Facebook’s fascinating evolution into a powerful marketing platform

On any given day, over a billion people — one of every seven inhabitants of this planet — log on to their Facebook accounts. For our purposes as marine marketers, one of every two to three active Internet users are on Facebook.
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On any given day, over a billion people — one of every seven inhabitants of this planet — log on to their Facebook accounts. For our purposes as marine marketers, one of every two to three active Internet users are on Facebook. What began as a geek’s way for a motley crew of college students to network has morphed into what many consider the most incredibly versatile marketing machine the digital revolution has spawned to date.

For those who still think Facebook is little more than a social networking site for teenagers and little old ladies, nothing could be further from the truth. It has been developed into a cost-efficient marketing platform not only able to target an enormous number of consumers in hundreds of categories, but also provide extremely useful return-on-investment analytics.

I was a believer in the platform as a marketing innovation from the get-go, thanks in large part to the buzz I heard from my teenage daughter and her friends in 2010. I knew something big was afoot, and in my mind’s eye I recalled a scene from “The Graduate” in which a well-meaning businessman whispers to the aimless and recently graduated Dustin Hoffman, “I just want to say one word to you — just one word — plastics.” Although much has changed since 1967, when that advice was offered, I did not want to miss the boat this time — albeit 45 years later — when I heard that Facebook would soon go public.

After weeks of media frenzy, Facebook’s IPO opened at $38 on May 18, 2012, rising to $45 that day before closing at $38.23. A firm believer in buy low, sell high, I waited two months for the market to cool and jumped at the chance to land the stock at $25 a share. I was convinced that this was a temporary aberration and that the market couldn’t see the forest for the trees. After it languished in a tight range for the better part of a year I lost faith, pulled the trigger and sold the stock for a small profit, concluding that Facebook was just a flash in the pan.

Timing, they say, is everything, and boy was I wrong! When it comes to picking stocks and marketing platforms, sometimes you’re right, sometimes you’re wrong and sometimes you’re just ahead of the curve. I’ve become a believer again, as Facebook has grown by leaps and bounds, making huge inroads — especially in mobile advertising. Besides, how far off the mark can 2.5 million advertisers be?

If that’s not enough to whet your interest, the adage “follow the money” could not be more appropriate for those looking to give Facebook a try. The stock closed in early November at $107 a share after a stellar third-quarter earnings report. This slightly more than 10-year-old “new tech” company now has a market value of $300 billion, surpassing the market value of General Electric, a 120-year-old “old tech” company.

Just how far has Facebook come since it went public less than four years ago?

  • 47 percent of all Internet users are on Facebook
  • 78 percent of Facebook’s revenue comes from mobile advertising
  • Direct uploads of user videos to Facebook now exceed YouTube
  • 7 billion likes are generated daily.

A closer look by Craig Smith of DMR reveals the following Facebook stats as of Oct. 16, 2015: (see http://expandedramblings.com/index.php/by-the-numbers-17-amazing-facebook-stats/9/)

  • 161 million daily active Facebook users in the United States and Canada
  • 57 percent of millionaires use Facebook
  • 30 percent of Facebook users have a college degree
  • 42 percent of Facebook users are male
  • 31 percent of senior citizens use Facebook
  • 92 percent of social marketers use Facebook advertising
  • $85 average e-commerce order value from a Facebook referral
  • 27 cents average Facebook cost per click

Of particular interest to marine marketers, a recent Nielsen study shows that Facebook alone now reaches more millennials and Hispanics than running ads on the 10 most watched TV networks combined. According to Nielsen, in a typical month 12.2 percent of millennials can be reached on TV only (using the top 10 networks), vs. 14.2 percent who can only be reached on Facebook. Similarly 16.3 percent of U.S. Hispanics can only be reached on TV, vs. 17.5 percent only on Facebook.

Although many of these Facebook statistics will not be surprising to those adept at social media marketing, a recent Facebook innovation called Topic Data looks as if it could be a game changer for savvy marine marketers. In short, Topic Data allows companies to see what Facebook users are saying about such things as brands, products, events and activities — how content is generating engagement and which websites are generating viral content. The idea is to let companies tap Facebook’s vast knowledge of what its users like, say and do in order to make better decisions, create better content and develop better campaigns.

Companies already can use Facebook’s data to target advertising across the social network. With this new offering, however, Facebook for the first time is promising insights that can be used to develop products or decide which audiences to target from previously unavailable data. Facebook has teamed with social-data company DataSift to provide access to the data. A 52-minute webinar that fully explains Topic Data can be found at vimeo.com/126525535 and is well worth your time.

Although this technology may be advanced for some, it’s time to dip your toes into these waters. This new approach allows users to drill down and gain valuable insights. It provides an opportunity for brands to understand audiences and to compare how their brand fares in relation to the competition, and it helps marketers become more data-informed so they can measure the impact of their efforts.

If this seems a tad too complicated, you might want to consider investing 99 cents for a Kindle version of “How to Use Facebook for Business — Your Quickstart Guide for Getting Customers Fast” by Wynne Pirini.

Still not convinced? All I can add at this point is that I’ve put my money where my mouth is. When Facebook’s stock dropped to $90 in mid-October I jumped back into bed with this marketing juggernaut. As noted earlier, it’s now $108 a share and I am convinced it makes sense to ride this wave into the future.

Michael Sciulla is president of Credibility & Company Communications, as well as vice president of the Marine Marketers of America and a member of the board of directors of both Boating Writers International and the Marine Marketers of America. During a 28-year career at BoatUS he built the association’s brand as membership grew from 30,000 to 650,000 and testified more than 30 times before a number of congressional committees.

This article originally appeared in the December 2015 issue.

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