Facebook Flyers Worth It?

A few months ago, Valleywag posted a brief discussion of the supposedly dismal clickthrough rate of Facebook flyers: .04%. Clicktrough rate is a measure of the percentage of viewers/visitors that click on a particular ad or link and a .04% rate is indeed miserably low by most measures. For some reason, this discussion was noticed and discussed by a few more folks last month, including Fred Stutzman.

As is often the case with “research” discussed online, the methodology and other important details are not discussed in sufficient detail to evaluate the usefulness, applicability, and rigor of the research. In particular, I would like to know more about exactly what was being advertised. I would like to know this because I assert that services, items, and events advertised by colleges and universities differ significantly from those advertised by others. I would hope that not only would we know our students better than others but we also would be advertising things of particular interest to our students.

I recommend that institutions making use of Facebook flyers ensure that those using the flyers coordinate or, at a minimum, communicate amongst themselves. Not only are there the usual issues of consistency of message, appropriateness of tone, proper use of institutional marks (logos, graphics, etc.), and the other issues related to mass media advertising but a lack of communication may lower the effectiveness of the medium. In other words, if every department and student organization on campus is posting Facebook flyers with no quality control then students may simply phase them out much like they have e-mail spam and banner advertisements on webpages. I do not intend to make that (getting heterogenous groups to communicate or coordinate, particularly student organizations) sound easy and I suspect that on many campuses the “watering down” of Facebook flyers is already happening. However, I don’t know if many institutions would allow departments to advertise via mass media to every student and alumnus without any guidelines, approval, or minimal levels of communication and coordination.

Before I left Sewanee, we used Facebook flyers as part of our marketing campaign to advertise our Residential Computer Consultant (RCC) student employee openings. The campaign was a success despite the significant increases in the application requirements. We made many changes to our advertising process so it’s impossible to tell if the Facebook flyers played a huge role in the campaign but we did receive several positive comments from those students whom we interviewed, particularly those who were applying for the marketing/education position. Several of the students seemed to view our use of the flyers as indicative of our knowledge of and commitment to student culture and practices and at least one student liked that we had launched a coordinated campaign spanning multiple media. We did not measure the clickthrough rate but our impression was that the flyers were well worth their very low cost.

We also noticed one minor issue: my default Firefox settings with the AdBlock Plus plugin blocked the image we used on our flyer. If we had elected to host the image ourselves, this issue would have been avoided (and we could have also used the stats thus generated by our server hosting the image). We did not troubleshoot this extensively so I do not know if this problem is widespread.

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8 Comments

  1. Fred talks about “context shift” and I think this is a big part of what you are talking about.

    Your point on research is well taken – the business standard is much lower by necessity. (This also leads to the incredible herd mentality of marketers.) These advertisers are selling products – at best tangentially related to the context. So the students don’t click through.

    Facebook is designed to encourage network participation, to reflect the real world social network. For most students, this means their school.

    Your school related banners are in the right context.

    I’m excited to see research on this . . .

    What do you think, methodologically, about Facebook polls for research? Do they provide enough transparency into the collection process?

  2. Kevin, I’m not quite sure what you mean by “the business standard is much lower by necessity” (emphasis added). I can best make sense of your statement by guessing that you believe that for businesses to quickly conduct research they must cut corners. I don’t quite buy that. It could also mean that businesses do not reveal some information, including their exact methodology, out of a concern for confidentiality and protection of trade secrets or competitive advantage. That is more understandable and I could understand that in some circumstances. But those lack of details still makes it difficult or impossible for me as a researcher to fully accept those results.

    With respect to your question about the viability and rigor of Facebook polls: I am certainly not willing to completely dismiss their utility. For many uses, such polls would present significant challenges that may be impossible to overcome. But they may be useful in some circumstances assuming the researcher(s) fully understand the inherent limitations of those polls. Offhand, the sampling strategy (or lack thereof) engendered by the use of Facebook polls limits their effectiveness in many cases. Such polls almost certainly attract a self-selected sample and that is often a significant limitation. As with all research, such limitations must be acknowledged and accounted for (if possible) but those limitations are not necessarily show stoppers. Sometimes we just have to do the best we can and work within the limitations imposed on us by circumstance and our own resources.

  3. I think it would be great if Facebook offered targeting by interest for flyers. For example, if I want to sell computer programming books via an FB flyer, I should be able to only have my flyer appear to students who are comp sci majors, etc.

    They’ve improved their targeting offering a bit, but it would be great to see an added amount of targeting, and I’m sure advertisers would be willing to pay more and FB could see more revenue.

  4. Dan – I think that targeted Facebook flyers ala Google AdSense would be wonderful! I seem to remember someone else talking about a Facebook app that was trying to do this but I can’t recall who… But it would be most successful and beneficial (for everyone, users and advertisers included) if this were integrated into the basic Facebook flyer functionality. I would hope they’re already working on this as it does seem to relate very strongly to issues with which they are currently struggling such as the “spaminess” rating of applications and the rumblings that users are migrating away because of the increased level of advertising (if we assume that users are less bothered by targeted ads that might be more relevant to their interests).

  5. Kevin – I’ve run into this before, I should have been clearer. What I meant was that the buying business needs to, and is going to, make a marketing decision today, based on the best available information. So their definition of “research”, in marketing at least, has a much different standard than academe.

    They are not doing research per se, but are instead trying to get to an informed guess as to the best use of their dollars.

    From my experience with some of these large advertisers / brokers, they wouldn’t value the academic rigor at all. They sellers would much prefer to work in a squishy space where PR rumors can be fought with more rumors rather than having to grapple with hard facts that might undermine their product. (And Facebook, with it’s page views, sure generates a lot of product.)

  6. Seems you can only target networks, which are regional, and education institutions… would be great if you could target groups, so you could say i want my flyer to appear on group pages that relate to X.

  7. My institution is quite “stone-age” in terms of the use of social networking applications, but in the Australian context, we are miles ahead :-) We haven’t actually used FB flyers yet, so I am very appreciative of this discussion. I especially like that second last paragraph, where an applicant stated that the mere fact of the institution doing such a thing helped to improve their validity and authenticity – I think that is a point that is not to be missed, and certainly not to be under-estimated.

  8. For those still interested in this topic, Facebook does appear to be on the path towards allowing more targeted advertisements. The Wall Street Journal discussed Facebook’s work on “a new advertising system that would let marketers target users with ads based on the massive amounts of information people reveal on the site about themselves.” They hope to launch it this fall. More commentary can be found on the “All Facebook” blog.

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