Is Facebook An Advertising Medium?

If we define an advertising medium as anywhere we can place advertising, then the self-evident answer about Facebook is a resounding “yes!” This column would be finished, and I would move on to my next deadline for the day.

However, just because there is a place for advertising on a given medium, does not mean that it is best-suited to being first and foremost a conventionally defined ad medium.

GM certainly seems to have concluded that based on its decision last week to pull its advertising budget from the platform -- but that doesn’t mean that Facebook isn’t a powerful marketing medium.

Let’s consider the case for why Facebook really isn’t like other advertising media.

Unlike other media, Facebook (and most other social-networking tools) are self-curated.  Any content that appears on my Page or my News Feed does so because I put it there or gave permissions for others within my network -- individuals or brands -- to share, comment, like etc.

Content I don’t like -- or people/brands that consistently post content that I don’t want to see -- can be edited out through blocking or De-Friending.  So the individual user gets to maintain their vision of the integrity of their page.

The only content to which this rule of self-curation does not apply is the advertising that populates the right hand side of our Facebook pages. Relative to the central content and functions of the site, it sees virtually no action at all.

All other media vehicles we access -- from newspapers and magazines, through radio, TV and Web sites etc. -- are curated by others. We read in pursuit of content we expect to find, based on experience and what the media brand has become known for.  We generally pay a price, part of which will be exposure to advertising.  

In any other media space, I’m buying into content curated by someone else, not me.

It’s the fact that Facebook gives us all access to what is very definitely regarded as “My Page” that distinguishes it from other media in ways good and bad.

Good in so far as we take ownership of our presence there and use it incessantly, bad insofar as to make the time-honored intrusion-based model of advertising poorly suited to the environment.

If ever there was a media environment in which display advertising should play second fiddle to other marketing tools, such as brand integration within video content, brand-owned video, promotional competitions, sponsorship (all of which can be supported and leveraged by display advertising), Facebook would be it.

If we recognize that Facebook is first and foremost a communications medium, not an advertising or even an entertainment/information medium, then we can leverage the core principles of interpersonal communications to use the space to good effect for brand marketing.

By associating with content and issues that matter to target audiences and leveraging them with a range of tools -- including conventional advertising -- Facebook and its social-networking siblings will ultimately deliver more value to brands and more revenue to its own bottom line.

And we might actually start to lessen our dependence on a Victorian model of advertising.


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