The Problem with Facebook (for Marketers)

facebook-logoMaybe “300,000,000” — the recently-announced number of Facebook users — represents some kind of tipping-point, because in recent weeks I’ve had more frequent conversations with marketers about “what to do about” the popular social network.

These conversations have evolved from, “Oh, Facebook is for college kids,” to “People 35–and-over are the fastest demographic on Facebook,” to “Whatever else you wanna say about it … 300 million is a big number.”  So that’s how the question now becomes “what to do about” Facebook.

First off, as always, if your customers and prospects are not on Facebook, there’s no need to blow-out some expensive approach.  Beware of Shiny Object Syndrome.  But with 300 million users, the odds that your stakeholders don’t hang out on Facebook at all are dwindling.

But here’s the trouble with Facebook: it’s a proprietary network.  Yes, the Gods of Facebook have made it easier to find your branded page via Google.  Yes, they’ve made it easier to find your content from within the network.  But notice how these initiatives have aided Facebook, more than you? The SEO effect for your domain is nominal.  By participating on Facebook you are potentially directing traffic from your www domain to Facebook’s domain instead.  That’s Problem #1.

Problem #2 with this very popular, proprietary network is that the rules change pretty frequently, and are too-often not well-thought-out.  And there’s little the average Corporate Marketer can do about it.

One of the reasons the Web flourished from Day One?  There were no capricious overlords mucking about: for as much as we sometimes bemoaned its Wild West nature in the early days, the Web’s unilateral anarchy allowed best practices to emerge organically.  The million dollars you spent on a Facebook Page could be thrown out the window.  Sorry, it’s in the Terms of Service.

I am not trying to warn marketers off of Facebook.  Not at all.  I am suggesting that this network represents an “alternate reality” on the Web, with a separate rule-set and risks.

Our general advice to clients is to NOT spend a fortune on designing Facebook pages that could change at any time, at Facebook’s whim.  Instead, when marketing on Facebook we tend to advocate for a lightweight, low-cost approach to community-building plus a nuanced blend of outreach campaigns, widgets, advertising, contests, etc. that would appeal to and empower the Facebook community, and ideally drive traffic from Facebook to the client’s official web domains.

Got a different point of view?  Lemme know!

Posted on: September 21, 2009 at 12:05 pm By Todd Defren
110 Responses to “The Problem with Facebook (for Marketers)”


  • reggi d. says:

    I think that there is risks in everything we do. Of course, by using these social media websites doesnt help quite a bit do to the fact that people are there to interact with their friends and not look for a certain product.

    The best way to do that is to have a blog like every company should because it is the best way to interact with your customers and you get to let them know that you’ve just publish an article.

  • Whitney says:

    This is a very informative post! I don’t agree with Facebook’s whole “we change when and how we want to, regardless of what you think” thing. I have to admit thought, I do use it every day.

  • DryerBuzz says:

    Facebook (any social work) is where one should bring/interact wth current customers. Esblishing and demostrating a wonderful “digtal” relationship should cause a gain in new customers through “social word of mouth” i.e. sharing, friend invites, etc.

    Does a phony fan ad really build a long lasting relationship? Does a marketer really want a relationship? The world is smaller and social. Will big company be out “friended” by the corner store?

  • Codruta Moga says:

    I think that for some brands, it’s not very important whether the users go to the company’s site or Facebook Fan page. They want to keep the users happy and engaged, to communicate with them or to offer support. But I do think that they have to keep an eye on the company’s site, because it’s the place where they have control over the content. What if in 5 years a platform like this vanishes? or they lose the content put there?

    About the second problem, people and companies are a little worried because the rules change. But perhaps Facebook will learn from his past experiences and think more when they take a decision, or ask.

    really great post Todd, as you’ve seen this opened a good conversation

  • Brandon says:

    Good article. I think the hardest thing about Facebook for my clients is that they don’t understand the interactive marketing angle. There’s a misnomer that you can just throw up a FB page, get fans and see automatic success.

    Part of the issue is too that the “300million” users thing isn’t exactly honest as well as often it’s sided with “Facebook now larger than America in population”. That’s all fine and good if that means that all 300million of these people are accounted for individuals and not including dual accounts, spammers and bots.

    As well, just the same if you look at population, just because America has Xmillion citizens, it doesn’t mean that being in America suddenly promises your ability to have every one of those citizens hear and react to your message. I think explaining it that way has helped a lot more as of late as they feel all they have to do is “be on Facebook” and they’re suddenly able to check “Social Marketing” off their to-do list.

  • Hi Todd,

    Great post (saw the tweet first…)

    Prob 1; If there are 300 million users and the majority are from US, how important for that audience is SEO in the first place? I preach the value of SEO all the time, but in the case of FB, what does it matter? Agreed it may be taking away from the corp website, but to your point if the content is light (which most fan pages are) and the CTAs are strong to go elsewhere (the real goal), then I feel as though you are actually satisfying your clients/customers needs by offering your information in a place they feel comfortable hanging out (so to speak).

