This year has seen quite a few changes on Facebook, which has seen my perception of what Facebook is altered a fair bit.
I used to believe in social media as an excellent 'free' organic marketing tool - if you were good (i.e. your content engaging), then you had a half decent chance to build a community around your brand and generate advocacy - that's exactly what I did when building VisitScotland's Facebook brand! Those were the days when a picture could get over a thousand shares, even if your community was only 50,000 or so.
My first point of call to find out what Facebook is was to ask Google.
Google thinks Facebook is a verb.
Anyway, free social media. It feels like the golden (pioneer) days are over. I wrote about Facebook annihilating organic reach in my 2014 prediction of the end of free marketing. Facebook has indeed turned the tap off and reduced organic reach by 50% this year, which means, essentially, no one's going to see your stuff in their news feed.
With that in mind, what is Facebook in 2015? Is it just an ad platform that you should use, like Google AdWords? A digital media 'publisher', perhaps, selling adspace?
With the end of 2014 in sight, these are good question to ask.
What is Facebook (in 2015)?
1) Facebook is an Ad Platform
Use for: Acquisition marketing
The most obvious one. Facebook reduced organic reach by 50%, and in 2015 there will be even greater reduction of organic visibility - (Hootsuite provide tips on Facebook marketing in 2015, given these changes). Smart brands in 2015 (as well as, and especially, SMEs!) should learn how to use Facebook Ads Manager (and bigger ones need to be aware of Facebook Atlas).
The big thing for marketers is that managing Facebook is turning into a multi-skilled role. You now don't just need community management and organic and content optimsation skills, but also how and why to use Facebook as an advertising platform. A bit like a Search Manager who'd look after both SEO and PPC.
The challenge for SMEs is that they will have to pay for their content to be seen - certainly there is little ROI in spending plenty of time creating content and posting updates that most of your audience will never see (and unlike in email marketing, you don't even own your customers' data!).
Is Facebook worth it? I'd say yes. If you're already using AdWords, test a bit of your budget on Facebook Ads instead (to drive customers to conversion on your mobile-optimised landing page 😛 ). And don't use offline / print etc. - it costs too much, and you can't measure it.
2) Facebook is a Shop Window
Use for: Branding / WOM
This of course depends on your business objective. I was speaking to someone at the Aberdeen Business networking event at RGU a couple of weeks ago, and for his school, Facebook is a 'shop window' to the experience his students might have.
They can't get that experience from their website, he thinks (which either means the site is **** - I haven't seen it - , or that community is especially important in this industry - i.e. WOM, recommendation, seeing what other people think). Education, according to marketing theory, is a service (not a product) and needs to be 'sold' through existing and past customers' experience of the service. Hence it's about marketing the experience, and I think this is where review and rating sites come in too (e.g. TripAdvisor in the Tourism industry).
Generally, there's no harm in using Facebook as a Shop Window, if you have the time. It's part of your overall brand ecosystem (which includes social brand channels) and can help your online visibility. The trick is to integrate it (and social on the whole) with your other digital channels (e.g. website, email), so that your customers have one coherent experience with your brand, no matter what channel they're in.
3) Facebook is a Customer Service Channel
Use for: Customer service
This is especially true for large brands. This is a reputational issue, and that is why social more than anything has made customer service an integral part of your marketing strategy. Managing reputation through effective social customer service should now be part of the PR department's remit.
What this means for your Facebook strategy 2015 is that you could simply use it as a customer service channel. After all, 'social media' are communication channels first and foremost (albeit more democratic ones). You can use them for anything - they're just the transmitter.
You could save yourself the hassle (time and money) of posting engaging content (that is essentially just an underhand sales message anyway) and instead give your Facebook page over to your social customer service agents, who help your customers in real time. This probably wouldn't work in all industries but in service-based ones this makes sense.
If you do it well, then it'll also positively affect your brand image and the overall 'Shop Window' (see point 2) looks good. A win-win.
Is Facebook worth it for your business (in 2015)?
It depends. I'm a great believer that not every business needs a Facebook page. Think of B2B for example, or indeed countries such as China where there's not much point in having one!
I also believe that it's hard to measure the general / organic value of Facebook (similar to TV), though of course you can measure it very well if you use it as a social ad platform.
Big global brands will probably need to be on Facebook (most of them also still have ads on TV), and they will have the resource, budget and strategy to decide exactly what to use the channel for.
Another (important) point to consider is that Facebook and other social media channels are largely accessed from mobile devices - so your content etc. has to be optimised for a mobile audience's needs.
For SMEs, my general advice would be this: think about your business objectives first, and see if / how you could use the communication channel of Facebook towards them. If you haven't acquired a single customer via your Facebook page in the last 3 years, then chances are you won't in the next 3 years either - unless you change how you use it (see points 1-3).