Are Companies Missing The Point Of Social Media, Or Is Facebook Missing An Opportunity?

The web is full of story after story right now about companies cancelling their advertising on Facebook because of their potential association with dubious content. In the latest move, Reuters reports:

The British government has halted its advertising on the social networking Web site Facebook over concerns about how its ads are displayed

I listened with interest to Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson discuss several UK companies pulling their ads off Facebook in episode 264 of For Immediate Release. I must say, I had quite a visceral reaction to their views on this (to the alarm of people near me on the bus).

Shel and Neville suggest that companies are missing out on an opportunity with these social networks. They argue that companies should realize that advertising is changing and that they should get on board with it.

I have a somewhat different perspective, which I’ll split into two parts here.

First, rather than the companies missing out on the opportunity here, I argue that it is in fact companies like Facebook who are missing out.

We shouldn’t put “Web 2.0” companies on a pedestal. They’re young companies and they aren’t immune to making mistakes. Facebook is a fantastic website and I’m a big fan, but I think they’re on the wrong side of this one. They run the risk of losing out on huge potential revenue by not delivering an advertising model that accommodates advertisers’ concerns.

Rather than a negative, confrontational response, the company could generate a lot more goodwill by working on a way to deliver ads that provides a measure of control for advertisers. Let’s face it, Facebook (right now, anyway) generates its revenue through ads. The advertisers are its customers. Smart companies don’t alienate their customers.

My second point is that, like it or not, a lot of companies will continue to pull their ads until issues like this are fixed. Businesses spend millions developing their brands; it’s no surprise that they will act quickly to protect them. Not understanding this is to not understand a vital part of marketing.

Facebook is wrong here. They should embrace their customers’ concerns and work with them to fix the problem.

Dave Fleet
EVP Digital at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.