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Dan Miller, a professor of material culture at University College London, caused quite a stir at the end of 2013 when he said Facebook was "basically dead and buried" for 16-18-year-olds in the UK. So when we recently facilitated a series of focus groups in the US with 16-30-year-old males on the topic of their social media habits, we were interested to see how they would respond to "Is Facebook still cool?"

Almost universally, participants responded with a "No." But does Facebook need to be cool to be valuable to marketers? And if Facebook is no longer cool, how should that change the way marketers think about the channel?

For Facebook, not being cool is uniquely different from not being useful.

Although focus group participants acknowledged that Facebook is no longer "cool," they also said they still routinely check the site during a typical day, and they also said they don't expect it to diminish in importance any time soon.

Simply put, how they use the site has merely changed.

No longer do young users log into Facebook to post statuses, farm crops, and poke friends. Instead, Facebook has turned into a hybrid of a newspaper and a Rolodex. With much of its value closely tied to the connections that exist only within its walls, Facebook is still used to keep in touch with geographically separated friends and to post an occasional status or photo that's intended to keep the family up to date about their lives (or at least the carefully curated lives they want their family to know about).

A big reason for the shift in how younger users perceive Facebook is the continued trend of older users' joining and being more active on the site. What used to be a safe haven for friend-to-friend interaction and sharing personal thoughts and feelings has become a place where grandma might stumble across your next status update and ask questions you don't want to answer.

So, for brands, the question remains: If Facebook is no longer "cool" but young people are still using it, what should marketers be doing with the channel?

1. Diversify your efforts

There's no question that young people don't use Facebook for the things they used to use it for. In our study, Twitter was the channel most often named by focus group participants as the replacement for Facebook status updates, with Instagram (ironically a Facebook subsidiary) often called out as the go-to for photo sharing activity. Vine is growing in popularity among younger users, though it's more of a consumption medium, like YouTube, than a place for true social interaction. Accordingly, meaningfully diversifying onto these and other platforms is a must.

2. Change what you use Facebook for

Despite Facebook's loss of "coolness," comScore data finds that the site is still the leading property for young people—in terms of daily visitors and time spent. So... Facebook is still delivering the most inventory against this audience, tempting marketers to think of it as a "reach" platform; however, marketers are better off using Facebook for depth.

Most of the young people we spoke to said they used their Facebook identity to log in to services all over the Web, allowing Facebook to target advertising based on activities that take place off of its platform The ability to target advertising more accurately more than makes up for any lack of coolness that Facebook is suffering from.

The real proof, however, is in the pudding: Facebook is successfully getting brands to pay up.

3. Pay for promotion

For a long time Facebook was a "free" channel, but marketers must now sponsor content with paid media—or face a significant decrease in total exposure. The good news: users are still subscribing to pages of the brands they like. The bad news: getting the same amount of reach that was possible a year ago is going to cost you.

Asked about what they want from branded pages on Facebook, the young men in the focus groups shared that they are willing to receive news and deals from brands within their News Feeds, as long as the content is relevant to their interests.

With Facebook's targeting capabilities, advertisers should be taking advantage of the ability to easily target very focused groups of users, such as 17-year-old males who like to snowboard and who have a girlfriend.

4. Don't build apps
 
On a related note, if you're trying to get people to your Facebook page to interact with an app, you're facing an uphill battle. Most of the young men we spoke with check their News Feed for updates, but they don't actually visit the pages of the brands they follow. You can pay to show users a News Feed post that directs them to your app, but if you're going to pay for the click, why not send them to your own website so you don't give full control of the experience up to Facebook?

Recent changes to Facebook allow brands to run promotions on individual posts, which is a pretty clear sign that app usage is declining. In turn, Facebook is responding by giving marketers the tools they need to reach their audience where most of the interaction now takes place—in the News Feed.

Here's your key takeaway

Although a less cool Facebook could be a challenge for the long-term survival of the network, it's not something that marketers need to worry about just yet.

Just make sure you're actively pursuing other growing channels, allocating budget to promote the updates you post, and making your content both relevant and designed for interaction within the News Feed itself.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
image of Mike Barrett

Mike Barrett is the managing director of communications strategy and media at Heat, a full-service agency based in San Francisco, creating traditional, digital, and social content.

LinkedIn: Michael Barrett