On 24 January 1848, James W. Marshall, an American carpenter and sawmill operator with a ‘general knowledge of minerals’ came across shiny metal fragments in a Coloma river bed. It was gold. Word spread quickly. Hundreds of thousands of prospectors would flood into California.
At first it was a ‘free for all’. Mining the gold was easy. It could be picked up off the floor but it would become progressively more difficult as the free gold was depleted. Miners graduated to using a pan to separate sand and gravel. Eventually heavy tools and specialised knowledge would be required to extract the gold, including high pressure water jets and smelters.
Every Gold Rush follows a similar pattern: a brief heyday followed by a slow down and transition to silver and then base metal mining. For the majority of diggers there would be no profit. Others would generate untold riches but by 1855 the Californian Gold Rush was over.
As marketing industry prospectors, most have been lured by a shiny new thing. We know this as social media marketing.
A focal point for this modern day gold rush was the launch of Fan Pages by Facebook in 2007. It precipitated a rush by brands to establish their presence within the world’s most popular social network. Today, it’s remarkable if a medium to large consumer brand doesn’t have a managed community on Facebook. According to Facebook, there are 37 million pages with 10 or more Likes.
The parallels between Facebook and the American Gold Rush are many. Early low hanging fruit and easy quick wins followed by an influx of competitors and the need to invest more and more in order to generate a return. The American Gold Rush was over in just seven years, it’s my view that we’re approaching a similar watermark for Facebook marketing.
That’s not to say that Facebook doesn’t have a role to play in the future of marketing – its crystal clear that it does based simply on its reach if nothing else. My point is that brands will need to work a lot harder and smarter to deliver value from the platform or reset their expectations about the role that it can and should play for their business.
Brands need to shift away from the current KPI driven mentality, which says ‘we need a Facebook page with 100,000 fans.’ This approach has led many to see Facebook as a tick-the-box exercise for social media with quantitative targets being willingly facilitated by Facebook via ads. Basic marketing principles – value, objectives, audience – have fallen by the wayside.
The mentality needs to shift to ‘what do our customers want and how can social networking help us?’ A recent study by The Hudson Group of American brand managers and agency professionals found that more than half had not asked their social customers what they want.
Even at the content level most brands get it wrong. They shower their users with status updates and links when research shows that Facebook users like to see and share imagery and video content.
When it comes to the reason for liking brand pages the research is consistent. Facebook users want and expect to ‘gain access to exclusive content, events or sales’ and ‘receive discounts or promotions through Facebook’. Just 28% said that they wanted to ‘engage with the page owner’, according to eMarketer.
The practice of posting inane questions that link loosely to products and services needs to come under the spotlight in light of this research. A lot of the updates that I see are lack any recognisable ‘brand personality’.
Effective community management needs to be blended with something of value. All too often the call to action is designed to get the fan to comment or like a post when it should be designed to deliver a meaningful objective or inspire word of mouth. We know that more than 80% of word of mouth takes place offline yet the vast majority of content calendars are not inspiring this chain reaction.
Brands need to recognise that the Facebook community is getting older and wiser, fatigued even, and thus more cynical. The novelty of ‘liking’ a brand on Facebook has worn off. Budgets have limits, of course, but too few brands are providing tangible value to their fans via their Facebook presence or creating real experiences that excite and inspire.
Having established a critical mass in terms of a Facebook community, many brands seem to be thinking ‘job done’. The reality is that the hard work is just starting. Every brand is contending with the 30 billion pieces of information that are shared on Facebook every day, increasingly sophisticated users and a maturing platform. Brands need to continually raise their game to stay a step ahead, remain visible and engaged.
Sadly, our pioneer the ‘Gold Discoverer’ James W. Marshall wound up as a partner in a gold mine that yielded nothing. Might your Facebook strategy be heading in the same direction?