Red Bull's main Facebook page has 44m fans. Maybe a lot, but by generating just 330,000 interactions last month, the brand managed less than 1 monthly interaction for every 100 fans.
Meanwhile, Coca Cola’s main page has a whopping 84m fans globally, but scored an engagement per fan 20-times lower than Red Bull’s. MAC, one of the digitally most sophisticated brands in high-end beauty averaged just one monthly interaction for every 500 fans. Same story with a top digital performer in the beer category- Heineken, earning just 1 interaction for every 180 fans.
The brands that are huge on the social site are the ones that were fastest to appreciate Facebook’s strengths, but are now also first to be wary of its limitations: why pay Facebook to reach and engage fans if we can achieve similar objectives, mostly for free, on other networks?
Indeed, many of these brands do go for the free approach when it comes to social: MAC, Red Bull are leading on YouTube in their categories, but all without buying any views.
Looking for social alternatives
Coca-Cola is quickly becoming a Twitter leader, accumulating a quarter of followers and mentions among non-alcoholic brands. Red Bull dominates that category on YouTube and Facebook-owned Instagram; as for MAC, it has taken a true ‘portfolio approach’ to social, shining on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and YouTube (among others).
Even Burberry, held as a poster child for Facebook just a couple of years ago, scored more than twice the engagement on Instagram as it did on Facebook despite having 7-times fewer fans.
As a result of these strengths on other platforms, our research shows that these digitally savvy brands are much less likely to sponsor posts on Facebook than digitally less advanced competitors.
If a brand’s social media strategy can be summed up as "paying for Facebook engagement, buying YouTube views and experimenting with other platforms for good measure", it is nothing more than a traditional media strategy re-cycled for social.
Digital leaders focus first on developing great content (lots of it) and deploying it across multiple platforms. For them, Facebook is just one of many platforms out there, one that can reach more people but at a cost much higher than free.
Good for profit but is it sustainable?
While Facebook is growing its revenues, our analysis shows it’s not thanks to the digital pioneers. Instead, Facebook can rely on (i) brands that have not managed to develop communities outside Facebook and (ii) markets where Facebook remains the 800-pound gorilla.
A hybrid of traditional ad social media, Facebook remains a compelling alternative, thanks to its billion-plus audience and the ability to turn owned and paid media into earned median. But it’s tough to beat free.
Digital pioneers that are de-prioritising Facebook continue to reply on other social platforms for their core unique benefits - engaging their own fans, hoping their content is good enough to spark (earned) advocacy - all without paying for reach.
As laggard brands learn to master social media the way pioneer brands have, other ‘free’ social networks will prove increasingly appealing. Facebook needs to demonstrate that its combination of huge buyable reach and free earned media potential will together make it a better option than traditional paid media channels. Or it will end up being ‘un-friended’ by a lot more brands.
The author is Mathew Burns, co-founder, eBench, UK.
(This article first appeared on MarketingMagazine.co.uk)