Before you go and get too shocked about this, read on. Facebook is set to go public in the next few weeks and their business model relies on brands spending money to buy advertising space on the site. Yes, the ads are targeted using the data that users put into Facebook. And yes, people are spending more and more time on Facebook.
But consider the following: “Over the past year, Gap Inc., J.C. Penney Co. and Nordstrom Inc. have all opened and closed storefronts on Facebook Inc.’s social networking site.” That quote comes from this Bloomberg article detailing companies that have tried to open commerce channels within Facebook and found them ineffective.
Here’s how Forrester analyst Sucharita Mulpuru explains why making sales on Facebook doesn’t work: “There was a lot of anticipation that Facebook would turn into a new destination, a store, a place where people would shop. But it was like trying to sell stuff to people while they’re hanging out with their friends at the bar.”
People go on Facebook to hang out with their friends. They don’t go to buy things.
This doesn’t mean, however, that Facebook is not an important place for your brand. Even if people aren’t buying what you sell on Facebook, it’s still an unique opportunity to interact with them. Take Skittles as an example. Their Fan Page boasts over 20 million fans. On a recent status update, Skittles asks “Exactly how many seconds are you away from eating Skittles right now?” 3,500 people liked this update. 1,400 commented. 40 shared it with their friends. Is there anywhere on Facebook where these fans can actually buy a bag of skittles? No. But they are engaging nonetheless, and arguably much more likely to go out and grab a bag of Skittles on their lunch break after seeing this mouth-watering status update.
Perhaps the title of this post should be slightly altered. Perhaps a better title would be “Facebook isn’t for making sales.” Companies like Skittles are showing, however, that it is a great opportunity to connect with people on a human level. Just because they don’t press the “buy” button then and there doesn’t mean they aren’t hearing you. You have to match the media, align your goals and actions with the right context.
Trying to sell stuff to people while they’re hanging out with their friends at a bar is tough. Unless, of course, you’re selling drinks.