Facebook Advertising: Search Marketing Without the “Search”

The evolution of advertising opportunities available within the social media juggernaut that is Facebook has emerged as a hot topic over the past four years. The site’s incredible growth both in Canada and worldwide has clearly been accompanied by a variety of growing pains and “learning as we go” attempts to monetize inventory. You can’t necessarily fault Facebook for some of its failed experiments, especially as they were blazing new trails in the media world, while leaving their social media competitors in the dust. Through this process though, we saw numerous ad models tested ranging from free-for-all buying through a plethora of ad networks, to exclusive reseller agreements with 3rd parties (including the likes of MSN_.

In 2007 the company turned a corner with the launch of its text based social ads product. While this too gradually evolved into the product we see today, its major distinction is the addition of hyper granular targeting and, more recently, a self-serve, auction-based ad marketplace. Allowing advertisers to narrow down target groups based not only on demographics but also on their stated interests was cool…but the real news was that Facebook was handing this control directly to advertisers, following in the footsteps of another massive self-serve advertising platform (here’s a clue: it starts with a “G” and ends with an “oogle”_.

Media Experts was among the first agencies to embrace this new platform, and the first Canadian media agency to have a Facebook self-serve account. We have made an extensive effort over the past few years to maximize the potential that it can offer our customers. We discovered early on that managing a Facebook social ad campaign is actually much more akin to search marketing than it is to display advertising. All of the fundamental tenants of search are here, from bid management and unlimited creative versions, to daily budget adjustments and multivariate testing opportunities. Rather than playing with keywords to determine when our ads are showing up, we’re now looking at interests and demographic profiles.

When you think about it, is there really that big a difference between an interest and a keyword? Isn’t adding your favourite football team to your Facebook profile and searching for that team’s jersey on Google fundamentally the same behaviour? The need or desire may not be as immediate in the case of Facebook, but the intent is clearly there and, most importantly, the consumer will be more open to a RELEVANT advertising message because he has already opted in to receiving it by specifying her interest (just as she opts in when searching on Google_.

This leaves the issue of where Facebook advertising (and by extension, social media advertising) really fits when it comes to the media buying process. We would contend that in many cases when a concrete action such as a “like” or “follow” is the objective, a social media campaign is best left in the hands of a seasoned search marketing professional. We feel that the skill set that exists in a search analyst lends itself very well to the granular adjustments and refinements required to achieve stringent acquisition objectives.

More recently, others have noticed the similarities between these media, and a bumper crop of companies offering bid management and reporting solutions have sprouted over the last year, all thanks to Facebook’s shiny new API. Once again, the parallels to the search marketing industry are evident as many companies built their business on helping people automate and manage their search activity through technology.

Other social media platforms are already following suit, launching APIs that will allow for greater automation and control over advertising campaigns. The coming year will see even more change with Twitter finally establishing a Canadian sales force and making many of its ad products available to Canadian advertisers.

Regardless of where things lead, one thing is clear: we are witnessing the maturation of another multi-billion dollar industry and need to be equipped to keep pace. The question that needs to be asked is “Who is managing your social media advertising?” If the answer isn’t a data driven, meticulous, analytical search marketing expert, you may not be extracting all the value you should be for your customers.