Facebook: Brands Are People!

With its new Pages redesign and increased avenues for advertisers, Facebook has created another imperative for brands to make better content. To be, in the words of Facebook execs, more like your most interesting friend.

Mitt Romney believes that corporations are people—and so too, it seems, does Facebook.

Yesterday at New York’s fMC, the Facebook Marketing Conference, the company echoed that very sentiment as it argued that following brands on Facebook is no different than following friends and family. Introducing a suite of new advertising tools—enhanced brand Pages, premium offers, mobile ad placements—the social network reasoned that users would appreciate the additional avenues advertisers now have to reach them, because advertisers share "quality" content. "Our main objective is to make sure that over time, the advertising is as good as the content you would receive from your friends or family," said Carolyn Everson, Facebook’s VP of global marketing solutions. "It’s very similar to your own Facebook experience. There are certain friends that you probably love getting updates from—they are witty and interesting—and that’s really what we’re trying to do with brands: Stop thinking about brands over here and people over here, but actually [think of] brands as people."

In other words, Facebook is gambling that its 800 million users won’t see this influx of advertising as an influx of advertising, but as new content to be consumed and shared. Will they? That all depends on whether brands can figure out how to create content that their fans actually want to share. That’s something that marketers have been talking about—and, to some extent, doing—for years. But the new Facebook brand platform will provide a fairly pressing mandate for marketers to up their content game.

Taken from Subway’s Timeline

First, it’s important to understand just how many new opportunities marketers have to advertise on Facebook’s platform. The newly unveiled Timeline allows more creative options for designing Pages. Brands can create sponsored posts on their Facebook pages that will appear in fan news feeds both on desktop and mobile experiences; brands can place traditional ads on the right-hand side of Facebook; and they can now advertise on the page seen when a user logs out. (Roughly 37 million users sign out of Facebook each day.) Facebook also unveiled its "Reach Generator," a distribution tool that brands can use to reach north of 75% of their fans. Typically, a branded post is seen by just 16% of fans; with the "Reach Generator," Facebook essentially forces distribution to more fans. Ben & Jerry’s, for example, was able to reach around 98% of the ice cream maker’s fans through the system.

This means, as executives acknowledged Wednesday, that users on Facebook could potentially see the same ad (ahem, "Sponsored Story") myriad times when surfing the site. This could either be an incredibly annoying practice that compromises the user experience, or a trigger that could force brands to rethink how they market to consumers: In order to reach consumers effectively, they’ll have to generate "quality" content, or risk being un-"Liked" and losing fans.

Asked whether Facebook expects to see more users un-"Liking" brand pages because of the new ads (technically, if a user does not follow any brands, then she will not see any ads in her news feed, though the user will still see some advertising in the traditional right-hand rail, on the log-out page, and if a friend within his or her network interacts with a brand), Brian Boland, Facebook’s director of product marketing, said it depends on whether users enjoy the "content" that brands are sharing.

Taken from Captain Morgan’s Timeline

"I think the chances of someone 'Liking’ or un-'Liking’ a page are going to be less from them seeing this as a sponsored piece of content—it’s going to be about the quality of the content," Boland said. "So if businesses get really good about continuing to develop content that is meaningful that their fans want to see, then we don’t expect that to be an issue."

That’s partly why Facebook was in New York for fMC—not just to "woo Madison Avenue," as some have suggested, but to educate them. In addition to press events, Facebook held breakout sessions and fireside chats with brands and ad agencies to walk them through how to produce "quality content." Marketers from Gatorade and Walmart lectured audiences on how to best reach consumers without annoying them; one Facebook expert spent time chatting about why it’s important not to use "gimmicks" and promises of one-off offers to gain fans.

At one point during the presentation, which was held at the Museum of Natural History, Facebook projected the front cover of Where the Wild Things Are onto the auditorium’s big screen. Though used as a reference for the journey that lies ahead for advertisers, the lesson from the children’s story is more so indicative of the type of hand holding Facebook has had to do in order to make sure brands and marketers don’t take advantage of the platform and overwhelm it with poor quality content—or worse yet, ads.

I asked Carolyn Everson whether Facebook believed brands could actually produce content on par with that shared by family and friends.

"We think it’s going to take time to share best practices and case studies," she says, making reference to the work she’s doing via Facebook Studio. "I think it’s so similar to how your personal Facebook page works: There are certain people who you just love to hear from, and there are others where you’re like, 'Is that that exciting?' I think brands are going to be operating in the same direction."

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  • Stupid Git

    Like so much in our society now, brands on Facebook actually have more "freedom" than actual people. Whether it's the design and layout of their site, their ability to reach out through ads and so much more. 

    A great quote (not sure of the source) goes: "If the service is free, the product is you."

