For a while now Facebook has seemed like the only show in town for startups and small businesses wanting to get their product or service under the noses of their customers.
If I had a pound for every business owner who said ‘oh, Facebook advertising’ when asked the question ‘so how will you engage with your customers?’ then I’d be a rather rich man.
For a time there it seemed like Facebook, with its covert tracking pixels and weaponized data, offered firms an unparalleled opportunity to sell with laser-like precision to target customers.
But for me something has never felt quite right, or should I say sustainable, about Facebook’s advertising model. There’s something of the goldrush fever about it – and we know they only end one way. ‘Bubble’ and ‘burst’ are two words that come to mind.
So IS Facebook advertising bad for your brand?
Don’t get me wrong, I realise that Facebook’s advertising department is still raking in the GDP of a small nation every few days, but it really does feel like the good times are over, and most importantly a brand that might be a bit naff to be associated with.
The news that Apple is blocking Facebook’s pixel in its next version of Safari is a game changer. People are gradually waking up to the fact that Facebook is constantly mining our data and we don’t like it.
Add to that the Cambridge Analytica scandal with all its election rigging implications and you have a reputational crisis for Mr Zuckerberg that will not be to his ‘liking’ – virtual thumb most definitely down.
Facebook advertising is lacking trust
But why should this matter for the millions of small businesses (and indeed much larger ones) who have come to rely on Facebook as their advertising platform of choice?
One word – trust.
Put simply public trust in Facebook has been eroded massively and consequently, whether people are conscious of it or not, they will be making a judgment on the trustworthiness of businesses who choose to advertise on the platform.
Think about it. Do you as a business owner feel comfortable knowing that your customers are just a little suspicious of the platform where your brand is trying to connect with them? As a PR guy I can tell you that doesn’t add up and unless Facebook takes this reputational crisis seriously they will lose advertisers in droves as the rot sets in.
But this isn’t in fact the key reason why this advertising model was always limited.
The twin evils of content overload and user cynicism
Facebook is constantly having to juggle the balance in your newsfeed between genuine content created by your pals and ads it thinks you want to see. Our tolerance for the latter is getting less and less the more we see how the magician does his trick.
By this I mean in the early days of Facebook advertising it was genuinely surprising, and perhaps useful, to see adverts so closely tailored to our own personal interests and the wide-eyed digital newborn in us secretly loved it.
But as we’ve grown older and wiser as digital consumers we’re not so impressed, in fact, we’ve got rather fed up and annoyed. So is Facebook advertising bad for your brand?
Like I say, once you see how the magician does the trick it’s no longer a trick. Now we know that Facebook is using pixels to spy on us like some crazy online stalker it doesn’t feel so cute and innocent any more.
Apple clearly recognises this and is firmly putting its money behind being the ‘ethical’ digital giant – they’re even telling us to use its devices less.
Which brings me to my blatant plug for the powers of quality PR – with a nod to some good SEO etiquette.
PR (media coverage) is basically the ultimate SEO
From here on in organic rankings on Google are going to be a much more reliable way of sourcing quality products and businesses. Why? Because this system, again if you know some SEO backlinking basics, is much more of a meritocracy and the algorithms – for now – are trying to mirror as best they can the real-world relevance and quality of your business.
Put simply, focus on being a brilliant business first and foremost, offering real value, and the rest will follow.
The rest includes creating genuinely engaging and useful content for your customers and being talked about and written about by trusted media sources – mainstream press, TV, radio, huge blogs, and podcasts.
In this era of fake news and a million Facebook ads people are now returning to trusted sources of information.
Put it like this, if I see an ad for your business on Facebook I pretty much attach zero credibility to it in 2018. If I see that The New York Times deems you worthy of writing about I sit up and take notice.
Building your online profile this way, by committing to constant PR outputs and creating seriously high-quality content is hard work and takes real commitment – it’s not as easy as throwing $1,000 at Facebook – but in the long run, the dividends are massive. And chief among them is TRUST.
Trust is what this all boils down to – and it is something that Facebook is being drained of, fast.
Think of it like this, if I Google ‘restaurants in my city’ and yours comes out top of the organic rankings I can be fairly confident that you’re worth a go. If you spam my Facebook newsfeed you’ll increasingly turn my stomach.
We all want a shortcut in life, but on this occasion, it could be a dead end.
Putting in the hard work and building your reputation online with quality PR and meaningful content might be tougher but it’s far more authentic and long-lasting.
So is Facebook advertising bad for your brand? Time will tell.