Is Facebook Really Failing Marketers?

Recently there has been a flurry of articles, reportage, and blog posts citing Forrester Research’s Nate Elliot’s claim that Facebook is “failing marketers” and that marketers are both well aware of said failure and are either already or should  be jumping ship. I’ll cite here just one example from a justly well-respected social media hero, Frank Eliason, saying:

In the report Forrester recommends marketers back away from Facebook until the company genuinely changes their ways by better building bridges between customers and companies as well as offering better ad targeting capabilities.

Analysts have been known to take a somewhat sensationalistic view of issues, and there’s no reason that Forrester should be considered immune to the tendency. But this is quite a kick in the teeth, no? Marketers, abandon all hope ye who enter here… But you knew that already.

Now, while in charge of social media at my previous company, I solicited and successfully obtained budget and bodies for a dedicated brand page and Facebook advertising, but I’m no Facebook fanboy. (Don’t even really use it myself.) But I thought then, and remain convinced now, that participation and advertising on Facebook is an essential part of any well-conceived digital portfolio of business strategies and tactics, at least for most large brands. You certainly have to know what to expect — and even more crucially, what not  to expect — from your investment in Facebook. (That is to say, don’t expect direct sales or even much of anything in the way of leads.) By all means, read Frank’s post for a good accounting of all the things Facebook just ain’t going to do for you.

But are marketers really that disappointed in Facebook, as Nate and Frank and many others claim? Let’s look at Nate’s evidence; aside from some anecdotes, it’s all in this one chart:


Looks pretty damning, I must admit: A whole bunch of reputable and venerable online marketing strategies and tactics and Facebook marketing comes in dead last.

But take a moment to actually look at the chart and you notice a couple things: First, there are many “marketing channels” that are not  listed here that could be or, I would argue, should have been items in the study. Why no “Instagram marketing”? Why no “Tumblr marketing”? Why no Snapchat, no Quora, no Slideshare, no AOL anything, no Myspace, no Yahoo!, no Pinterest? Surely some such marketing channels — and I could easily identify a dozen more — that are commendable and useful for certain companies for certain purposes, might have made it lower  to the bottom of the list than Facebook. It almost looks as if Nate has, well, set up Facebook to fail.

Well, that would be imputing a motive to Nate that I certainly can’t prove. What can be proved, however, is the misleading nature of the claim that Nate and Forrester are making here. Again, please look at the chart: The greatest business value of all — no, actually just several — online marketing channels, according to this survey of 395 marketers, is on-site ratings and reviews, at 3.84. Facebook marketing comes in last in business value at, guess what? 3.54.

So, the Forrester scale, starting at one, not zero, contains 400 price points, so to speak, of satisfaction and dissatisfaction. Notice that not one of the short list of marketing channels managed to score a business value of four, let alone five. Clearly, marketers are not exactly ecstatic about any of the online options available to them. Just as clearly, they see, in aggregate, very little difference in business value  between the options presented to them from Forrester. The difference between best and worst is a mere 30 on the Forrester 400 point scale or, if my math is correct — 7.5%.  That is to say, 395 marketers, faced with a short list of marketing channels, find Facebook marketing to offer 7.5% less business value than the channel that offers them the very greatest  business value. During my post-graduate days among philosophy students, we strove to make sure that any distinction we made had or caused a difference; here we have a difference that leads only to a trivial distinction.

So, is Facebook really failing marketers? Not based on this evidence. And it is hard to conclude otherwise than that the claim that it is failing is disingenuous, sensationalistic, or both.

I would pose another question: Since Facebook is not appreciably  failing marketers, at least according to 395 of them, could it be that the minor dissatisfaction such marketers feel about the business value of Facebook has more to do with a failure to figure out what a solid Facebook strategy really can — and can’t — do for them?

Originally posted November 20th, 2013 on Insurance Innovation Reporter.

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