Just two or three ago, we were all pretty excited about the use of Facebook, Twitter and other social media for reaching existing and new customers for our companies. After all, it was free, and that’s where everybody seemed to be going.
We quickly figured out that we could link to our own web sites or (even better) set up a Facebook page for our own company. Facebook began selling advertising, and Twitter offered sponsored tweets. But the bulk of companies’ social media marketing efforts have come in the form of posts with links to company web sites, press releases or other promotion tools.
But is it working? That’s hard to say for paid advertising, because there’s not a lot of data yet and because most advertisers keep numbers to themselves. But what we know isn’t encouraging. About 10 months ago, Webtrends reported that the click-through rate for Facebook ads was only 0.051%, which was down 0.063% from 2009. Over on Google+, Mashable reports that most of the top brands have staked out their Google+ brand pages, but they didn’t seem to have many followers. It’s still too early to judge those results, though.
Facebook also recently announced plans to begin integrating its Sponsored Stories into users’ news feeds. (Currently, Sponsored Stories appear on the right side of the news feed, though they’re now going in the ticker as well.)
The tricky part of all this is that we really don’t use Social Media to find products, services or even local restaurants. Increasingly, it’s become clear that we go to Facebook and Twitter to socialize, not to shop. It’s important to note that this doesn’t mean social media ads can’t be effective. We don’t watch TV to find products and services either, but it works.
In its spring tracking survey, the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project found that our top three major reasons for using social networks are:
- To stay in touch with current friends (67%)
- To stay in touch with family members (64%)
- To connect with old friends we’ve lost touch with (50%)
After the top three, the numbers drop off dramatically. In fourth place is connecting with others with shared hobbies or interests, but only 14% gave that as a major reason. (Another 35% listed it as a minor reason, however.) That could be an important point, because targeting people by specific interests is of critical importance. If we’re not really seeking to connect with others who share our interests, we create fewer opportunities for ads that target us.
For most folks, of course, social media promotion amounts to posting promotional items on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Over the last couple of years, many have realized that people on social networks tend to skip over messages that are obviously promotional in favor of those from real people. A recent study found this to be true for news media as well: Twitter users are more likely to follow individual journalists than organizations. Because I live in Birmingham, Ala., I follow the tweets from major local media. But I pay more attention to, say, @erinshawstreet (who’s a real person who writes for Southern Living) than to the faceless @southern_living.