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Does Facebook work – and what does work mean?

July 2, 2012

This year we had record numbers at the Colgate Reunion. The class of 2007 celebrated their five-year reunion. Not coincidentally, 2007 is also the first Facebook class – the forst class to get Facebook while still in school.

This is the class that, in theory, had to decide to lose touch with their classmates. But since Facebook was still in the adoption phase people were more-likely to still be connecting their senior year.

We used Facebook ads to talk about reunion. We used Facebook posts to talk about reunion. To the class of ’07, Facebook is a platform to stay engaged with classmates and the things they had in common (like Colgate). For the first time in my history with Facebook, I was talking with people who were five years into it.

So, did Facebook work?

After an IPO that was less than stellar, Facebook came out with a report from ComScore that said:

“people exposed to a Starbucks marketing campaign on Facebook were 38 per cent more likely to buy Starbucks products in the following four weeks.”

Facebook advertising (and Facebook itself) is different from TV, Radio and Print. Those platforms used interruption techniques to get attention between content.

Facebook is an active platform, where people like to share content or interact with the content on their stream. And while they might not ‘see’ ads.

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

I happen to think that ad messages on Facebook sink in. We placed an ad message beside alums who follow us on Facebook that garnered almost 200K impressions. All of those impressions were out of the corner of their eye. None of those can be measured, or even proven to have worked.

Except for the actual results. We had record numbers at reunion.

Think about it this way: logos from Starbucks – or their alma mater filter into their brains as they look through the stream of content. Some of the content in that stream are from Starbucks and their alma mater.

Nigel Hollis, who has a blog that you should read, wrote something about brands:

Time is the most expensive commodity in today’s economy. Few people will invest significant amounts of time researching all the possible options for a brand purchase. Usually the risk of making a bad purchase is relatively low and there are too many other things vying for those precious, irreplaceable minutes. So the stronger your brand, the more likely it is that people will click on its link instead of some other one.

(Emphasis mine)

Brands become strong through a message in advertising. Think about Coca-Cola, a strong brand made stronger through constant image advertising. The point is simple: get in front of the consumer with a message that makes the brand stronger. That way, when it comes time to make a purchase decision, the brand can rise to the top. Brand advertising acts as a reminder, even when the reminder is barely noticed.

For Starbucks, it is getting more than just coffee into a consumer’s head, it means getting the experience of coffee in their heads.

For Colgate, it is getting a reminder in the heads of people who graduated in a 7 or 2 that a 10 or 5 reunion is coming. On top of that, it is a reminder of the real-life connections that last years after commencement. Those last connections, facilitated by Facebook for people five years out of school.

So back to the question: Facebook was a large part of the strategy to get alums excited about coming back for reunion, can I measure Facebook’s impact?

Not really. Like a billboard, I can’t prove to you that Facebook ads contributed to the record numbers.

Maybe they didn’t. Maybe the fact that this was the first “Facebook class” made the attendance inevitable. If we asked (and we did ask a few), the ads had nothing to do with it. As marketers, we know that isn’t true. We know advertising works as a reminder, whether the reminder is drink Coke or Strabucks, or attend a reunion.

Facebook is not a billboard company. But the almost free impressions on Facebook can be targeted infinitely better than a billboard, while still acting as a billboard. To me, that makes it too valuable to pass up.

This brings up a question: as a publicly trade company, can Facebook afford to give me free impressions? Or will this be an accident of the time that a social media site evolves into a billboard-like impressions model where we pay for GRPs?

What do you think?

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