Silos, Facebook Advertising, and Opportunity

I was pissed.

When I first heard the news that The Washington Post was spinning off a brand-new company to do Facebook-only consulting, I was incensed. Given that the future (and present) of marketing is multi-channel, multi-modal, cross-platform, and other hyphenates, why would an organization that theoretically “gets it” create a siloed professional services firm to be – by definition no less – a one trick pony?

Sure, Facebook is the Justin Bieber of social media, so hot you start to question when the other shoe is going to drop. But to hire an agency to do only Facebook for your business felt myopic and lazy, like hiring a Yellow Pages specialist, or a food taster.

I absolutely believe that as social media grows the accompanying professional services will splinter. Even today, what does a “social media consultant” do? There are so many possible answers the words “social media consultant” have lost all descriptive value.

Integrate, Don’t Disintegrate

Eventually, companies will look to hire consultants for specific skills like social CRM, blogger outreach, content marketing, etc. The same thing happened in online marketing. I owned several agencies that did “online marketing.” And ultimately, we stopped selling “online marketing” and started selling what companies specifically needed, such as email marketing, SEO, landing page optimization, usability, and so forth. When companies start asking for particular services, rather than general expertise, it’s a sign of market maturity. We’re mostly not there yet in social, but it will happen.

And when it does, I still don’t believe that companies should hire a company to consult on their Facebook page in isolation (despite the great work my friends at BrandGlue are doing in that arena). That’s because I see your Facebook program as just one part of a larger social communications ecosystem that includes blog, Twitter, Facebook, email, YouTube, your brand community (if applicable), and possibly a bunch of other stuff. If you carve out a single piece of that ecosystem and give it to one agency, you’re setting yourself up for a nightmare of disconnected, uncoordinated, over-priced nonsense. Imagine if companies hired one company for radio, one for TV, one for outdoor, one for direct mail. Madness.

Worthy of Specificity

But then I took a look at the website for Social Code, the agency in question, and realized that perhaps my frustration was misguided. It turns out, that while Social Code will help companies with apps and tabs and that jazz, their real area of focus is Facebook advertising – a different animal altogether.

I changed my mind about Social Code.

Facebook advertising is most definitely an area where I can see specialization being prudent right now. It doesn’t relate to other elements of social media because it’s advertising. It’s much closer to Google and Bing PPC ads than it is to blogging and content marketing, or Twitter, or YouTube.

There’s a TON of opportunity in Facebook advertising, but there’s an increasing chorus of people who say it ain’t so. What they consistently fail to acknowledge is that Facebook advertising is an incredibly immature program, as it’s been barely three years since it’s inception in late 2007.

To suggest that Facebook advertising is today what it will become tomorrow is to ignore the history of self-serve digital advertising. I can tell you from personal experience that running ads on Google in year 3 versus what you can do today is massively different. The targeting, tracking, testing, and ad placement mechanisms have changed fundamentally since the early days of Google PPC, and they will continue to evolve.

Facebook Advertising: Context is King

It’s important to realize that even with a very nascent advertising system, Facebook will do nearly $2.5 billion in advertising in 2011. And it’s easy to see why, as their targeting capabilities exceed Google’s as much as Anne Hathaway’s Oscars performance exceeded James Franco’s. Imagine if you went to Google to do a search and a box popped up that read “Before you search for “Bloomington Indiana chicken wing restaurants” please tell us your name, your age, your gender, your relationship status, your high school, and upload some photos and videos of yourself and your friends. Thank you.”

Essentially, that’s how Facebook works, but in reverse. We gave them the data, and now they can use it to target ads.

I own a condo near Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona. I needed to rent it last summer, so I bought Facebook ads with these targeting criteria: “women (more reliable), students of ASU, sophomores/juniors/seniors (don’t want any “first time away from home” hijinks), from Phoenix area (so Mom and Dad are close by).”  True, I probably violated the Equal Housing Act on several different levels, but you CANNOT do that kind of targeting anywhere else.

What’s amazing to me is how little chatter and thought leadership there is around Facebook advertising when it’s a powerful, emerging, $2.5 billion business. Most of what we know about Facebook advertising is anecdotal whispers and urban legends. We need to add much-needed science and testing and case studies and know-how to Facebook ads. (I’ll have a case study soon on the ads we ran for The NOW Revolution).

Meanwhile, I’m happy for companies like Social Code that can add some deep thinking to making Facebook advertising pay off.

What’s your experience with Facebook ads so far?

(image by Shutterstock, a Convince & Convert sponsor)

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