Facebook - the future of brand advertising

Here Tom explores Facebook as a vehicle for mass marketing and what we as UXers can learn from it.

I’ve posted previously about Facebook grabbing a major share of pay-per-click advertising revenue once better campaign targeting and optimisation tools are widely available.

But my suspicion is that Facebook has grander ambitions than this. For most of the marketing world, participation in social media is still fairly rudimentary. Many brands maintain some sort of branded presence on the main social platforms primarily as PR outlets. With a few noble exceptions these tend to be relatively sterile environments. The agency world is also transfixed by the awards-potential of viral marketing through social media. But for every Compare the Meerkat there are a thousand limp failures which achieved little business benefit for all the human ingenuity that went into them.

In fact, Facebook’s future is probably as a mass medium for good old fashioned brand advertising. Its huge global reach (350 million users) and wild-fire growth is at stark odds with what's happening to TV, press and radio.

If Facebook achieves its aim of penetrating one-third of internet users in every country in which it operates it will, quite simply, be the most powerful and targeted advertising medium on the planet. Google may pip it for volume of advertising events, but Facebook has access to the world at play – and offers advertisers an intimate and data rich environment in which to talk to consumers.

Imagine you were managing the global launch of a new cola. Facebook offers you not only a huge audience reach, but also the ability to test messages and track retail sales back to specific geographies where you were trying different messages – or control regions where no advertising was taking place. Just like TV, only cheap.

What's more, with the right social mechanisms in place (fanpages, apps) you can see which messages have ‘legs’ beyond paid-for activity. In this way Facebook becomes a massive test-bed for brand activity allowing marketers to collaborate with consumers to test and tune brand messages, imagery and targeting before committing to roll-out in traditional channels.

Very soon Facebook (and other social networks when they get their advertising models straight) may begin to usurp the traditional approach of using focus groups and market research surveys to develop campaigns pre-launch. Instead, marketers can co-create brand advertising and validate it on an industrial scale before committing to full launch.

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