Recent research from eMarketer reveals that Facebook will sell $2.2 billion worth of ad space in 2011, putting it in third place globally behind Google and Microsoft. For marketers, the debate has shifted from whether to spend on Facebook Ads to how much to spend.
Much like the early days of Google, advertising on Facebook right now is like the Wild West. Some brands have only just begun to experiment with Facebook Ads, whereas other brands, like AT&T, Disney, and Match.com, seem to be top spenders on the platform. But most advertisers are still in the "try and try again" phase with Facebook, testing new ad formats to see which ones work best. They're bolstering these paid ads with lots of "free" posts, contests, and other earned media content, featured on their main brand Facebook pages. Some are even dabbling in in-game advertising, attempting to cash in on massively popular social games such as Farmville.
High-end clothing retailer Beach Bunny Swimwear has already found success on Facebook. By automating buys, rotation, and optimization of Facebook Ads, as well as managing a robust earned media program that invites fans to special in-store events, an annual model competition, regular photo contests, and other fan-focused promotions, Beach Bunny Swimwear has achieved a huge jump in fan engagement and purchases driven directly from Facebook. Since adopting this paid-earned strategy in 2010, Beach Bunny has recorded a 311 percent increase in new "likes" per day and a 120 percent increase in daily purchases attributed to Facebook.
Despite a handful of success stories, however, few marketers have figured out the best Facebook advertising strategy to turn large "fan bases" into long-term influencers, brand advocates, and repeat customers. Many marketers do a great job of attracting "likes" on Facebook, but then don't provide the content and paid ads that keep fans coming back.
With paid Facebook Ads in particular, the main challenge many advertisers face is that it's not a "click-and-buy" medium such as paid search and traditional display. On Facebook, the goal isn't just to create ads that get users to convert once, but instead create content that engages fans over the long term. You want your Facebook advertising program to "build" over time so that you can not only connect with your most tangential fans just after they click "like," but also at all the right moments throughout a longer-term relationship with them.
In other words, Facebook advertising is a continuous cycle. The right series of ads and content build upon themselves in order to turn tepid fans into ardent brand advocates: Those influencers then turn around and help your brand acquire more new fans -- and the cycle continues.
So how can marketers succeed with "cyclical advertising" on Facebook? The first step is to shift your thinking from conversion to engagement. A purchase is money in your pocket, but building trust with hundreds or thousands of consumers who promote your products to their friends over months or years is millions in your pocket. Focus on building community, rewarding fans, and providing informative, fun, entertaining content that will keep fans engaged with your brand on Facebook over the long haul.
Facebook Ads must be friendly. People might turn to Google to search for stories, news, and deals, but they log onto Facebook to play games, share photos, and interact with friends. A consumer's motivation to click on a Facebook Ad is fundamentally different than the motivation to click on a traditional search or display ad. Facebook ads selling products probably won't work very well, because few people log onto Facebook to shop or research products. But ads that offer an experience will get people's attention. Facebook Ads that offer links to games, contests, or events tend to receive higher clickthrough rates than average ads.
Facebook advertising is not going away. It will become an integral part of every brand's marketing budget. Forward-thinking marketers are already working to make their ads stand out among the 600 million users on Facebook.
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