A few days ago Bloomberg reported that F-Commerce, the usage of Facebook as a retail channel, has not fulfilled its promise for brands. This can easily be misconstrued to imply that Facebook is somehow a less valuable channel than others. That couldn’t be more incorrect. To understand why this particular use of Facebook failed, and what’s next, you need to be familiar with the principle of contextual relevance.
The phrase “timing is everything” should be the mantra for all internet marketing channels. Each potential touchpoint between you and your target market has a specific contextual relevance. This context is non-negotiable. You cannot simply force a context. The customer is truly in control in this relationship. Ever try asking someone out at a funeral? How about a bar? A wedding? Your success will vary—wildly–based on these contexts regardless of how hard you try. All of these different touchpoints have different contexts, as do marketing channels. Understanding the context of the relationship between your brand and consumers, and how that context is different, is the key to success on Facebook.
The website context
Google has made a killing in advertising because the context in which it serves users is oriented to conversion. In plain English, when I’m on Google I’m more likely to want to convert. I’m looking to buy or research before buying, and brands can target keywords and phrases that are proven to directly correlate to these contexts. Millions of websites are designed to “fit” this conversion context. This is really more of a pull relationship. A user has an expressed interest at that moment when she searches and—ideally–you are matching that interest with an advertisement. If you’ve done your homework, your ad will be relevant and the user will act by converting (however your metrics define conversion). The important point here is brand websites are primarily designed to fit the research or buy contexts.
The Facebook context
When I’m on Facebook, I’m not there to buy anything. I’m reading messages from my friends or browsing the latest news from my personal, professional, and interest-based relationships. I’m hanging out, so to speak. If I make it over to your page I’m probably driven by something I’ve seen in my newsfeed or offsite. This path is even more likely when we’re talking about traffic to Facebook storefront apps, because users typically don’t click on Facebook application tabs.
Understanding the role of Facebook brand page apps
Traffic to Facebook apps from users that happen to visit a brand’s Facebook page is generally a poor-performing traffic driver if not promoted correctly. To effectively get your customers to a tabbed app, it needs to be promoted through advertising campaigns or wall posts. The success of these promotional efforts directly relates to your brand’s image and the relative relevance to specific users. If a well-known electronics retailer posts a message that links to an app promoting digital cameras, I may click through if I’m in the market for cameras or if I’m just generally interested in cameras. I’m even more likely to click through if the campaign itself is social in context. Maybe it features camera-related customer content, or an interesting poll. I may not buy during that session, but it will positively impact the relationship between myself and the brand and potentially lead me to share some of the content—and that brand–with hundreds of friends. That’s social currency at work.
Stop looking for experience parity
In the Bloomberg article Forrester analyst Sucharita Mulpuru is quoted as saying:
“There was a lot of anticipation that Facebook would turn into a new destination, a store, a place where people would shop…it was like trying to sell stuff to people while they’re hanging out with their friends at the bar.”
You can’t force the context to change on Facebook. You can guide it through promotions directing users to experiences on your Facebook page, but the experiences that are most successful will not be the same experiences that exist on your brand website. The two locations are not visited by people with the same intentions and will not have the same results. This is at the heart of the problem with F-Commerce as it stands today. Your website cannot give you the same direct access to users to build and solicit advocacy as Facebook can, while your Facebook page is not going to drive the same retail value as you’ll see on your website. The context in which users visit each piece of real estate is very different. Experience parity across these two different channels won’t happen. Brands that fail will be those that do not heed this warning and continue to ignore the writing on the wall—no pun intended.
Next steps to win on Facebook
- Spring cleaning – Get rid of any tabbed applications that aren’t social or targeted. Generic storefronts and product catalogs fit in this bucket.
- Careful planning – When buying application templates or developing custom apps, deeply consider the specific purpose of the application. What’s the goal of the application? Do you have assets that will deliver this goal within the application?
- Batteries not included – As mentioned above, “build it and they will come” does not apply in the realm of Facebook apps. The apps do not have organic traffic like a website does; they must be promoted. Image- and interaction-rich wall posts and ads that match the social context are a good start.
- Set and gauge relevant metrics – Move beyond conversion metrics. Look at interactions that will lead to shares or content (feedback, ratings, reviews, questions, quizzes, stories, polls) that can be leveraged in multiple channels.