Is probably the lamest headline I’ll ever write. I started with ‘don’t put all your eggs in Facebook’s basket’, but that wouldn’t convey my point completely. Certainly it would cover what I’ve seen over the last 2 or 3 years but doesn’t tell the whole story.
I started working in the Internet ‘industry’ back in 1997, selling firstly modems, then into large scale portals via, brochureware sites, intranets, a bit of ecommerce, database stuff and so on. So it makes me qualified from both a hands-on perspective as well as an interested observer into the trends and hooks onto which firstly ‘experts’ and then the masses are determined to hang their entire strategies from.
The conversations I enjoy most are the wanky ones account directors, heads of digital and media agencies have with their clients which currently start something like:
‘It’s all about social. Without social, you are nothing.’
Which is, of course true, BUT it is delivered with the portentous authority of an Internet oracle whose words are dismissed at one’s peril. Of course, they do a great sales job and after all, Mr. willing client is prepared to listen to the consultant or agency as they are the expert. However, how can anyone be an expert in the true sense of the word given the lack of historical evidence or a crystal ball?
The point I’m struggling to make is that for at least the last decade and certainly since the post web 2.0 cliche, every start up and therefore ‘next-best-thing’ has become the be all and end all of online marketing. In the beginning you had cynics who felt the Internet itself was a fad and resisted it; some businesses still holding out until relatively recently, including large retail companies. Nowadays I think you’d be hard pushed to find many of those still in business and even if they still held those beliefs they’d likely be keeping them to themselves for fear of the ridicule and damage to their reputation if they soapboxed them.
Recently I watched the Zuckerberg documentary where Martin Sorrell, a hugely successful man who started and runs WPP one of the most successful advertising companies in the world, appeared to dismiss the social channel almost out of hand and that it could never compete with his version of advertising.
As it happens I don’t agree and whilst the beginning of this post may seem to contradict the last paragraph, the point is that neither he, nor Zuckerberg knows what will be what. Arguably Sorrell is an expert in the old world of marketing / advertising whereas Zuckerberg can arguably purport to be one of the new world given the billions his company is generating, but neither can accurately predict the future.
And therein lies the rub. That no one has ever been 100% able to predict the future, there has always been and will always be conjecture and speculation about what will take off and flop and what will provide real traction and a place to spend precious budgets. Yet, throughout the rise of internet technologies, platforms and networks there has been a goldrush each and every time, clients willing to handover their cash to the (highly paid) saviours of their business.
In the beginning, it was all about getting to the party, i.e. a website. Then when sales didn’t go through the roof as foretold (granted by people like me), those experts would tell them to slap their URL on anything which moved. So they reprinted stationery, sign wrote their vans, sent leaflets and so on. And things started to happen. Then they started collecting data, sending emails even. And that worked too. Then SEO came along and they optimised. And whaddya know, more people found them, bought stuff and subscribed for emails. All of sudden this was a serious channel and smart companies invested in CRM (sorry, eCRM) and many flourish today. However, you will have seen trends where companies firstly rebranded to be their web address (remember http://www.iceland.co.uk/?) and then ditched the www. part and just used the rest of the URL, without realising that lots of people were still playing catchup and many browsers wouldn’t show anything without the prefix. Then, so as to arrogantly suggest their SEO was better than anyone else’s, they would simply say ‘search Wendy’s’ without realising that Burger King were bidding of that search term and were duly sending traffic to a competitor.
And now, such as almost the overwhelming trend among larger brands, the majority doesn’t bother with anything other than a facebook.com/ address. It’s like saying the Zuck, ‘here you go, here’s all my eggs, fill up your basket, while I spend millions driving data to your platform so you can better sell to my competitors.’.
Clearly these brands hire much more intelligent people than me and their agencies are filled with bright young things, but to me this is doing two fairly major things. Firstly, it serves to negate much of the hard work which was done in the early days in terms of optimising their own site thus cannibalising their traffic and secondly, it screams to the world that Facebook in a way is the Internet. Which is bollocks. Facebook is incredible, a phenomenon, truly the most important development online since Google, but it is not the Internet. God forbid. However it is becoming an internet within the Internet.
As a purist, I believe the Internet should be open; that’s the reason it achieved such profound penetration in a very short space of time. Links are everything and in the same way I hope the Times’ paywall fails and explodes spectacularly in Murdoch face, I hope that organisations can see that Facebook is just another channel of their overall strategy and not the entire strategy. Instead of weaving from new thing to new thing, these should be experimented with, optimised, tested and if successful, integrated. And I’m sure lots of this will have been done for many companies but not all.
Take a look at this article on how US companies are rushing to shut their Facebook stores. I called this from the start. I said Facebook was not a shopping destination, more that users had flocked there and returned because it was a social experience, a place to hang out, to share stuff and so on. I think when folk share and recommend product that is an incredibly powerful driver for businesses and I do think FB ads are a valid acquisition tool but why is it better that we check-out there too? Surely you want some of your customer’s experience to be within your own environment. You wouldn’t have your flagship store interior designed and ‘retail-optimised’ only to sell everything from a warehouse just ‘cos that’s where happened to hip at the time. Anyway I’m glad this trend seems to happening as it shows how these enterprises acted first and thought second; of course they were held up as forward thinking and progressive and were showing first mover initiative, but those who’ve been casually observing will be enjoying this. Having kept their powder dry, they are able to see that perhaps Fcommerce (like every other next-best-thing) isn’t the best thing since, well, Facebook.
So it seems for now that where Facebook is concerned, people like to hang out at the mall but prefer to shop on the high street.