Don’t fight the tape is an old Wall Street maxim that embodies some real wisdom. You really can get in a jam if you insist on ignoring a trend that has a life of its own. And that’s as true off the Street as on, maybe more so. Today our subject is a hopeful development–the deflating, however slowly, of the social media bubble.
Yes, I did say hopeful and I chose that word purposefully even as I suspect it will irk some people. You may remember back in the late 90s that the dotcom boom was marked by a proliferation of URLs and a mad rush to stake out territory. An honest accounting requires we acknowledge the same has been and is going on with Facebook and Twitter.
Twitter is the easier of the two to question. In a pretty thorough and somewhat devastating Fortune article the problems are recounted at length. For a marketer a few should stand out: 47% of all activated accounts are dormant, time spent on the site has dropped 7% in a 12 month period, and 90% of the activity comes from less than 25% of active users. If these were traditional media numbers we’d have a death watch.
But maybe Twitter is just a big niche product. What about the true juggernaut, Facebook? I know all the stories about user growth and the amount of time users spend on the site. But I’ve yet to see a credible study that convinces me of Facebook’s value as an advertising vehicle.
I’m response and action-oriented. It’s great that folks who were using various forms of survey research to assess the efficacy of their efforts have discovered numbers and individuals. But I’m not sure human beings have changed just because there’s a new toy to play with.
On a Facebook page the ads are segregated in an “ad ghetto” separate and apart from the news feed, as easy to ignore as the pods at 8 and 18 minutes after the hour. Sure, there’s information-based targeting but all I hear about is the size of the user base. That reminds me of eyeballs a decade ago.
I don’t want to write FB off as a channel but in my niche market we conducted a head-to-head test with Google Adwords. FB came up snake eyes by a factor of 25! While that bears watching over time it doesn’t get me salivating. A Google search is purposeful and if my marketing is intended to impact purchase I want it to be present when there’s intent.
Not everyone agrees with me. I’ve been having an in-person debate with Bob Knorp for years now and I always wind up sounding like a throwback to the era when brand considerations played no part in response marketing plans. I don’t believe that, but I’m not willing to put brand ahead of sales–ever. There are whole categories that are low involvement and highly rational where the brand is probably the last sales guy to show up and no one is ever going to follow you on Twitter or Facebook. Got industrial valves?
Still, the dialog is starting. A former colleague (and friend), Bill Spink, raises questions about the economics of FB after the recent rate increase. Bill, like Bob, is a genuinely thoughtful guy committed to adding the best elements of brand practice to response marketing. Among direct folks, the longer we ply our trade the more our roles merge so a writer addressing economics seems reassuring. That we both come up wondering leads me to believe more will wind up in the same place.
In the meantime, disagreements are why we test. The market speaks to us, we just need to listen.