If you read this blog regularly, you know that I can be a Facebook supporter (some may say apologist), but today I have a bone to pick with it.
Where others frequently attribute shady intent to everything Facebook does, I see a company legitimately trying to balance the needs of users with the demands of advertisers who fund the free service. Consumers love Facebook, so much so that Facebook now accounts for one of every four page views in the United States, yet you and I pay nothing for it. Or it is more accurate to say that while we provide no cash to Facebook, we do, in fact, pay with our time, attention, data, permission, and clicks (which Facebook converts into cash).
But even Facebook supporters can and should question when the social network takes a step that pushes the envelope of best practices in permission marketing, and I believe it has done just that with Facebook's new Sponsored Stories product. What I find frustrating is how tantalizingly close to perfect the model is, yet the omission of a single feature makes all the difference.
Here's how Facebook Sponsored Stories work:
You post a status update about a brand, such as a check-in, like, or a piece of praise.
Because that signal of affinity is so ephemeral within the news feeds of your friends (or perhaps may never even be displayed there), the brand can now choose to pay Facebook to turn your status update into an ad.
Your friends (and only your friends) will then see your status update in the right gutter of Facebook.com, along with your name and profile picture.
There are endless examples out there of how consumers block out marketing messages and put a lot of weight on the opinions and reviews expressed through social media as they make purchases. You would think that since B2B buyers are consumers too, the same behavior would carry over to their business purchases. But our research shows that this isn't the case.
While business buyers make heavy use of social media for business purposes, they still rely heavily on traditional sources of information when making business purchase decisions — sources such as peers and colleagues, consultants, analyst firms, and even vendor salespeople.
The good news for marketers is that business buyers are increasingly "going social" when they first realize that they have a problem and are looking to learn from and interact with experts in their problem space.
In our recent report, we advise B2B marketing leaders who are formulating their social media marketing strategies for 2011 to use social media to interact with their target audiences earlier in their problem-solving cycles and demonstrate expertise in the problems those audiences are looking to solve.
This requires a big shift for many marketers who are simply using social media to pump out the same old marketing messages. It requires you to build trust well before your prospects have entered into an active buying cycle and to show that your people are experts in the problem, not just your product.
Social media does not make marketing any easier. Although it is a powerful tool for marketers to reinforce their brands, energize advocates and strengthen relationships, it is also yet another marketing channel that requires attention, investment and innovation. And much like the Web 15 years earlier, this is a channel that challenges the status quo and defies easy metrics.
In 2011, social media marketing doesn’t get any easier. Although the medium is maturing, that maturity brings with it a host of new challenges for marketers. Primary among those challenges is that social media is becoming an awfully cluttered and noisy space. As more people adopt social behaviors and more marketers increase their social media budgets, it is tougher than ever to cut through the noise, reach an audience and make an impression. In addition, Forrester is seeing a marked increase in the number of people worried about privacy in social channels, and this concern is growing most significantly in boomers and seniors.