Tips for using Facebook as a marketing channel

Facebook has been described as a ‘digital gangster’ on these pages , and has also come under criticism for dark ads, but the power of the platform as a marketing tool remains undeniable. Here social media experts discuss the pros and cons of Facebook and offer top tips for making the most of its potential.

Facebook pros

It is huge

Carly Stringer, social media consultant and member of virtual healthcare agency the Difference Collective, says: “Facebook has the broadest audience demographic and remains the leading social media platform to be used by businesses. It is also a cost-effective and highly-targeted advertising platform, which by 2020 is predicted to lag just behind the value of the entire commercial TV market. In short, Facebook isn’t going anywhere fast and shouldn’t be overlooked for amplifying PR campaigns.”

It is measurable
Hayley Coleby, senior social media director at PR agency The PHA Group, says: “As the worlds of PR and social media continue to merge, Facebook is seen to be supporting this integration by offering brands a new dimension to their PR campaigns, with real, measurable results.”

It gives you control
Coleby adds: “Securing coverage in top publications isn’t always easy, but Facebook allows you to control your own distribution, with minimal risk of mixed messaging or incorrect branding. If bolstered by a strategic and targeted paid adverting campaign, the effects can be quite phenomenal.”

Results are guaranteed
Coleby concludes: “When selecting relevant publications for your client or brand, you consider the demographic of readership and factors such as age and location. Facebook advertising operates in the same way, but you are guaranteed to reach these audiences without the challenge of big advertorial fees. Facebook adverts can be very cost effective, meaning even the smallest of budgets can make a dent in engagement and audience growth, and everything is measurable, right down to the number of interactions and clicks.”

It suits integrated campaigns
Sarah Evans, head of digital at PR agency Bottle, says: “Facebook is great for supporting PR campaigns when there’s a paid boost behind campaign content. The targeting’s granular, and the inventory’s fairly cheap (compared to others), plus you can run Instagram ads through Facebook Business Manager too. It can work for two objectives: generating in-platform engagement and reach within Facebook, or driving traffic to content that sits on your own website.” 

Facebook cons

It demands constant moderation
Dan Bermingham-Shaw, content marketing executive at marketing agency Builtvisible, says: “By no means isolated to just Facebook, but rather to all social media, there’s the constant need for a moderator. Sharing a post to the world invites trolls, abusive comments and others to post whatever they please, potentially damaging the performance of the campaign and brand reputation.”

It has a bad reputation
Bermingham-Shaw adds: “It is worth considering the current reputational status of Facebook which has taken a severe battering and continues to be plagued by serious security issues and problems with the dissemination of misinformation. With confidence in the platform waning, it seems likely less people will be willing to share personal information to the platform which Facebook relies upon for targeting.”

There are other options  
Marcia Veiga, social media assistant at agency Uprise PR, says: “When Facebook first launched just over 15 years ago, it didn’t have much in the way of competition. Now, with businesses using Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, SnapChat and Pinterest to communicate with their customers, the market is a lot more crowded.”

It does not work for B2B
Veiga explains: “Whilst it remains a popular choice for B2C brands, Facebook is becoming less and less relevant for B2B businesses, whose market can be more effectively targeted using other platforms.”

Its audience is getting older
Veiga says: “As the platform matures, so Facebook’s users are getting older. Statistics show that the real growth is in the over 55s market, whilst millennials are rapidly losing interest in the social network. Those businesses looking to reach younger consumers are therefore turning their back on Facebook altogether.”

It demands expertise
Veiga concludes: “Using Facebook for campaigns is not straightforward; it is not a blunt instrument and users need to know what they are doing to run successful campaigns – as well as cash in the bank. Paid promotions are fast becoming the only way to effectively reach potential customers on the platform, and skill and dedication – or the services of a skilled and dedicated third party – are required to avoid throwing good money after bad.”

How to make the most of Facebook

Use video says Carly Stringer: “We have recently seen some significant changes to the way Facebook feeds out business-related content, especially with its most recent “meaningful interactions” update. This means that brands are having to get even more creative when it comes to content and place an emphasis on human-to-human (rather than business-to-business or business-to-consumer) interaction. Video – especially live video – is King on Facebook and this isn’t going to change any time soon. If I had to recommend one thing brands include in their PR strategies right now, it would be mobile-optimised video content.”

Be specific says Claire Thompson, freelance consultant at Waves PR: “Facebook has its place. Like most things, it depends on brand, campaign objectives and audience. People often expect to be able to find brands there, so ‘brand grab’ is almost a must. It is very targeted and inexpensive for social advertising, so in that sense it can be great for propelling something specific, like an event, a new product, a competition. Facebook pages have lost their power, but groups can still be great, provided they are relevant and engaged.”

Create a buzz cheaply says Hayley Coleby: “The Facebook platform allows you to create a real buzz around your upcoming PR events by utilising features such as an event page, and live video. There is no need to pay a videographer a day’s rate, when events can be captured via a smartphone and audiences can tune in, in real time, making the process self-sufficient and affordable.”

Test and target content says Alex Goldup, associate director at agency The PR Office: “Facebook’s reach and size of its audience are hard to ignore. However, recent developments have forced a bit of rethink in terms of how we approach it as a comms and marketing platform. Since last year’s changes to Facebook’s algorithms (in essence designed to increase the visibility of content from users’ friends and family networks at the expense of organic brand content) there is now a much greater emphasis on paid-for and promoted content. Fortunately, of all social media platforms, Facebook’s advertising platform and targeting options are amongst the most comprehensive and sophisticated. It also has a low barrier to entry in terms of cost, which means that we’re able to test and target content and messaging with relatively modest budgets to see what works and engages audiences, and what doesn’t.”

Don’t stint on quality adds Goldup: “However, an important point is that a paid-for approach is not a panacea – mediocre content will be ineffective however much advertising spend is thrown at it, so it’s important that we continue to have good quality content at the heart of our campaigns and keep an eye on those analytics so we know what audiences are responding to and where we should focus our efforts.”

Have fun with engagement says Sarah Evans: “As well as reaching new people, Facebook can also deepen engagement with your current fans, so have some fun with this. Connecting with those who already know and like you can bolster the success of a campaign. Consider first, though, whether your intended audience is on Facebook, or if there’s a better platform to reach them through. For example, younger audiences could be reached through Instagram or Snapchat. As with any other advertising, it’s not just the channel, but the messaging and creative that counts. We’ve seen success by tailoring the content to the passive, smile-seeking mindset of someone scrolling on Facebook (rather than diving straight into product). If you don’t have budget, reconsider this channel due to the continuing dip in organic reach.”

It may have got some terrible publicity and it definitely divides both its users and the marketing community, but as long as Facebook remains huge, it cannot be ignored as tool for engaging key audiences.