    Prob 2: It’s very easy to stuff HTML into the site and have one truly branded page. Harley has done a great job of this (C.C. Chapman, I believe?). Maybe you don’t need to go to that extent but it’s not that hard. Also what is the difference with FB and when they change browser versions and standards or HTML? We all end up adapting each and every time.

    Sorry, I am an optimist at hart :) .

    But to you last point, you have to have a vision, with priorities (which unfortunately is really lacking sometimes with clients) and that really drives the path.

    Thank you for all the insight, I have been learning a lot from you.

  • Ryan Miller says:


    Enjoyed this post. I’d just add that the way we approach FB with clients it to use it as a satellite (same with Twitter, MySpace, etc) to hopefully get users to the clients’ own website, blog, or landing page. We’ve had great luck reaching out to customer via FB (where they’re already comfortable interacting) but the trick is to get them to take an action moves them to ‘our house’ to interact.

  • Some good points, Todd. We always tell clients not to start with the technology. That’s the last step. Start with the people, then the business objectives and see where they align. If that’s Facebook, then great, why is it Facebook.

    That will tell you if you’re trying to build a long-term community, have a short-term contest, both, neither, something in between.

    But we see this all the time, with YouTube, with Twitter, with Facebook. You’re right: beware the shiny object syndrome.

  • George Snell says:

    Why do I read other bloggers? For post ideas!

    Another compelling topic, Todd. The terms of service for Facebook seem to change at whim and that can be scary for any company. But businesses rely on other private companies for many primary operational needs – from Microsoft and SAP to Verizon and AT&T. I don’t think this is much different – especially if you weight the benefits of Facebook against the risks. Anyway, I blog about it here:


  • Seth Resler says:

    I agree with Mike Driehorst that you should go where people are, not try to push them to someplace else. I have found Facebook pages to be a very effective tool for attracting potential clients and keeping them informed. Facebook pages require a single click for people to opt in, which is far simpler than the amount of work required for somebody to opt in to an email newsletter. Now that Facebook Pages’ status updates are published to Fans’ newsfeeds, it is easier than ever to keep your clients informed.

    I’m not entirely sure how anybody would spend a fortune on Facebook pages: the cost is minimal, but using them properly requires a significant investment of time. That’s because it is a tool for engaging in conversation, and good conversations require time.

    I disagree with Kuno Creative that Facebook needs to become more business friendly. I think it has already done a lot in the last year to become business-friendly, but I don’t think it needs to open up to allow unsolicited ads from unknown companies. Facebook is and has always been a way to connect with people you already know. This is true for both people and companies. It facilitates relationships, but it is not a substitute for relationships.

    • Seth – you are so right about good conversations and taking time. The kool aid drinkers never got that, they would just spew BS about Facebook is the rage.

      I’m also going to take on the next presenter I see that uses the If Facebook was a country it would be yada yada. It means relatively nothing.

      The negative press is coming as the hype cycle for social dips, this is a good thing because we’ll get to the quality of relationships and move off the concept of replacing the mass market.

  • Excellent insight and advice for small businesses who are experimenting with Facebook pages.

    The one main positive we see with our Facebook presence, albeit small at this stage,is that visitors to our site from our FaceBook page have terrific staying power. Their average time on site is around 8 minutes and their average number of page views is around 12.3. Pretty decent when comparing these stats to our Twitter followers.

  • As a marketer I’m certainly attracted to the huge potential market and ever-growing tools available for using Facebook as a marketing venue. Some companies and organizations are doing very well with FB pages, but most of us are struggling. The problem is that unless you have a well-known brand already, it’s difficult to attract a following. The friend search and rules are still very restrictive, appropriate for a personal posting site, not a business venue. Both Twitter and LinkedIn are far more flexible. I understand the need to suppress spam and the still-huge group that wants to keep FB for fun and games, but let’s face it – we’re heading in the direction of commercial use and there’s no way to turn back. I say FB should just acknowledge the oncoming wave and make the site much more business-friendly.

  • Leigh Durst says:


    I get where you’re coming from with this post and not sure I have an entirely different point of view.

    Dare I say this? Okay… I guess I’m beginning to challenge the idea that driving the traffic to one’s domain (unless it’s NECESSARY to drive a transaction) is really critical anymore.

    Why? Well we have taught people for years “it’s all about your web site and driving traffic to your site” and we have preached Traffic and Google Ranking and SEO. However, the dynamics of web 2.0 distribute the dialog and conversation across hubs of activity on the net today. We find ourselves telling people to to those places (in the cloud – or on proprietary networks) and be a part of that dialog. So wouldn’t the latter advice compromise the former approach? Furthermore, isn’t being MANY places (e.g. distributing rich media across every available outlet including my own site, You Tube, Facebook) a more powerful way to get one’s message across?

