Facebook claims to have more than 2.3 billion active users, and for many of us online social networking has become a huge facet of our daily lives. To marketers social networking sites appear to be a great resource to reach potential customers and retain existing ones.
But how do the people they are trying to reach feel?
It seems that these days many people define themselves by their profiles and interactions on social networks. As a result, they tend to feel that they should have total control over the environment on a site like Facebook which plays such a central role in their lives and captures their very essence. Most Facebook users take umbrage at any perceived commercial intrusion into their life on the network, as evidenced by the huge uproar that followed September’s changes to the news feed.
The most recent large scale change to the site is the layout of people’s profiles, with the ‘traditional’ wall being replaced with the timeline. Interestingly eye tracking research commissioned by Mashable found that 43% of participants noticed ‘sponsored stories’ (adverts, effectively) in the old profile format, whereas the ads were noticed by 63% of participants in the timeline format. Can you imagine the outcry that would spread like wildfire if these findings were to be picked up on by the disgruntled users who are dissatisfied by the profile layout changes?
However, what people should perhaps remember is that this site, that is such a huge part of their lives, is free for them to use. Can you imagine another non-essential resource that is utilized so heavily being free? Of course not, Facebook is a business and must strive to make as much money for its shareholders as possible, although part of doing this will involve retaining a large active group of users.
In any other walk of life we are bombarded by advertising of one form or another, whether it’s commercials or product placement on TV, posters in the street or advertorials in magazines. The very fact that companies can use Facebook to micro-segment and target potential customers with adverts based on the wealth of information they divulge is something that, if used correctly, should really benefit marketing professionals, although it irks so many Facebook users.
But if we look at these adverts as suggestions for things that companies feel may interest or even benefit us, is that any different to a café owner suggesting to regular customers that they have a slice of their favorite cake with their coffee as today’s baking tastes delicious? I doubt that would annoy the café patrons quite so much.
Taking a closer look at some of the success stories of Facebook advertising shows that if executed well advertising on social networking sites can benefit individuals as well as companies.
An example provided by the social networking behemoth is 1-800-Flowers who received 4,000 transactions from a Facebook credit promotion. This could maybe lead to the conclusion that if there is a perceived benefit to individuals for being exposed to advertising then they will not be so irritated by it. Certainly, with the amount of information available to companies and their ability to target so effectively on Facebook, then there is no reason why they can’t provide something that will be perceived as a benefit to individuals yet still utilize it to boost profits.
Other Social Networks
Facebook is not the only social networking site to be infiltrated by marketers. Before it was shut down, Google+ has allowed companies to set up pages on the site and this coupled with Google’s latest personalized search development may have lead to companies trying to encourage individuals to add these pages to their circles not just for the opportunity to engage on Google +, but also because it may have influenced their positioning in search results.
Twitter now allows companies to pay for ‘Featured Tweets’, which will show up in people’s feeds. With both these sites being free to join, to be effective marketing professionals might have to buy the acceptance of the masses by providing them with a perceived benefit in order to be able to effectively engage with and influence them.
Alternative to Facebook Ads: Hashtags
One of your Facebook friends just hashtagged their status update and you want to reach through the computer screen and slap them. Surely, the only purpose of posting, #iloveyoucharmin #dollarstorerun #twoplyguy” is to annoy all who read it. Everyone knows that Facebook tagging fulfills no purpose, right? A few weeks ago, you would have been absolutely correct. Facebook has an interesting feature: the clickable hashtag. What does that mean for the average Facebook user? Perhaps not a lot, unless you have a business.
What Is This Hashtagging Thing?
The concept of hashtagging is fairly simple. Any word typed that is immediately preceded by a hash symbol (#) becomes a hashtag. For example, #internetmarketing. Other users are then able to click on the hashtag and view all the other posts having the same hashtag. Hashtagging has been widely successful, particularly for the social media platform Twitter. Clicking on hashtags allows individual users to find pages they may be interested in following and therefore keep track of the conversation.
Facebook hashtagging, however, is a slightly different animal, at least for the time being. In order to address privacy concerns, posts containing hashtags fall under the same privacy settings as your other posts. That means only friends can see and click on your hashtags, if that’s what you choose. This may change in the future, but for now Facebook appears to be playing it safe.
How Exactly Does This Help Your Business?
The introduction of the clickable hashtag to Facebook means that business owners just gained a new and effective method for reaching billions of potential customers. For instance, if your company uses a simple, memorable hashtag in a television commercial or print ad, users on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram will then be able to follow your company’s campaign through these social networking platforms. Basically, porting content from network to network just got a whole lot easier which means the distance between you and your potential online customers got significantly shorter. That’s certainly something to celebrate.
Of course the biggest boom for businesses may be the doors that hashtags open up for targeted advertising. Targeted advertising is definitely not a new phenomenon on Facebook, but the newly added element of hashtags in status updates means that those advertisements will become increasingly relevant and timely.
Some General Tips
Now you’re sold on hashtags and how they can be an effective social marketing tool for your business. But how do you apply it?
- Whatever you do, don’t commit hashtag overkill. You’ll look unprofessional and irritate potential customers.
- Make sure you use specific hashtags for important events that may have people talking
- Search for new customers by monitoring hashtags that relate to your business
- At the end of the day, if you still feel a little confused, consider hiring a professional.
So your annoying friends who stubbornly hashtagged on Facebook may actually be onto something. Just don’t tell them about it or you’ll be seeing #toldyouso.