Rethinking Engagement: Facebook and Permission Marketing

I attended an interesting seminar on Facebook advertising earlier this week, presented by Jordan Franklin, Director, Social Solutions at Clickable, as part of the Social Media Society‘s Social Media Smarts Breakfast series. Franklin’s approach was refreshingly pragmatic, and included an insightful overview of the history of Facebook’s monetization schemes:

  • Their ill-conceived Beacon (which violated users’ trust);
  • Their ill-fated Conversion Tracking (which inadvertently proved they couldn’t compete with Google);
  • Their current, loosely defined “social metrics” (which shift the analytics goal posts from conversion to reach and engagement, attempting to align Facebook as more of a competitor to broadcast media than search.)

The latter is likely no surprise to anyone who doesn’t buy into the search vs. social debate and understands that the two are, and always will be, complementary. Look no further than how Google is using G+ and the +1 button to enhance search results, not replace them, and presumably by extension, improving the relevance of the ads they serve.

The bulk of the presentation focused on how to best leverage Facebook ads, including some practical tactical advice as solid takeaways:

  • Facebook ads focus on awareness & branding, engagement & fan creation. Less emphasis on performance, conversion, and direct response.
  • Split-testing ads: separate campaign/audience simplifies reporting, removes Facebook’s algorithm bias from test.
  • Facebook is prioritizing content ads (sponsored stories) over headline/image/text unit.

During the Q&A session, I asked about a valid testing scenario for a Facebook campaign and a Google AdWords campaign, and Franklin advised it was an apples-to-oranges issue, in line with his perspective on Facebook’s shift away from conversion metrics. That led me to thinking about how best to use Facebook Pages now that Timeline is the default and tabs are even less useful than ever.

Content is, as it’s always been, the current and future King.

Is Facebook the New Inbox?

Permission marketing is the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them… Permission doesn’t have to be a one-way broadcast medium. The internet means you can treat different people differently, and it demands that you figure out how to let your permission base choose what they hear and in what format.

Seth Godin

Inbox Zero badge, by David Lima Cohen
Inbox Zero badge, by David Lima Cohen, via Flickr

I’m a firm advocate for the power of permission marketing, and I’ve never boarded the silly “email is dead” bandwagon, but there’s no question that competition for attention in the inbox is fiercer than ever. Facebook has made several missteps over the years, abusing the trust its users (often ignorantly) place in the platform, and while I expressed concern about their Open Graph initiative’s possibly heralding the “death of permission marketing,” based on their continued growth and ability to drop $1B on one of the most inane tech acquisitions ever, they are arguably winning the battle to make social sharing as frictionless and pervasive as possible.

Of course, what’s troubling for me personally as a digital skeptic, has to be explored professionally as a potential opportunity, and Franklin’s presentation inspired some thoughts about how to effectively leverage Facebook without being evil.

Franklin posited that a ‘Like’ isn’t a statement, “it’s the start of a transactional relationship with a brand,” which I immediately translated to “permission marketing.” Unlike clicking ‘like’ on a post somewhere out on the wild wild web, when someone likes a brand’s Page on Facebook itself, while they may in fact be making a statement, much more importantly, they’re giving that brand permission to appear in their news feed along with updates from their friends and family.

Permission is a privilege to be taken very seriously, no matter the channel that permission grants access to. Whether it’s the inbox, the news feed, or the living room, the best way to ensure that your permission doesn’t get revoked is to consistently deliver value.

Of course, while email marketing has evolved into an art with clear metrics to define its value and direct its evolution, social media still struggles to prove that it’s worth the investment of time and resources to do it right.

[blackbirdpie url=”!/glecharles/status/189707012005834752″]

Leveraging Social Metrics to Give Good Content

While Facebook Insights offers solid post-level analytics, they aren’t quite as actionable as standard email metrics, but are more like web analytics with a twist. eg: You can’t communicate directly with everyone who liked or commented on a specific post, but you can retarget email subscribers who took a particular action and send them a relevant follow-up message. Like your website, though, you can get a similarly granular view of how your content is performing, and use those signals to refine your content strategy.

Similar to an email newsletter, the potential lifespan of a Facebook post isn’t limited to the moment it’s posted, and more like a website, content on Facebook can be staggered throughout the day and the week. As with a website, individual Facebook posts are also far easier to share and/or engage with directly, whereas most newsletters are typically designed to drive traffic to a website where sharing and engagement (or commerce) can happen.

My general approach to Facebook follows three basic rules of thumb, none of which include spending time or money on pimping out your Timeline or creating custom tabs:

Be Strategic

  • 3-5 posts/day, spread out from morning to evening
  • Use Insights to identify the topics that get people talking; refine timing for optimal reach and engagement
  • Experiment with Facebook Sponsored Stories (particularly “Page Post Like Story” and “Domain Story”) to extend your content’s reach and attract new fans

Be Engaging

  • Don’t just post links, always offer commentary or context; ask a question, solicit feedback, or play devil’s advocate
  • Beyond links, solicit and share user-generated content, including photos, reviews or commentary on issues of the day

Be Present

  • It’s called SOCIAL media; engagement is a two-way street. Don’t just post; participate!
  • “Whomever posts it, monitors it.” Let no conversation go unrecognized. (Exception: Not every conversation is worth having.)

If you think of a “Like” as an opt-in, you’re as close to the value proposition of an email list as it gets outside of actually acquiring that email, and you should treat the content you post to your Facebook Page with as much care and attention as you do your email newsletters. Even better, think of your Facebook Page as a key component of your brand’s overall audience development strategy, complementing your website and email program, and as your audience there grows, leverage Facebook Insights as aggressively as your web analytics to inform and evolve your content strategy.

3 thoughts on “Rethinking Engagement: Facebook and Permission Marketing

  1. Thank you, Guy, for an especially thoughtful post. Really helpful, and it’s great to see Facebook (and social media in general) talked about in the same breath as eMail marketing, with similarities drawn and not. I try to frame this general dynamic in a simple way–what I call “buckets and funnels.” “Buckets” are marketing platforms, strategies, like FB or eMail; “funnels” represent the progression of engagement that “permission” implies–step by step. My concern is that a lot of my friends in publishing, looking to build direct customer relationships, focus on the buckets not the funnels.

    1. I’ve always purposefully included email as part of the social media mix in order to provide context for analytics and ROI; I feel like the discussions around social media have finally started to mature and that alignment is no longer viewed as crazy! The step I took here was a bit of a revelation for me during the seminar, though, as I’ve not always been convinced of Facebook’s long-term fit in the marketing mix.

      Your “bucket” and “funnel” framework is a good one, and I agree that most publishers (and many pundits) tend to focus on the former in a kind of “if you build it, they will come” way.

  2. I couldn’t have put it better. Many people just post on their facebook page and don’t bother replying to comments and that’s a big mistake!

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