On its first quarterly earnings call, Facebook left it to Sheryl Sandberg to talk about how the company makes most of its money: marketing. And I was encouraged by how much she discussed the topic and how Sheryl stressed over and over the importance of proving ROI to advertisers. But I remain deeply unconvinced that Facebook can give marketers what they need, for two reasons:
- Facebook thinks it can prove value in generalities. When Sheryl says she recognizes the importance of proving ROI to advertisers, she means that Facebook is trying to prove that Facebook marketing can work for advertisers in general — not that it does work for any one advertiser in particular. Facebook’s efforts here to date have been in generating a handful of case studies to which it can point: "Look! Facebook marketing worked for these three advertisers! That means it works!" But marketers don’t need proof that some Facebook marketing programs work; they need proof that their Facebook marketing program works. Better yet, they need to know which of their tactics are working and which aren't so that they can learn and improve. That would require better metrics for all marketers, rather than just a handful of case studies from a few marketers.
- Facebook is still talking about advertising rather than marketing. Marketers don’t care about Facebook’s paid ads nearly as much as they care about the site’s branded pages. But Facebook doesn’t make any money from branded pages; it only makes money from paid ads. The result? A fundamental disconnect. Facebook simply doesn’t care much what happens after an ad is shown or clicked upon. So when Sheryl talks about "improving value for advertisers" and "proving ROI," she’s trying to improve the value of, and prove the ROI of, the thing that matters least to most Facebook marketers. But if she doesn't make those branded pages work better for marketers, soon the effectiveness of the ads that drive users to those pages may become a moot point.
So I’m excited to hear Facebook talking more about marketing than ever before; I just wish what Facebook was saying actually solved marketers’ needs. There’s always next quarter, I guess.