    Basically, Facebook is becoming less a tool for connecting with friends and more a tool for marketers to stalk consumers - the old direct marketing concept updated for the social media world we're in today. And sadly, in my experience I've seen very few companies who have the restraint to only put out quality content and prefer the method of throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. Hopefully, Facebook won't become as cluttered with junk marketing as out mailboxes and email have.

  • Lipscombe Richard

    Only one problem with this.... the premise is probably wrong... people are not brands is more likely not be true than it is to be true... in a digital economy a brand has to be both relevant (get consumer's attention) and remarkable (get talked about)... the message about the brand sent to "facebook friends" is usually relevant because friends share their likes and dislikes...  so if the improved content on about a brand is liked (eg a good car ad) it will get eye balls from facebook friends... if it is somehow remarkable because of its storyline and message then it may well go viral....  but the content of a brand is not the experience of the brand... if the car in the ad does not live up to the consumer's expectations (on a test drive or once purchased) then a dislike goes out to the social network on facebook...  the dislike is always relevant and remarkable if it is about a bad experience with a hot brand.... facebook could be setting up brands for a fall if the brand can not deliver on the experience that people expect from it... the more the content of a brand ad promises the more the experience has to be ramped up to make sure that experiential expectations are met.... my best guess is that digital brands are more about the experience than people... if I am right then it follows that facebook has got it wrong again as it continues its relentless search for new revenue models...

  • Nachoville

    Hi Austin,

    Very interesting point you're making. What a nice coincidence that I touched the very same topic on my blog just over a week ago. Here I question the two current beliefs that are present in marketingland at the moment, namely: are brands (becoming) people or are they not? In a social media context, like Facebook. I've tried to explain this with a similar 'offline' situation: The Birthday Party.

    See it here:

    I wonder what you think of it. Thanks for this article though!



  • Chloe Magner

    Facebook was designed to be a social utility to connect people and put a face to someone's name -- that's the very nature of the site's appeal, and that's why it's called FACEbook.  The people who use Facebook are consumers, and while it's true that consumers like brands that are more personal and less robotic and corporate than seemingly giant, anonymously-run corporations, there is a point at which the user feels deceived by these efforts.  There is a very fine line here between appropriate branding/effective advertising and completely invasive marketing tactics.  The brands who may succeed in this sphere will be the ones who can establish an awareness of this balance and provide a utility to the user when they're looking at specific content.  Any brand that doesn't find this balance will just contribute to the ever-deafening white noise of ads on Facebook, and Facebook will go the route of too many advertising-dominated businesses on the internet whose sites are so branded with names, they look like race cars.

  • Jourdan

    I don't think Facebook's stance of "brands as people" gives the average consumer enough credit. The difference that Facebook users are still going to be acutely aware of is that, regardless of how quality a brand's Facebook content may be, they're still getting sold to. I would venture to guess that many consumers on Facebook "Like" brand pages because they often have the opportunity to get some sort of value - often monetary. Unless brands on Facebook are really going to start acting like people and stop trying to hawk their wares, this approach isn't going to work.

  • Jessica Witmer

    I think facebook is a medium of branding - self branding, personal image creation, & the 'ideal persona' of self. Are you REALLY who you are online/offline? personal space/public space? Or are you branding yourself constantly to meet the expectations of your friends & family.

    I say yes to Brands as People, it really is what everyone is doing anyhow. I like to have my art/design work located on my Page, separate from my 'family self', and I like to interact with other people in the field via my Page.

    I am a brand & a person. I like creating 'circles' of interest with my various brands/selfs. ... I just wish I could 'like' other brands via my Page, without needing to be my family self.

    Confusing, I know... does anyone else have this challenge?

  • Barney Lerten

    But brands ARE NOT people. Heck, the firestorm over a certain Supreme Court ruling shows how folks bristle at the very notion over treating corporations as 'people' in just the campaign contribution sense, much less how we intimately interact with corporations (or groups for that matter)

    And then there's the funamental problem with how FB is rolling this out. When I'm on FB, I log in to my news feed and hang there, NOT at the various people/co. pages I visit on occasion.

    But the forced move to Timelines mean cos./brands no longer have a news feed! They have the big-picture, 2-column, slow and laggy (how long do YOU wait for 'more recent posts' or such button to respond?) far less linear and understandable 'profile' look.

    To equate brands and people in this manner will get FB another firestorm. They are used to those and no doubt will think 'ah, they'll get used to it.' But there ARE options, and cos. are NOT people who will just 'live with' stuff forced upon them, IMHO. Google Plus, anyone.

  • music2work2

    I immediately thought of the Citizens United case too - and look how well that's turning out in the primary.

    Brands aren't your friends - they're wallet lightening enterprises.