marketingmagazine.co.uk, Wednesday, 02 November 2011 12:00AM
Facebook's a great way to engage people in dialogue. It allows brands to connect with their audience directly and lets customers have their views heard and acted on.
When Metro launched its free iPad app, Facebook was useful both for marketing it and gaining real-time feedback. It's also where people share stories from our newspaper and website, so we're able to join in those conversations.
For now, Facebook is where people are and brands need to go to them. However, people don't want to be overly sold to on Facebook. Too much one-way selling, and a brand quickly becomes spam. Common sense applies: don't put all your marketing eggs in the one basket, appreciate that things can change overnight, and remember that not everybody uses social media.
Be aware of new platforms too: our tie-up with Foursquare has helped us learn more about geo-targeting and how to exploit it. In the end, engage intelligently with people that use Facebook and ensure you're still speaking in innovative ways to those who don't.
We don't have all the answers in the social-media arena, but we recognise our approach needs to be forever evolving. We look on Facebook as one horse in a race of many. Our strategy is to back more than one horse, because we believe no brand should focus on any one option. That's true of all media, and certainly true of social media.
We ask ourselves: what would happen if Facebook disappeared tomorrow? (Not that we think it will.) If they don't ask questions like this, businesses run the risk of becoming complacent and unprepared for the future. We know that if Facebook did disappear, people would simply find another online platform on which to meet their friends and family.
Our strategy is to engage customers wherever they choose to live online. While that is Facebook today it could easily be Google+ tomorrow. We try to understand why our customers choose to use each channel and then deliver the content they're looking for in the way they want to receive it. Keep your customers, not the media, central to your business model.
If you're going to make an appearance at a nightclub, you have to bring something to the party. Facebook isn't always the answer - there's no use having a presence if there's no strategy, and you have nothing to offer.
The danger is that people simply 'like' pages of brands they already know and love. Other social-media channels can be more relevant, depending on the type of conversation you are ready to have. But if you have a clear view of what you can achieve, and what you can be seen to offer from the consumer's point of view, then Facebook can be a great platform for building fun into a brand and giving fans rewards. People are merging their virtual social existence with their offline lives, increasingly through mobile channels.
This means that traditional media is critical to the success of online and social marketing, especially when people are out and about. Brands should focus on what they have to offer both online and offline, use this to draw consumers to their desired platform, and reward those consumers once they arrive.
While no consumer-facing brand can afford to ignore Facebook, it's just a part of the social-media universe. Brands should focus on building a holistic social-media strategy based on their business objectives.
Yes, almost half the UK population is on Facebook, but brands have to work hard to attract people as fans, and once they do, that relationship rests in Facebook's hands. Look at the recent changes to the Facebook news feed - there has been a significant reduction in the number of fans who see brands' updates. No brand can really 'own' its fans while the relationship is mediated entirely through a third party.
So, while Facebook should be part of social marketing, it's not the be all and end all. Brands should build a strategy that addresses all the opportunities social media brings, and remember there are also blogs, forums and review sites that allow direct contact, and where the rules of the game don't shift so suddenly.
The Marketing Society is the most influential network of senior marketers dedicated to inspiring bolder marketing leadership. www.marketing-society.org.uk.
This article was first published on marketingmagazine.co.uk