Facebook is not about brands getting fans it is about engaging with them
When I switched on my computer this morning I found among my emails at least five friend requests from Facebook brand pages. This set me thinking about the pursuit of branded content that marketers appear to be undertaking.
It’s one of the big topics of the moment for brand marketers and everyone seems to want a piece of the action. A few years ago would watch a TV ad or look at a quality piece of outdoor and the URL at the end would be driving you to the company’s website. Not anymore, today it’s driving you to their Facebook page. And brands are searching out more and more innovative ways to get you to be their friend – Skittles is an excellent example of someone doing it well.
There are undeniable benefits in this, such as the amount of information you can get on your “friends” and the fact that it’s still very cost effective to set-up and run. However, it can be very intrusive – as my experience this morning highlights.
But the real issue is that while, social media enthusiasts in brands might be jumping up and down and getting excited about having 100,000 Facebook followers, why are they not also getting excited to the same degree by the thought of an ad going out in Soccer AM and delivering an audience of four times that? Arguably they are no more or less engaged, although of course in the former we have their details and a connection to nurture.
And this is the key point of the issue for me: it’s one thing getting these followers but it’s what you do with them afterwards that counts. People want to be engaged and they want to have a two-way dialogue with the brand; this is not something that you can switch on and off at will, it needs to be constantly managed. And it’s questionable whether most brands have the resources to carry this off effectively.
Can they really create the engaging content that will have their followers believing that their brand in someway reflects their lifestyle choices – whether that be through association with fashion, culture, music or general interest. Unless they happen to be another Natalie Massanet or a brand like Sony that has its own editorial team, the chances are the answer is no. The content generated on Facebook and other branded content ventures cannot be sales or PR driven; it has to be more subtle than that. It needs to reflect the lifestyle choices of the brand’s target audience.
For branded content to be at its most engaging it must be done with the right people at the right time, for the majority of brand owners this will fall outside their core skill set, so why shouldn’t they bring in these key skills from elsewhere so that they get the dialogue right? Particularly if they think about the damage that can be done if they’re seen to be getting it wrong. Bad branded content is not like bad sponsorship or bad advertising – you can’t withdraw it. Once it’s out there that’s it. So it would pay brands to get it right first time.
To my mind there is an opportunity here for brands to associate themselves with key content creators, such as magazine publishers to create this material on their behalf. As a marketer I would be more than happy with the HM editorial team writing on my behalf for a male-centric audience, because they know the market.
As a marketing channel branded content is only going to grow, so brands need to understand how they are going to use it most effectively, and some will undoubtedly make mistakes along the way. What you say and how you say it is becoming incredibly important for brands, and still too few are equipped to handle this transition.
Until this happens, brand managers need to be very careful and not get carried away with the numbers. You may have a large number of followers on your Facebook page, but unless they are truly engaged with what you are doing then they are worth very little. As one quote I read recently reflects: traditional media cements consumer interest in the brand, and social media offers the opportunity to extend that and engage your audience further. But are you really doing that?
Pete Davis is managing director of innovative marketing ideas search engine Getmemedia.com