As we're now all well aware, Facebook Likes don't equate to sales. So what is their real value? Is it catastrophic for a brand or company not to be Liked? Indeed, is it a sin not to have any Facebook marketing strategy at all?
I recently re-read "Brand Building on the Internet" by Martin Lindström and Tim Frank Andersen, last published in June 2000. The landscape of the Internet has changed a great deal since then with the advent of LinkedIn in 2003, Facebook in 2004, Twitter in 2006 and Pinterest in 2010.
Google began as a PhD research project at Stanford in 1996. Clearly the commercial vision and possibilities were clear from inception, but without a social media component. Following the unsuccessful bid to partner with Facebook, Google's CEO Eric Schmidt admits that he missed out on something huge. Yet Google's income statement over the last year is five times that of Facebook. So why does Google still feel like it's missing out?
Probably because Google's revenue could have been way more than that with access to Facebook's personal profiling and information. Now Facebook is doing what Google had hoped to do: target advertising against those personal profiles. In 20th century speak: Facebook would have been Google's PR and direct marketing arm.
In 2012, Moneyweb reported that South Africa's online retailing was exploding, admittedly off a low base. But our market is still comparatively lacklustre in terms of embracing online retailing, specifically because our online marketing is relatively unsophisticated. We try to apply 'bricks to clicks' as Mr Lindström once so aptly coined. We think we can simply take a PDF of our beautiful print ad and stick it up on our website. Or put all our TV ads on YouTube. But that's not going to cut it.
We need to understand the correct use of the medium; that it's not about transposing your above-the-line brand communications to online. It's not even about 'translating' them for online. It's about engaging online, whether that's marketing on Facebook, Twitter or anywhere else, as an entirely alternative, creative and technological medium in itself.
The best way to drive your communications strategy is to invest in the lives of others, in their social engagement platforms. Use Facebook marketing to touch their lives with a little brand relevance. Involve yourself in their conversations. Imagine even that the customer is actually right, and that you might just learn a thing or two by listening to them, rather than cheerleading your product as though it were a major league event.
The next conundrum is that South African companies and marketers want to achieve this for next to nothing. There is the misconception that because the Internet is free, online advertising and Facebook marketing should be free too. So why should I pay for consumers to see my company's products or services and even to increase my brand's Facebook Likes?
Here's why. If you're participating in social media, you're taking part in a targeted marketing exercise - this is the whole point of the Facebook platform. Use the medium in the way it has been designed. Your intention when marketing on Facebook should be to identify, categorise, segment, package your relevance and engage. And then do it again. Depending on your targeted relevance, you could take out your wallet and pay Facebook to wave you about a little. Or a lot.
Most important, is that you absolutely forget everything you've learned about advertising media. This is not a once-off investment in a call to action, a drive to get feet in store, or a tactical special offer, though you may sprinkle any number of these in the course of your social media campaign.
Your relevant and well-engaged Facebook Likes are an endorsement, a feather in your cap, a notch in your belt. And, yes, not to be Liked really is a measure of just how insecure you should feel. It means you've just got a report card from your target market saying: "Could try harder."