When Mark Zuckerberg said that Facebook was “almost guaranteed” to reach 1 billion users, there were few that doubted him. The social network has become a mainstay of the web experience for so many people, and many would argue that it’s second only to Google in its importance to online marketers. This rapid rise means that the site is constantly presenting marketers with new challenges and opportunities — some that can be overcome, some that just need to be accepted, and some that could change the way people use the web.
Here’s a look at what brands face when it comes to marketing on the largest social network.
1. Facebook Will Compete with Search Engines
Search is about making sense of the web. Google has traditionally done this by using links as a sign of authority. Facebook aims to do the same with “Likes.” Facebook isn’t a search engine itself, but it is a different route to making sense of the web. Moreover, Google is increasingly adding real-time social media content to its index in tacit acknowledgement that it sees itself being outflanked by the social media platforms.
For the moment, Google remains the place where consumers go to find things, but Facebook’s ability to capture eyeballs means that it should now be a primary focus for any online marketer.
It’s also worth noting that Facebook has chosen to embed Bing search results from the web alongside queries within the network. Marketers, take note: Facebook is positioning itself not only as a place for in-stream, friend recommendations, but as an all-purpose hub with both traditional and social search value.
2. Ignore the Anti-Hype
There has been a backlash against Facebook in the media, focused predominantly around the privacy debate, with speculation about whether this means users will leave the site. For brands, the question is always, “Is it safe to invest in what could be a short term, MySpace-style fad?”
But the media backlash has been just that — a predictable response to a company that’s enjoyed a spectacular honeymoon with the press. In terms of real users, it seems that there’s less to worry about. Some early adopters have left in response to privacy concerns, and some of the younger demographic might be tempted away by new social gaming platforms, but the mass market is here to stay when it comes to Facebook.
3. Live with Community Pages
The introduction of Community Pages has been one of the most significant developments for brands on Facebook. These automated pages are intended to pull together content around topics to create information resources for users. In the real world, they have largely served to clog up Facebook search results with hundreds of overlapping pages containing posts of indifferent value to users.
It’s hard to spin community pages as a positive for brands, since they compete with official brand presences and can serve to promote negative comments in a forum where responses can’t be made. However, many now hope that consumers will quickly recognize that community pages aren’t serving their needs and so will focus their attention on the official brand Pages.
In short, make sure your official Facebook Page is full of relevant and up-to-date content so that it’s clear to consumers where the interaction should be taking place. If current trends continue, Community Pages will likely not stay relevant enough to be a threat.
4. Facebook Can Be a Dangerous Place for Brands
Brand Facebook Pages seem like a no-brainer these days. They’re a cheap and effective way of connecting with fans. However, some have found that it’s not so simple. Take Nestle for example.
An on-page dispute over environmentally sound purchasing practices and alleged misuse of Nestle logos quickly escalated into a global PR crisis. However, the potential for backlash shouldn’t keep you from having a Page; it’s simply a matter of training and preparation.
Before you build a Page, you need to think about whether you have the resources and strategy to manage it properly. Can your agency offer you expertise in community management? Have you established a set of best practices to guide your Facebook Page managers? Do you have a Facebook plan in case of a crisis?
5. Build It and They Won’t Come
There is an assumption among many marketers that Facebook is a free medium that will deliver hundreds of thousands of new customers. That’s not the case. It has a massive audience, but that audience isn’t necessarily on the site searching for brands. There are few brands out there with the clout to spontaneously generate an audience, so you need to think about how you’re going to proactively build your fan numbers.
The obvious options are Facebook ads, which can be cheap and effective, and promoting your Facebook page on your dotcom site. On top of this, you can leverage your employees to include the brand’s Facebook address in their e-mail signatures and get them to tell their friends. On top of that, look at it as any other marketing campaign; reach out to bloggers and journalists, e-mail your best customers and put signage in your retail stores.
These might seem like resource-intensive options, but marketing is rarely free. Facebook has the potential to reach a massive audience, but it’s a competitive marketplace for attention, so you need to fight for your fans. Of course, once you’ve got your fans, you’ve got to make sure you use them well. A massive fan base left disengaged can quickly lose interest. However, with the right community management strategies, your Facebook fan base can be a powerful tool.
6. The Changing Face of Facebook
One of the constants of Facebook is change. Social marketers are used to waking up to find that something has changed in the way that Facebook works without warning.
Whether it’s the new “Like” button, the social graph protocol or the recently announced new Facebook Groups, the fact is change and adaptation are at the heart of Facebook marketing.
7. Facebook the Retailer
While the world has been debating Facebook’s privacy procedures, the site has been quietly preparing an assault on a new battleground: e-commerce.
Commerce isn’t new to Facebook. The 200 million people who play games on the network every month are already paying for virtual goods. However, Facebook is targeting a much broader audience. An e-commerce Facebook app, Payvment, is already in use by 30,000 small retailers. It’s in its early days, but no retailer should ignore these trends. With the average user spending something like seven hours a month on the site, and with many already “Liking” commercial brands, there’s a real chance that retailing might soon shift away from dotcoms and over to Facebook’s social graph.
8. A Facebook Page Isn’t a Social Media Strategy
A Facebook page isn’t a social media strategy. It might be an important part of one, but being connected socially means engaging with customers, fans and critics wherever they are. People talk all over the web, and being connected is about being part of those conversations. Your social strategy should be about putting a little bit of social into every move your business makes.
What are some of your own key tips when it comes to planning a Facebook strategy? Let us know in the comments.