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Facebook pages vs. ads: Which is right for mobile marketers?

With Facebook feeding less traffic to brand pages and mobile use of the social network continuing to grow, marketers need to refresh their content strategies and take a closer look at advertising on Facebook to effectively drive social engagement.

Facebook pages are nearly a requirement for brands these days. However, thanks to some changes Facebook made last month, the newsfeed has taken on a more prominent role, with Facebook feeding brands? page posts to an average of only 16 percent of users who have liked them.

?There has been lots of debate around Facebook as a marketing platform recently,? said Dave Hawley, senior marketing director for SocialChorus, San Francisco. ?For one, Forrester?s open letter to Mark Zuckerberg about how Facebook is failing marketers has spurred lots of contention in the social media marketing world.

?Now the question is really who is failing whom,? he said. ?Is it Facebook who is failing marketers by limiting the visibility of posts, limiting engagement and forcing brands to turn to the elusive Facebook advertisement?

?Or, is it marketers who are missing the mark by ineffectively using the platform and failing to realize how to run effective social campaigns? The answer is probably there are some failures on both sides.?

Compelling content
Facebook now has 1.15 billion active users, with more than 800 million of these coming from a mobile device.

Facebook pages are an essential way that brands engage with customers.

?Many brands, particularly ones that don?t sell through their sites, like a CPG brand, have discovered in the last one-two years that their Facebook pages were getting more traffic than their Web sites and put more of their energy in building out their brand?s identity through Facebook vs. their own Web page,? said Lisa Cucinotta, New York-based associate director of social media at Resolution Media.

However, with the posts brands make on their pages reaching fewer fans, it is more important than ever that the content brands create is compelling in order to drive "Likes" and engagement with their Facebook pages.

With mobile use of Facebook continuing to grow, this means brands must shift away from designing content for desktop and make sure their content is optimized for a smartphone?s small screen. Facebook Tabs should be optimized for mobile as well as any landing pages that users can link to.

Better contests
One way Facebook is making it easier for brands to create compelling content on their pages is with contests.

For example, Facebook made a change enabling brands to run contests through their page within a page post without having to create an app or tab.

Some brands are also creating separate content for paid page posts.

?More brands are leveraging separate content for paid page posts than they are promoting on their pages, since Facebook offers unpublished page posts,? Ms. Cucinotta said.

?Unpublished page posts have been around for a while but it seems as if it is becoming more central to advertising strategy to have separate communications for ads versus on page content,? she said.

Since sharing is so easy on mobile, it is also important to make sure content is shareable. For example, photos and images are some of the most shared content on Facebook.

Social ads
Brands can also leverage advertising in the newsfeed to expand the visibility of content with the ability to reach a wider audience and to target ads. Ads can also be used to drive video views, app downloads and to drive users to a landing page.

The need for brands to have an advertising presence on Facebook is growing as the newsfeed takes on a more prominent role.

?The majority of users who like a Facebook brand page, never or very rarely return back to the page after the initial engagement,? SocialChorus? Mr. Hawley said. ?The majority of brand engagement happens in the newsfeed.

?Further, Facebook?s algorithm has recently changed limited the number of Facebook brand posts that appear in users newsfeeds; an average of 16 percent of brand fans see a brand?s Facebook posts,? he said. ?This has essentially forced brands to advertise via Facebook to increase their presence in the newsfeed.

Brand advocates
However, there is an ongoing discussion about exactly how effective Facebook ads are, with a recent Forrester survey revealing that few marketers see much business value in Facebook ads (see story). 

Mr. Hawley insists neither Facebook pages nor ads are the correct answer for brands.

Instead, brands should focus on empowering brand advocates to tell their story.

?With such a small percentage of page fans returning to the brand page and the fact that people, especially millennials, hate ads, brands need to find new ways to get their voice head on the platform,? Mr. Hawley said.

?One way brands can win on Facebook is powering others to tell the brand?s story,? he said.

?Brands need to build relationships with brand advocates and empower them to create and share content about the brand, organically and authentically spreading the brand's message on Facebook,? he said.

?This is a much more effective way for brands to market on Facebook considering 92 percent of users trust recommendations from family and friends over all other forms of advertising.?

Pages are clearly an important strategy for brands, even with the recent changes.

However, going forward advertising on Facebook is likely to play a bigger role.

?Right now, a Facebook page is vital to any social marketing program or any marketing program, for that matter,? said Bridget Johnson, account leader at iProspect, Boston. ?If a brand is just starting out in this channel, or is low on budget or manpower, the curation of a content-rich, frequently updated Facebook page is the place to start.

?In the future, Facebook ads will only become more and more a staple in bought media paid, as we continue to show the value of social in driving business outcomes for brands,? she said.

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York