What Brands Really Think About Social Media

Last week, we asked our twin marketers for Fortune 100 brands to give an honest appraisal of agencies. This week, we’ve asked the same two for their opinions on social media, including what they think of the efforts of Facebook and Twitter to build media businesses. If you have questions for our brands, please email them to me. Next week we will run a piece in which the brands answer Digiday reader questions.

Why do brands struggle with ROI in social?
The measurement model is just more proven for TV. It’s a big deal, but it’s just another layer on top of not understanding the medium. It’s the crutch people fall back on. It’s one of the things where you can sound intelligent. You can’t say I don’t understand this medium and I don’t understand engagement marketing versus reach marketing. There are so many other problems, but the measurement is one they can articulate. It’s a convenient excuse. — Client Y

What does Facebook need to do in order to get brands to spend more on advertising there?
Advertising is loaded term, especially in the context of Facebook, which is still emerging as a media company. Their self-serve platform works quite well for our brands, but we don’t think of what we do there as advertising per se. The platform is so easy, it’s cheap, and it’s helping our brands do so many things advertising can’t: Identify new product uses, create direct, owned connections with our fans, find new users, product issues, creative opportunities, etc. It’s going to be a very powerful tool for our brands for the foreseeable future. But for our brands — mass, national brands seeking very broad reach at very efficient rates — the bulk of our dollars, the real money, the “advertising,” goes to mass media. We most often don’t put Facebook into those plans. Those big advertising budgets can go to so many different places, and a lot of those places are more cost-efficient than Facebook. There’s clearly a glut of impressions — ironically, Facebook itself is accelerating this — and we’ve got a ton of alternatives to buy very cheap, well-targeted impressions in ways our marketers and agencies understand. So, in a very real way, Facebook needs to justify (or at least help the brands understand) the premium it tends to charge for impressions. And that job is compounded by the newness and relative complexity of its new ad products. Sometimes those buys are just hard for media planners to sell in effectively to marketing teams that may not understand what it is looking at relative to more traditional digital media buys. Ultimately, it might be selling their premium products the wrong way. Facebook sells it as advertising, which leads marketers to compare them on a CPM basis. What it really has is the first, easy-to-buy tool that enables smart brand marketers to do targeted, convertible and guaranteed content distribution. As more and more of us marketers embrace a publisher mindset, we’re going to seek ways to create manageable, predictable content distribution. Facebook has built that platform and those tools, but the “buys” are showing up in marketers’ plans right next to low-CPM buys from major networks, exchanges and Google. — Client X

What holds brands back from Facebook?
We invested for years building fans on Facebook, which then said we only reach about 12 percent of them. They want to monetize that in a shady way. If we knew that upfront, we’d have done it differently. What’s the next step they’re going to take? Do they drop our reach to 6 percent? One of my problems is how they’re handling the monetization. I don’t feel they’ve been transparent about it. Do we own the consumer? Can we drive real engagement, or are you going to screw us? — Client Y

Can you with confidence evaluate your ROI on Facebook? Is it any different with your other marketing?
We’ve had a couple cases where we’ve gotten really good ROIs from our mass, broad Facebook buys over the last few years. (These were campaigns we ran via their marketplace tools, not the newer premium ad products). As much as everyone complains about how bad banners are — and Facebook ad products act like banners — the dirty secret is that they actually work pretty well for broad reach, awareness driving. Even for boring products like toothpaste, cereal, detergent, beverages and other consumables, people see the ads and then they go buy stuff. And given the cost structure of the FB platform buys, they end up being pretty efficient which helps drive positive ROI. — Client X

Is Facebook too unresponsive?
We talked to Facebook for three years to be able to respond directly to consumers. It was three years ago we asked for that before it was done. They want to make money off us, but at the end of the day, they’re not responding to our wants. We want more control over the users we developed. It’s really about flexibility on the platform and innovation on it. A lot of brands do promotions, sweepstakes and sampling and don’t want to go through Facebook for approval. — Client Y

And Twitter?
Twitter has almost no communication on the brand level, very little. But, of course, you can get a sales guy on the phone quick. They need to hire a couple brand folks on Twitter. Facebook is showing a side of wanting to work with brands. Twitter has a very small team. If you want us to pay you like a media company, you have to invest like a media company does. — Client Y

There’s a lot of talk of native monetization and the perpetual unhappiness with banner ads. What’s your take?
There are always ways to make them more impactful. But if you want engagement, banner ads are a value add. They’re worthless if you ask me. But you have to buy them. It all goes back to a traditional media plan and looking at reach. You have to report reach numbers. Banner ads are the only way to justify that. Banners will become less important when you don’t have to work in an old-school mentality of reach numbers. As the mentality changes, that’s when you’ll see the banners go away and more impactful ways come to the fore. But until we stop looking at things on a worksheet, banners won’t go anywhere. The numbers are too big. — Client Y

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