Thursday, May 17, 2012

Share this on Facebook

I was going to save this thoughtful critique in Forbes of Facebook's advertising model for The Spin Cycle, but given Facebook's massive IPO this afternoon, it seemed particularly pertinent.

Us PR/marketing types are still figuring out how to measure the impact of social media. Hell, some of us are still figuring out the best way to measure the impact of traditional media, so it's no surprise that there is fierce debate over the value of a "like" (which conventional wisdom now says is not terribly valuable) versus a "share" (which conventional wisdom now says is the coin of the realm):

Lazerow’s company helps “advertisers succeed on Facebook and other major social networks” and claims to have developed a way of measuring social KPIs, or key performance indicators. According to Lazerow, data from his clients show that “every share on Facebook generates an average of $2.10 in incremental sales.”

Really? It’s hard enough to get exact numbers on conventional key word campaigns that are aimed at driving the purchase of specific products, since other factors can contribute to a boost in sales. And Facebook shares aren’t necessarily product focused. Indeed, because content on a company’s Facebook page strives to be “engaging” it’s often not about products at all. At best, shares of these posts help create a warm and fuzzy feeling about a company that, at some point in the future, might turn into a sale. (There’s that word again.)

For the sake of argument, let's postulate that there is a causal relationship between shares on Facebook and sales. Whether or not the content is product-centric is irrelevant; if it has built trust in the brand that spurs a consumer to action, then Facebook has done its job for the seller. The problem for Facebook is if this sharing comes from content on a brand's free Facebook page, as opposed to one of its paid ads. This free content is where GM plans to focus its Facebook efforts, the company announced this week.

The writer of the Forbes article does not take for granted that sharing has concrete value, and questions why it is desirable given that people's Facebook friends may be very different from themselves -- and thus not part of the brand's target audience. Many of us have assumed that sharing is a 21st century equivalent of word-of-mouth advertising, but the people we actually interact with in the real world may have a lot more in common with us than the people we are friends with on Facebook. I'm not quite that skeptical -- after all, our Facebook friends likely share at least some demographic similarities to us -- but it is an argument worth pondering. There are people I'm friends with on Facebook whose taste in restaurants, or music, or baby strollers I could care not one whit about.

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