As Facebook aims to go public on May 17, 2012, the company is facing unprecedented scrutiny to prove its earning potential. To appeal to brands and open up ad dollars, marketing terms like reach, awareness and stories are now replacing the old "likes and comments" focus of the past in Facebook's presentations to agencies.
Word of mouth marketing is one of the most credible forms of advertising but its reach and measurement potential are typically limited. An unpaid recommendation from a trusted friend trumps the power of a one-way message received over any medium. With 830 million Facebook users sharing billions of personal and brand-related stories with friends, the platform provides a remarkably powerful new advertising option: word of mouth "at scale".
Many agencies miss out on this potential as they continue to farm fans through incentives and simply broadcast their messages to the masses. Brands in turn are questioning the value of their Facebook ad spend -- a concern for any pre-IPO company. So what is Facebook telling agencies today?
Don't Build Connections. Build For Connections
Gokul Rajaram, Facebook's director of program management, gave this crowd-raising impassioned plea to all partners*: Let stories tell your story. While it's true that everything begins with a connection and community size does matter, the race for fans using gimmicks and incentives is a misguided one. Use many different, highly targeted ads to get fans and make sure you're attracting consumers. Then give them something worthwhile.
Grow Business Value Through User Value
"We are moving from ads to stories" said Chris Cox, VP Product at fMC, earlier this year. "Lots of ads add up to noise. Lots of stories are how we build our relationships." In Facebook's early days we depended on ads because we couldn't build enough connections to tell stories on the scale that large brands needed. With 830 million fans this has changed. Give fans something they want to share -- something they find valuable -- and they'll build your brand for you.
Master Social Discovery
Engaging your connections depends on frequent, high-quality publishing. The community manager role has shifted dramatically toward a need for skilled copywriters who understand the brand voice. At Grip Limited, our community managers now spend less than half their time responding to fan comments on behalf of brands like Stella Artois, KFC and Honda, down from close to 100% a year ago. The greater focus today -- and real challenge for agencies -- is in creative copywriting and image sourcing.
In summary, stories are the currency. Getting your content seen in newsfeeds, timelines and tickers is the most powerful aspect of Facebook and the most underutilized by marketers. Brands and agencies have a wealth of options at their disposal: smart, paid campaigns using sponsored stories and targeted ads; well-placed Like buttons and social plugins; compelling page and timeline apps. But in the end it all comes down to meaningful, valuable content and it's up to brands and agencies to let this one key question guide them:
How will people share your stories?
*Facebook gathered Preferred Marketing Developers from 35 countries at their new Palo Alto campus to provide best practices for building brands. The author attended representing his agency, Grip Limited.