Although Facebook is on most media plans these days, the platform still poses a ton of obstacles for marketers—and a bad taste in many mouths.
I spoke with digital marketers to see where their relationships stand with Facebook, and why they remain willing to play by the rules of the social network giant.
Marketers continue to be stumped as to just how to integrate their brands into the right conversations found within the Facebook Timeline, which debuted this year to a healthy dose of criticism.
"They forced the Timeline on us, and I still feel that it leaves brands in quite a bind," says Steve O'Connell, partner and executive creative director at Red Tettemer + Partners.
"The brand pages are simply not a very welcoming experience, nor the greatest introduction or handshake, to a prospective new customer. Facebook is too smart a group not to see and hear the disappointment in our voices when we discuss with them the engagement numbers going down because of it."
It's no secret that Facebook is sitting on one of the biggest-ever troves of marketing data. Although the possibilities for ad targeting are many, the fact that Facebook continues to hold the keys to the kingdom is troublesome for many.
"I don't have a problem with a major media player such as Wal-Mart holding onto their customer data, but when I have brands interested in buying space and creating space and engagement on Facebook, I want to have data at our fingertips," says Michael Miller, CMO of Hyper Marketing Inc. "Ideally, I want a 360-degree viewer of my brand's users. Isn't that what I am paying for?"
OK, so Facebook will never be the place where you can just stick your banner ad. That's not the problem. The problem lies in the fact that Facebook's ad formats have created a roadblock for many creative types. Though some claim the ads have always been good for targeting and driving up numbers of "likes" and followers, the limitations of the ads themselves remain troubling.
In a recent interview, Facebook executives said that, organically, a brand can reach anywhere from 15 to 20 percent of its fans. However, in order to reach the remaining 80 to 85 percent, sponsored posts are needed. Indeed, brands are now limited to the experience they can build within a tab and page.
"Facebook continues to have its own rules, and as far as they are concerned, everyone needs to accommodate if they want to be there," says JT Hroncich, president of Capitol Media Solutions. "I've been waiting for some sort of backlash until they adjust their model, but so far, it seems to be business as usual."
Understanding the performance of your Facebook presence continues to be a point of contention for some. Though Facebook continues to give brand marketers the basics when it comes to metrics, it seems to be running a bit behind in the overall digital space.
"The metrics are fairly limited in this day and time," Hroncich says. "Marketers are looking for more metrics and more data in real time. Every single move on the Web needs to be tracked. The only way anyone in the digital space will get more money is if the results are there."
Although there are a lot of social networks that can be measured using third-party tools, Facebook offers its share of limitations. According to Jeremy Rouse, digital marketing manager at Acquity Group, "It's difficult to figure out the best way to optimize something if you can't implement your tools into it. Facebook presents the asterisk we are forced to put at the end of every presentation: 'All of this data is great, excluding Facebook.'"
Life in the world of Facebook moves fast, and many brand marketers agree that its interface changes can be a challenge to keep up with. "I remember hearing from Facebook when the Timeline format was rolling out, and basically we were told to adapt brand pages or they would adapt them for you," Rouse says. "Facebook has become a social channel that really does its share of draining our resources, and I think many of us have failed when it has come to managing our expectations and the amount of labor that is required to keep up."
So how can marketers best deal with the ever-changing look of Facebook? Don't plan too far out. Last-minute changes can ultimately affect a campaign. Luckily, most companies are used to playing within the four- to six-week range these days. Yet, the swiftness in which the Facebook game changes has pushed many to focus on shorter duration projects.
The act of 'liking'
Brands remain troubled by the ease with which a user can "like" their pages, and doubts remain as to what a "like" really means in the long run. Many agencies have determined that the act of "liking" has resulted in a rather false sense of scale. They cite Pinterest as a much better option when it comes to determining the true interest and behavior of a user.
"I saw something worthy, and I decided it was worth the time to take a picture of it and share it," Miller says. "As far as we are concerned, this is a far better inherent behavior of who a person is compared to the thumbs-up sign."
Most marketers have stopped wasting time wallowing in the shortcomings of Facebook's mobile application. In the past, the platform has made it clear that it will not introduce content within mobile that would not be there otherwise, such as a banner ad.
With a tiny screen and no way to break into the user's experience, the mobile advertising option simply doesn't offer much these days. "Facebook will also consider the user's experience first, and consider the marketer's concerns second," O'Connell says. "So spending too much time on things I can't do via mobile is really not worth thinking too much about."
Yet, most agree that mobile is crucial and will remain crucial into the future. Therefore, the general feeling is that Facebook will catch up and get its mobile strategy right-one of these days.
Lack of video advertising
Though most people within the digital space have welcomed digital video ads with open arms, Facebook has not paid much attention to the opportunity. Again, its attention remains focused on the user, who would rather avoid obtrusive video content.
Then again, video content isn't always an annoyance. The possibility intrigues many brand marketers. They cite video as one of the most engaging ways to connect with people, and if Facebook would realize this and tap into that engagement, it would represent a slew of new dollars coming in.
Despite its limitations, Facebook remains a vital piece in a brand's overall social strategy. The platform is not perfect. Few are. Yet the challenges that remain to be tackled leave a fair share of interesting possibilities for Facebook's continued growth. "There are bound to be limitations when playing in someone else's sandbox," O'Connell says.
A version of this article first appeared on iMediaConnection.com.