    Obviously the art is in telling people where to go next. I really do agree with your position on Facebook – and I also try to get my clients to push from FB to their web sites (as necessary. One significant difference is that I’ve found it particularly useful in driving traffic directly to brick and mortar locations, as well… In other words, sometimes the website doesn’t factor in, entirely.

    Just a few thoughts. Thanks for the thought provoking post.

    - Leigh

    • dominiq says:

      @ Leigh,

      Fully agree. Plus, the diversity of channels and communities offer the opportunity to be more diverse on what the next step is. It could be different strategies to different communities and it could span activities like: sell, advise, raise awareness, collaborate/co-design/crowd source, answer questions ….

      Way richer than driving un-qualified traffic to an obsolete corporate site.

  • I’ve also been recently talking to a lot of clients about FB marketing, and I completely agree with the ‘alternate reality’ assessment. The risks you mentioned are completely cogent, but I also think the opportunity comes with a lot of benefits that can work for marketers in spite of (and partially because of) your above points.

    The proprietary nature of FB also gives it a lot of focus when compared to the web at large. It’s made Facebook quite the little microcosm that, if used correctly (and I completely agree–in many cases, the lighter, the better) can often give many brands quicker returns, especially if the goal is interactive content. Rather than write an essay here:

  • David Spinks says:

    There’s certainly a middle ground that must be found. You don’t want to set the facebook page to autopilot and then never look back again. If you’re going to invest anything into a facebook page, it should be time and conversation. Realize that facebook is just another platform. Use it to communicate with your customers (assuming they’re there) and if facebook decides to take away that platform at some point…then you’re not losing anything. You’ll just commit your time of engagement to another platform.

    One thing though is that you don’t want to “half-ass” it. As I said, you shouldn’t have to invest much into your facebook page, but you should make sure if you do it…it’s done right. Having an undeveloped page makes you look bad. You’re better off not doing it at all.

  • Steve Coulson says:

    The DESIGN of a Facebook Page is probably only important the first time some lands there, as you’re trying to convert them to a Fan. Once you’ve done that, the function of a Page changes completely – you then have to treat it like a distributed publishing system, pushing out content into their feeds.

    Which means that most of your investment (whether in time or dollars) should be in thinking about your content publishing schedule, with relevant and worthy information being pushed into Fans’ newsfeeds that will persuade them to take a positive action (visit a site, redeem a coupon, purchase something). The potential to re-engage a fan for a repeat purchase is actually a really valuable asset in the right hands.

  • Todd,
    Definitely good points, as usual. The main thing, as you mentioned, is the upfront planning: “[I]f your customers and prospects are not on Facebook, there’s no need to blow-out some expensive approach. Beware of Shiny Object Syndrome, as always.”

    While there may be challenges with Facebook, there’s plenty that can be done. I’m of the belief that it’s much easier to interact with people if you go where they are, rather than trying to convince them to go to your place.

    One other big issue with Facebook is the network part. Unlike open bloggers, you can’t go visit, find out about and contact FB members — unless you’re already their friend or they fan you. So, the smart FB marketer has to rely on other means (like apps).

    I’ve been mulling over a FB post in my head for weeks — and you provided enough impetus to help be make it a reality (soon). So, THANK!

  • For me, the biggest problem with Facebook from a marketing perspective has always been the fact that people there aren’t looking to be marketed to. One of the reasons that most FB advertising has such a low CTR is that, unlike Google AdWords, people aren’t looking for a product or service (usually), they’re looking for pictures from the weekend or a classmate from 5 years ago. Also, the low cost (in effort and time) of joining a group or fan page, results in many people not being very committed to the idea of being a fan.

    • Matt hit the nail on the head. People are on facebook to socialize with their friends and maybe play a game. For marketers to flock there just because facebook has 300 million users is the wrong reason. Some brands probably perform better there than others. I see more value investing in a facebook app than fancy fan page design. Leigh has an interesting point that web 2.0 is meant to be spread out among multiple channels, and you need to be a part of the conversation everywhere. This is also true, and it’s why I wouldn’t argue against fan pages, just don’t make it the end all be all. And Todd, thanks again for a thought provoking post and an idea for a blog post of my own!

      • Ian Cleary says:

        You will drive traffic to your page if you’ve got very interesting content. Red Bull have over 1.1 million fans and their content is all about video’s, fun, humour etc so you can see why people will hang out there. With a website you don’t spend as much time on and are not encouraged to go back regular. I do agree, however, that Facebook and other similar platforms can be mainly used as a feeder to drive traffic to your website.

        If you do a google adwords campaign and a facebook ad campaign generally you will find that you fair better on the google campaign.

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