Happy Birthday Facebook! Looking back at three Facebook features that changed the way I think about marketing

Facebook turned fifteen on Monday, 4 February and it’s hard to argue with the impact it has had on the world. Facebook and its other social media peers have fundamentally changed the way we communicate and connect with each other globally and has grown up from a couple of college kids in a dorm room to a warm fuzzy and purpose-led mission statement of ‘Bring the world closer together’. 

On August 24 2015, a billion people logged onto the platform. On one day. In June 2017 it hit 2 billion people a month. It’s safe to say that it is not the fad I was warned it would be when I started my social media marketing specialist company, Socialites, in 2010. Everyone knows the stories of the billion-dollar acquisitions, the IPO, the fights with governments, issues around privacy and Mark’s infamous wardrobe of grey-hoodies-to-save-making-decisions. But as a passionate marketer, I’ve looked back over the years to when Facebook’s actions made a real difference to us as marketers and three events stand out.

User controlled advertising

First to mind is being able to book our own advertising. Up until 2011 we had to book ads through Facebook Inc, much like we did with television or radio. We’d brief in our rep at Facebook, get an IO, pay the dollars and they took care of it. However, suddenly we were allowed behind the scenes in a place called Power Editor and were able to book our own advertising, playing around with all sorts of targeting options. It was liberating and pretty darn cool.

Having a solid understanding of direct marketing background became key, as demographics and then psychographics were introduced. Yes it was buggy, and often still is, but over the years the user interface has become simpler (no Power Editor anymore!) and the targeting has got more comprehensive. Playing around with matrixes, testing creatives and audiences is heaven for marketing geeks. Now we’ve got all sorts of AI and programmatic tools to play with too.

My prediction is that we are going to very soon lose this golden age of being able to target “30-40-year-old household shopper that likes gnomes in Manawatu” with a click of a button. The call for privacy has become too strong. But that topic is another whole post. The point is that as marketers we were given the power to play with media ourselves and now we accept it as the new normal.

Introduction of video ads

Another big event for marketers was the introduction of video in 2012. Launching just as the Ice Bucket Challenge swept around the world, suddenly marketers could create video-based campaigns. The challenge was on to create epic videos, with bonus points on offer for incorporating user-generated content (UGC). Whoop! 

This suddenly enabled branded event sponsorships to be much better amplified. Red Bull’s association with extreme sports is a great example of this. It also meant we could tell stories with video, taking on terrestrial television in hand-to-hand combat. The conversations were interesting “So, we can put a video ad on Facebook and know exactly how many people saw it, what they looked like, retarget them with follow-up offers AND they will tell us if they like it or not?” “Yep.” It still surprises me that so many brands construct their brand campaigns around a traditional big budget TVC and not around a socially-led, engaging idea. But this is the marketing opportunity Facebook gave us.

Facebook Live

The third big gamechanger for marketers was the introduction of Live. I have loved seeing trends move strongly over the last 10 years towards people really buying into purpose-driven brands. As millennials have grown up they are holding companies to account. We all now recognize that a company is just a collection of people and that you can’t hide behind corporate whitewash. Right on trend Facebook brought out live video chat through Facebook Live and Instastories. Brands like Z and ANZ did well-holding Facebook Lives with their CEO. At an FMCG level, smart social media managers use Live to show behind the scenes, people packaging up products etc. The core benefit of the Live tool for marketers is using it to demonstrate openness, transparency and an invitation to consumers to join the brand’s community.

Those three key features; Ad platform access, video and Live are the three developments that, as the owner of a social media marketing agency, really stand out to me as changing the way we approach marketing. But there’s been a lot happen over the 15 years! I’d love to know if you agree with the above or which other Facebook evolutions really made a difference to your practice of marketing.

  • Wendy Thompson is the CEO and founder of Socialites

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