With Facebook going public this week, there is a lot of talk about whether its advertising works. Since the social network’s valuation is based on an uncertain business model, that is a good question. But we are not here to evaluate the worthiness of the investment in the stock — instead let’s look at whether Facebook ads make sense for marketing managers.
GM offers one answer to that question in “GM Says Facebook Ads Don’t Pay Off” (Wall Street Journal, May 16, 2012, non-subscribers click here). A case study reported by NPR found equally dubious results – “Pizza Delicious Bought An Ad On Facebook. How’d It Do?” (Planet Money Blog, May 16, 2012).
Any in-class discussion should distinguish between the various ways brands can use Facebook. Marketers can create a Facebook fan page and invite customers to “like” the page. After liking the page, posts to that page appear in that person’s news feed. The cost to the marketer is to create the page and keep it up — but there is no media cost. There is also no revenue to Facebook, so the firm has developed other types of advertising. In theory and probably some time in the future, Facebook knows so much about users (through elaborate analysis of likes, posts, photos, the user’s network, etc.) that it can target customers.
Ask students if they ever click on Facebook ads? Ask if they have “Liked” any brands — and if they read the brands’ posts in their news feed? What messages appeal to them? Why? What can Facebook offer advertisers? The articles I posted above tend to discount the role of advertising in brand building. These questions are also posted at Learn the 4 Ps.
Getting back to the question in the headline: well, the jury is still out. Certainly a lot of investors buying Facebook stock are hoping that the company finds a formula to make it work.