Facebook Doesn’t Work – It’s all about the customer

When I was the Sales Director at Glow, the one re-occurrent statement that I used to get from prospective clients “Facebook doesn’t work”.  There are a plethora of articles and posts out there on the ‘how’ of making Facebook work but the more important ‘why’ is what’s missing. It’s a little bit like doing Maths really, you can understand the ‘how’ which will enable to follow a process but without the ‘why’, when, where and how you apply what you know leaves you baffled. This the first in a series of write ups about why Facebook doesn’t work.

I’ve read a lot of articles and posts about how to make Facebook advertising work with great illustrative case studies. However, they all seem to miss the fundamental point that to successfully understand how to make Facebook advertising work you must accept the fact that Facebook, in fact any form of Social advertising is NOT display advertising. Nothing is or can be done in isolation, content, engagement and advertising are intrinsically linked, handling them as separate entities is, well, unsocial.

All too often, one of my biggest challenges when working with big brands was that the marketing teams were operating in silos. For example they’d have communication, branding, lead generation and direct response (or something similar) with each team doing their own thing across Social channels.  One of the much misunderstood facts about social channels is that term ‘social’ goes way beyond engagement and interaction. It is a way of thinking, a product development strategy. Nothing operates in silo, everything is linked. On Facebook, it’s a continuous loop where branding drives engagement which in turn drives advertising then branding and so on. Product development is also a key part of this loop but I’ll discuss that in another post. You take learnings from one to inform decisions on the other. Off course, the problem here is that Social Advertising is smaller element of the overall Marketing activity often with the smallest budget with large established brands. So unless Social becomes the basis of the brands core business operations strategy then nothing changes. That aside, there is no conceivable reason why communication cannot be improved between the teams using simple collaboration tools like Dropbox, Hubspot, Slack, Asana, Trello, Hootsuite, Brandwatch and a social ad platform.

Anyway, I digress…

The first and most common mistake is approaching Facebook advertising in the same manner as you would display advertising. Yes, many of the terms are the same but they are not necessarily used in the same way or mean the same thing. Where reach is used interchangeably with impressions in display, it merely represents the number of user profiles that fit within your campaign targeting criteria. A number of factors including your budget, demand for user profile, the interest terms you use etc determine how many impressions you ultimately get.

Facebook is an auction based advertising platform more akin to Search than Display. Whether you have set a limit on how much you are willing to pay or you are leaving to Facebook to determine, if you are targeting profiles in high demand such 18-35 males, you and just about every gaming company is also after these profile not to mention sports wear brands, male grooming, clothing retailers etc. As a traditionally hard to reach audience, the bigger budget owners will outbid you to reach these users due to their LTV (long term value) especially to gaming companies. These guys are willing to pay a hell of a lot more to acquire such user profiles otherwise known as ‘whales’ – gamers who spend.

Now don’t go thinking that brands with bigger budgets have it easy. Far from it, they just have different challenges and there can be an army of analysts trawling through vast amounts of campaign data with a fine tooth comb trying to garner some learnings which will inform optimisation decisions.

So, if you are a startup, have tight budget or just want spend smart money you need to think leftfield. Go back to your User Profiles and Customer Empathy Journeys to rethink how you will build a cluster of interests that allow you to acquire the same users cheaply. For instance, if you are an Outdoor Sports company pushing tent sales, using “tents” as a targeting criteria is highly unlikely to generate substantial impressions much less conversions.  Think about how are people likely talk about tents in their posts much less explicitly state tents as an interest. However, in thinking about occasions when people may need tents such as during the music festival season. Building a cluster around with every single music festival in the summer – V Festival, Glastonbury, Love Box, Secret Garden etc – where tents are a necessary part of the festival gear will not just give you quality profiles. Even if you have a limited budget which will result in smaller reach, it doesn’t matter because you’ll still drive conversions.

Earlier this summer, I was introduced to Splittable – an app that takes the hassle out of splitting expenses between housemates. They have two primary targets – university students and young professionals. The challenge they had was achieving a low CPI and increasing their activation rate. The important factor here was understanding the user motivations. Luckily, they’d done some fantastic UX work defining their user types (they wrote a humorous article that anyone who’s ever lived with a house or flatmate will recognise) however this did not translate in their ad strategy. There were 2 key factors affecting their CPI – the images used didn’t represent the product well enough and the copy assumed that 18+ year olds were proactively thinking about ways to responsibly manage their finances. It was this second element that jarred with potential users the most. I mean did you a damn about been financially responsible when you were at Uni? Ok, I did but I don’t represent the majority. House sharing is great but chasing people for rent, bills etc is a pain in the arse that most of us simply don’t feel comfortable doing and there are countless stories to be told about that horrid flat or housemate who constantly ate your food but never replaced it, or always seemed to have a friend over for months who never contributed to anything or just upped and left without so much as a ‘later losers’ and left you with their unpaid share of bills. Changing the copy language to the app removing this hassle almost halved the CPI instantly. With new images, they have now achieved a 400+% reduction in CPI.

The challenge of activation is a whole other story. The initial downloader needs to get his or her housemates to download and register. This requires a separate campaign with a different approach to copy, images and targeting that is incentives driven to encourage activation.

The importance of truly understanding who your customers are is the key to getting the copy and images right. And evem more so, one of the key factors enabling you to reduce costs.