Is Facebook the New Television?

Television has long been the dominant medium when it comes to brand advertising. While this remains the case today, big brand advertisers are slowly but surely moving their ad dollars  to social media.

The primary beneficiary of this shift is, of course, Facebook, the 800-pound gorilla of social media. But as we at ReveNews have observed over the past several months, major advertisers have been questioning  the advertising effectiveness of the giant social network.

You Have to Be There – But You Don’t Have to Pay for It

Finally, it seems, marketers have made up their minds about Facebook: For the most part, they see it as a necessary addition to their marketing strategy, but not necessarily something they have to pay for. According to a new survey of brand marketers and agencies conducted by industry publication Ad Age in conjunction with Citigroup, 86 percent currently use Facebook for marketing, but only 55 percent currently advertise on the social network. Almost 88 percent say they would consider implementing content on Facebook without ads.

Just as interesting is the respondents’ answer to this question: “How useful is Facebook overall in driving purchase intent?” Over 13 percent said “Not useful” while 19 percent answered “Don’t know.” That means about one-third of marketers and their agencies aren’t convinced Facebook is a true influencer of sales.

It’s About Awareness

Here’s where Facebook begins to look a lot like television, at least from a brand advertiser’s perspective. When asked, “What is your primary goal in Facebook advertising?” almost half (45.9 percent) of the survey respondents answered “Build awareness and sentiment for my brand.” The second most-mentioned goal was “Driving traffic to my website,” with 17.6 percent of respondents indicating its prime importance. Third most important, perhaps surprisingly, was “Build fans or ‘likes’” (12.1 percent), followed closely by “To stay in touch with my customers” (11.9 percent).

The response to this question seems to indicate pretty definitively that brand marketers who use Facebook for advertising have no false expectations about what their Facebook ads can accomplish. As with television, advertisers now perceive Facebook primarily as an awareness medium.

In fact, according to Ad Age:

 “Facebook’s pitch to the world’s biggest consumer marketers is that it’s a branding platform like TV, and it’s been urging them to focus less on metrics such as click-through rates and more on reach and ‘resonance.’ The fact that a plurality of survey respondents said brand awareness was their top goal might mean that Facebook’s message is sinking in, leading marketers away from expecting immediate results up front.”

Content is Still King

The big challenge for brand marketers, and for Facebook itself, is to find the magic formula that combines free content and paid media to have the largest impact on consumers. With a platform like Facebook, this immediately raises the specter of advertising disguised as content. If traditional ads are not what brand advertisers want to buy, Facebook will find something else to sell them, like its “sponsored stories.” Here’s what Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik has to say about that:

“[Facebook] is rolling out a product it calls ‘sponsored stories,’ in which a user’s decision to ‘like’ a company’s product will show up in his or her friends’ news feeds as an item placed by that company.

The idea, plainly, is to dress up an ad so it masquerades as a voluntary endorsement of a product between friends. If that sounds like an extreme encroachment of commercial interests into our personal lives, so be it: Facebook thinks it’s the key to attention-grabbing ads.”

Of course, sponsored content is nothing new in the online world. It has existed for a long time in television, too. That was the origination of “soap operas,” which were sponsored by detergent manufacturers. The “Hallmark Hall of Fame” began as sponsored prime time specials in 1951 and the series continues today. More subtle and perhaps insidious are those paid product placements that pepper both television shows and movies.

A Maturing Medium

In reality, what we may be witnessing is simply a maturation process of social media as a major media outlet. Yes, Facebook is a social media platform, but it is also a place where brand advertisers can reach over 900 million people. As a comparison, recent statistics  indicate some 4.2 billion people have access to television.

As it approaches one quarter of television’s global reach, Facebook is far too tantalizing a medium for big advertisers to overlook. One way or the other, they intend to get their money’s worth out of it – even if they are not paying for traditional advertising.

About Barry Silverstein

Barry Silverstein is a freelance writer/marketing consultant. In addition to writing for ReveNews, he is a contributing writer to, the world’s leading online branding forum. He is the author of three marketing books, The Breakaway Brand (co-author, McGraw-Hill, 2005), Business-to-Business Internet Marketing (Maximum Press, 2003) and Internet Marketing for Technology Companies (Maximum Press, 2003). Barry ran his own Internet and direct marketing agency for twenty years. You can find Barry on Twitter @bdsilv.

3 Responses to Is Facebook the New Television?

  1. Cherry Rodriguez says:

    It’s obvious that the impact of Facebook on daily lives may have exceeded that of television.  With over 900 million users plugged online, businesses are tripping over themselves trying to take advantage of such exposure.  Considering the how much money this opportunity presents, it has resulted in the loss of privacy for most users.

  2. You may not need to pay for a Facebook page, but there is still a cost.  It takes time (and money) to keep a Facebook page up and running.  If you are going to use Facebook or other social media outlets correctly you need to keep them active.  Depending on the size of your business, that may be a full time job.  

  3. Stanley Rao says:

    What ever we do it is the content that is considered as the king for all the business activities in the organization…  and it seems to be a bit odd when you see that social networking sites have become a form of entertainment these days.