Facebook Advertising: Sometimes, When You Get There, There Isn’t Any There There

We confess: we often swim against the tide. And, no doubt, we’ll be skewered by every ad agency rep who reads this post. But the time has come to ask B2B marketers, “So who’s in charge of your advertising budget – you or that pimply kid from the ad agency?”

Sure, the arguments sounded compelling a couple years ago. Back then, every agency upstart was touting Facebook as the investment of the future. “You’d better get engaged now, or you’ll never catch up! …All of your customers are on Facebook! …Why wouldn’t you advertise on an inexpensive medium that reaches 400 million users?” (That number, by the way, has since passed 900 million.)

The theory seemed sound: Facebook isn’t just a social networking site, it’s a database – a massive database that holds information on 900,000,000 subscribers. And while they won’t give you that data, they’ll gladly sell you an opportunity to leverage it, as you segment and target your audiences.

It sounds too good (or too insidious) to be true. And for most B2B advertisers, it has been. Over the past two years, we have talked with dozens of B2B clients, and not one of them is making money on Facebook. Sorry, it’s just the truth.

It’s even failing for many consumer companies. Ask General Motors, who’s taken a giant step back from Facebook ads (though they are beefing up their pages). Why? No measurable return.

“But you’ve missed the point!” counter the socially aware agency elite. “It’s all about building community; the money will follow the loyalty!” And they may be right… for Coke.

Meanwhile, B2B marketers struggle with big revenue targets and small budgets. In their world, there’s no room for “trust me.” And the hard facts look pretty bad for social media advertising. Compare direct mail, for example. We all know that direct mail response rates stink. Less than 2% of all direct mail ads get any response at all. That’s a horrifying statistic for a B2B advertiser. But internet display ads? They get clicked on about one in 1000 exposures. And ads on Facebook are even worse, at one in 2,000 exposures. That’s about 4,000 times worse than direct mail. Of course, display ads cost less, so it might even out – unless your market size is very small, which is often the case in B2B.

Oh, and there’s one more thing your agency friend forgot to tell you. More than half of Facebook’s visitors are going mobile; your ad may be itsy-bitsy on their tablets and won’t even appear on many smartphone apps.

So go ahead, build your Facebook nation. But when it comes time to justify your R-O-I to the C-E-O, you may find yourself out of a J-O-B.