Making friends with your customers? Creating and publishing desirable, relevant content? Building real relationships with people via responsive social customer service? For many brands, all that stuff sounds completely alien. It also sounds like something that requires work and innovation. Marketing is an industry used to buying their way in and forcing their ad message on the unsuspecting. Facebook may now be ready to oblige.
In a way, the network may be on the verge of fulfilling a fantasy many CMOs clung to throughout the whole social revolution. They’ve said to themselves, “Maybe all this will just go away one day and we can get back to making commercials and paying to place them.” And maybe it will.
Up to now, the only way a brand could get a social message in people’s News Feeds was to win their “Likes,” then create content worthy of enough engagement that it surfaced on those News Feeds. The next development was that brands could pay to give that content a boost and gain exposure to even more of those self-professed fans.
Facebook is in the testing phase of letting Pages pay to push content into the News Feeds of people whether they have “Liked” that brand or not, on both the web and mobile versions of the network. If this progresses, what could it mean for marketers, for Facebook, and for users?
For marketers, there may not be as urgent a need to build and foster their fan bases. Yes, a fan is theoretically far more receptive to marketing messages, but the critical nature of getting the “Like” and serving them worthwhile content goes down when you can once again neglect what customers want and go back to focusing on universally pushing out ads you want. Dollars will finally allow access to far more of those impressive 900 million+ users.
For Facebook, this represents a potential opening of the revenue floodgates, exactly the kind of thing that impresses investors and analysts. Up to now, Facebook has placed the highest priority on the user experience. They say they’ll monitor and limit the number of ads that show up in News Feeds. But can Facebook, advertisers and users all agree on what level is “acceptable”? Access to that additional paid marketing takes some of the risk out of Facebook’s business proposition. But on the other hand, it’s balanced by an at least equal amount of risk that users will rebel, and a new or existing social network will dethrone the king.
For users, their new media could be thrown back to old media business models. That being: you can have access to this service, but you’re going to have to accept ads all over it. Social would be not unlike TV, newspapers and radio. Once that happens, will they stay? Heat maps have consistently shown that their eyes run from anyplace ads appear. Once ads from non-friended Pages are in the News Feed, will overall usage go down? Will users render the same verdict they rendered on MySpace?
Make no mistake, Facebook’s experiment is significant. Brands are going to have to decide if it’s worth taking some focus off of relationship building with fans who’ve gone out of their way to connect, to spray ads to the masses. Can you tell a better ROI story broadcasting commercials, or using quantifiable engagement by fans with quality content? Do you expect users to like, share, or comment on your ads?
What this potential development does not change is the newfound power of the customer. Using social, they can inflict damage and force change if they speak in loud enough numbers. Poorer content, intrusive ads, unresponsive customer service…these are the things that have the potential to light them up.