In concept, social media websites seem like the ideal location for advertisers. The sites boast their millions of eager and active participants from nearly every corner of life. In reality, however, many companies still struggle to find the right strategy to generate successful advertising campaigns on social media.
Part of the problem involves the sites, particularly Facebook, according to marketers. A survey of 399 marketing experts released last month by New York City-based Advertiser Perceptions found two-thirds of respondents questioning the value of their investment with Facebook, with 40 percent saying they planned independent audits of Facebook’s audience and ad delivery results.
And while 40 percent of respondents reported they planned to spend more in advertising this year on Facebook and Google, 36 percent said they would spend more with Google but not Facebook, while only 8 percent preferred spending with Facebook.
It seems that Mark Zuckerberg was paying attention to those concerns. On Feb. 10, Facebook announced it was “committing to an audit by the Media Rating Council to verify the accuracy of the information” that it delivers to advertisers and marketers. In a corporate blog post titled “,” the company pledged to provide greater transparency.
“We’ve been working closely with marketers to understand their measurement needs on key topics such as reach, attribution, audience demographics, brand lift, offline sales and mobile app measurement,” the company stated. “Independent verification continues to expand and we now have 24 global third-party measurement partners so marketers can work with their preferred vendor.”
Rocco Cipriano, president of InSight Marketing in Harrison, welcomed the move by Facebook. “Corporations need to have independent audits instead of providing internal metrics,” he said. “Facebook established a lot of goodwill in the marketplace. Any possible skewing of their numbers would be a business and PR fiasco. They have little to gain and much to lose in doing that.”
As Facebook’s new audit is underway, regional marketing experts said it is time for companies to step back and understand what social media can and cannot deliver in terms of advertising.
Jeff Harris, founder and chief creative officer at Decipher Advertising in Greenwich, said many companies jump on the social media bandwagon without recognizing how this platform works.
“When a Facebook ad pops up, it is seen as an interruption,” Harris explained. “It is like sitting in a restaurant and the maître d’ comes in trying to sell a bottle of wine. Social media is about sharing content and comments. If you bring in a selling proposition, it can be boring and you can get pushback.”
There is also the question as to whether social media is viewed as a reliable source for any information — a point magnified in the “fake news” phenomenon that played out during last year’s presidential election. Jennifer Lee Magas, vice president at Magas Media Consultants LLC in Monroe, said the evaporation of trust that followed the proliferation of fake news headlines on social media could also damage advertisers’ credibility.
“People are far more trusting of a recommendation from a friend or a family member and not from an ad,” she said. “For myself, I never clicked on an ad. If I want a recommendation, I may do a quick search on Google instead or make an inquiry on a Facebook community page.”
Still, marketing experts are not ready to forego all advertising on social media. Instead, they warn that companies need to be more cognizant of the platform’s distinctive characteristics.
“Social media definitely works, but you cannot use it like traditional banner ads or regular display ads,” said Patricia Nelson, a new media strategy consultant and adjunct professor in Manhattanville College’s marketing communication management program. The medium should be approached in terms of long-term branding in front of specified audiences instead of producing instant revenue before a wide audience, she said.
“Many people start with the thought, ‘Oh, they will see an ad and buy my product.’ It doesn’t work like that,” said Nelson. “But you know people will be seeing it — and the right people will be seeing it if you are targeting correctly.”
Matt Lukens, digital director at BCM Media in Darien, said that companies expecting instant purchases from social media users are not being realistic. “From our experience, social media is worth it, but it requires much longer play,” he said. “The likelihood of someone with a wallet in hand on a social media site is low. When someone does a Google search, they are ready to buy. If someone is on social media, they are not ready to buy yet.”
Lukens added that some social media advertising works best for building a brand identity rather than reaping instant revenue. “Instagram tends to be lower for ROI, but is great for awareness,” he said.
Edward Becker, professor of business at Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport, stressed that any online advertising effort should be prefixed with research to gauge whether the target audience is present on the targeted social media sites.
“What are your customers reading and looking at?” Becker asked. “In my classes, students are not doing a whole lot of Facebook or LinkedIn, but they are more into Instagram and Snapchat. And you also need to know what platform they’re using. Even mobile media has differences between Apple and Android.”
Marketers might debate whether a company should focus on social media advertising versus search engine advertising. Yet Scott Lipow, CEO of Six7 Marketing in Fairfield, views that as the digital equivalent of an apples-and-oranges comparison that misses a much bigger marketing picture.
“It’s not a simple question of which ad platform, Facebook or Google, is ‘less risky,’” he said. “But from our vantage point as an integrated marketing agency, the larger risk with any digital advertising campaign is a failure to present the consumer with a seamless path to purchase. The ads should include a specific call to action that drives targeted traffic to your website. Equally important, the website should be consistent with the message of your ads.”
Nelson, the new media strategist, agreed with Lipow. “This is just one piece of the puzzle,” she said of social media. “I don’t think any of the pieces work well separately. It is about having everything working cohesively.”