Why Facebook’s Advertising Strategy Won’t Work

There is something stinky about Facebook’s new model.

As has been widely noted, Facebook has made many changes that have had a direct impact the marketing reach of brands and branded pages.  This isn’t just one or two angry small businesses—According to this Mashable post, big brands are getting almost two thirds less traffic than the average Facebook user.

Think about that for a minute: a brand like Oreo, which has 30 million fans, gets two thirds less traffic than my dad, who has 71 friends.

Many argue that this is part of Facebook’s ploy to milk more advertising dollars out of branded pages. (Jess wrote an excellent post back in July on whether Facebook was really a viable outlet for brands anymore.) A few bigger brands with bigger budgets cried uncle, and have paid for increased exposure to their fans. But if Black Friday– the biggest shopping day of the year– is any indication, this investment isn’t paying off. According to an IBM study, shoppers referred from social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube generated .34 percent of all online sales on Black Friday, a decrease of more than 35 percent from 2011.

We could debate all day if Facebook is in behind some conspiracy to make money (shocking!) of its massive platform. What is more interesting to me is if Facebook’s advertising push is really a good idea to begin with.

Facebook was successful because it allowed us to scale personal relationships. Instead of keeping up with a handful of friends and family, we could now maintain contact with hundreds of people at a time. Facebook was merely the conduit for our connections to others. It was deeply powerful because it amplified our humanity.

Now Facebook wants to monetize that, and it feels kinda dirty. Who wants to see an ad in your newsfeed for Rue La La when you’re busy looking at photos of your newborn niece? As Google VP Bradley Horowitz put it, “They’re basically injecting the monetization agenda into the least appropriate, least useful, most intimate moments when I’m trying to look another human in the eyes and create a connection of the heart.”

Ultimately, Facebook’s strategy will fail because it commits a basic marketing sin—it relies on intrusion rather than permission. It is suppressing the genuine relationships consumers have with brands they love. If one extrapolates this trend, it is very possible that Facebook could undermine what has made it such a disruptor– the ability to blend authenticity and personalization with mass communication.  This is ironic, because Facebook has built its success on very human qualities—our ability to freely like, love, and share.

Do you manage a brand page? How have you seen your relationships with customers change?

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