes) and Facebook stated that calls to action for sales and Liking a page are prohibited in the Timeline cover photo.
One change that exemplifies the aggressive focus on revenue is the very recent change to Facebook ads. Facebook decided to reduce the image size and copy allowed for regular ads most likely so they can squeeze more into the same space. These ads were small to begin with and now marketers have to be extremely creative to get their message across with 90 characters or less.
Facebook is experimenting with “exit ads” where an ad is shown when you leave the site. While revenue of course has been the driving factor for some time now (which of course makes complete sense) they may be pushing the envelope for what is acceptable in a social environment.
Remember the multiple privacy issues Facebook has had to contend with and all of the backlash? While this seems to be under control now, the fact that some very large companies have stopped using ecommerce solutions on Facebook (because customers were not buying) shows some people still don’t trust Facebook in regards to their personal data. Facebook wisely made some drastic changes allowing secure browsing and enhanced privacy controls and big companies will come back but it is going to take some time.
Now of course progress is inevitable and many people like the Facebook changes. From a pure revenue strategy you can’t argue with the numbers: $3.1 billion in ad revenue in 2011, which is up 69% from 2010. But where does an aggressive revenue strategy hinder the ability of a social site to… well… be social? And where does the layout of the site stop looking like a fun place to hang out and more like a huge billboard with advertising everywhere?
Of course Facebook can afford to see how far they can go simply because the competition is just not there yet.
Google Plus came on quick and fast but now we are all waiting to see when the search engine giant will deliver a powerful channel for social communities. The search engine rankings are nice but there is really not much a marketer can do with Google Plus just yet other than push people there to connect. Now when you create a Google Account, you have to create a Gmail account, a Google Profile and you automatically join Google Plus. I have to join a social community to use Google business tools?
Now we come to the powerhouse of video sites: Google owned YouTube. You’d think that after spending $1.65 billion, Google would have made YouTube improvements a bigger priority. Anyone who has dealt with YouTube in the past few years knows how frustrating the interface could be! Thank goodness people like to share advice on the web! The coupling of Google and YouTube log in information has created hours of frustration for me and my clients.
Twitter has its own issues. The interface has changed a few times but nothing groundbreaking or as powerful as third party tools like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck to manage the communication. The spam and porn on Twitter can cause serious work for marketers. Anyone that manages a Twitter account understands all of the wasted time put in to un-following these accounts.
Another issue is the Amazon affiliate marketers. There are many posts on the web describing how to set up automatic RSS feeds to Twitter accounts in an attempt to push people to Amazon for affiliate revenue. Some of the posts say things like “be sure to make as many Twitter accounts as you can to increase reach”. This practice is simply out of control in the electronics and musical instrument markets where most of my clients are. I would estimate that some Twitter accounts have as much as 40% of their followers made up of these Twitter accounts. It completely skews the social data making it hard to understand your Twitter ROI
It would be great if Twitter would take a more aggressive approach to spam, porn and the out of control Amazon affiliate marketing programs. It would certainly make Twitter more powerful and useful for marketers
Competition drives improvement and you can bet we will see a wide variety of social alternatives in the future. Pinterest is worth keeping and eye on and is claiming participation close to that of Twitter now. The Pinterest strategy involves getting Facebook friends involved and it seems to have worked. “Pinning” images is catching on and seems to work well for many image based brands.
So where do things go from here? Developers of new social sites can certainly learn from the issues that have plagued the current players. If social sites want healthy brand participation then they need to allow brand page setups without coupling them to personal pages. This has been a real pain in the past. Employees would set up Facebook business pages then leave the company. Previously you couldn’t decouple the business page from the personal account.
Support documentation instead of just a blog would help as well as some ideas to generate business strategies. Regular webinars with Q & A sessions couldn’t hurt. Facebook is getting much better at providing documentation now. How about the ability to actually communicate with a real person if someone has high jacked your brand? Sites could have paid support accounts for premium service plans.
Website usability testing would improve interface designs especially among the third party page creation tools for Facebook. How about a real search engine embedded in your site? Facebook Search used to be horrible and now is getting much better. They recently hired some heavy hitters in search to improve it even more.
If you provide third party development make sure you have a vetting process. Many Facebook applications were broken or contained viruses until there was a qualification process. Make your platform easy to use. The old FBML platform was extremely complicated. Since Facebook has adopted a more traditional platform third party products have boomed.
If you have self serve ads then definitely provide webinars and extensive support along with an easy to use and monitor control panel. Many people don’t use Facebook ads because they just don’t know how to set them up and maintain them. The ad interface is less than stellar causing more confusion among novice users although it does continue to improve.
How about letting people know well in advance of major changes to the user interface? When tabs were removed last year it happened in real time while I was setting up several Facebook pages with no warning. Even with the announcements that Timeline for business pages was coming, I had to watch several webinars to obtain all the information about the changes.
Now of course it is easy to recommend these things from the outside looking in and with hindsight. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google Plus, Pinterest, LinkedIn and other community sites have been created by some very smart people and they have made some very smart decisions which is why they are surviving and growing. Google and Facebook have made serious revenues utilizing smart strategies. LinkedIn is THE place for business networking on the web.
I adamantly encourage utilizing strategic social marketing planning for most types of businesses. Social marketing can be fun as well as profitable when you do it correctly. You have to market where the people are and social is the place.
Hopefully the new sites that will crop up in the future will learn some lessons from the current leaders. Reducing complications for busy marketers will benefit everyone from the consumer to the social sites themselves. Providing support and recommendation based education will jump start participation. And who couldn’t use a little simplicity in this fast paced world we live in?
About Michael Newman
Michael Newman provides digital marketing educational services through Michael Newman Consulting, based in San Diego, California. His newsletter and blog provide interviews and helpful information on internet and social media marketing.
The good stuff
One of the most powerful things Facebook did for users was move to a traditional development platform and lose the difficult and complicated FBML platform behind. Now there are many options for Facebook applications and services.
Like all free enterprise models this has spawned some excellent offerings and also some services that are not ideal either in use, performance or support. I had one CEO get very upset with me because I wanted support on the weekend. This was a paid account and I had a contest stop working after my client spent many thousands of dollars on promotion. His response was: “we have families too.”
With a few of the Facebook services “social” is the farthest thing from their minds! No company phone number, no ability to reach them, deleting posts on Facebook, etc., are all standard practice at some of the Facebook service companies. There are some great services out there and I love them. But I do find it fascinating that some companies have a business model that goes against the entire philosophy of the platform they serve. They themselves don’t know how to communicate in the social environment.