Facebook’s 10% problem

Facebook and Nielsen have released a new study on how well consumers recalled the messages of 14 ad campaigns. Let’s ignore for a moment that the study was done via an opt-in survey instrument on Facebook, drawing an inherently biased pool of people who are willing to click on an online offer, and see what the data showed:

1. “Organic” impressions, or messaging about a product that your friends actually write to you, led to much higher rates of recall than the paid ads themselves.

2. Yet paid impressions, the actual ads, typically make up 90% or more of all impressions online — leaving only 10% the social good stuff.

Conclusion: People listen when friends talk, but it’s very, very hard to get friends to talk. In our own experience with clients, the vast majority of Facebook ads go unnoticed, much more so than other forms of online display advertising. Click-through rates on banner ads across all U.S. web sites averaged 0.08% in 2009; on Facebook, campaigns are typically in the 0.02% range. CTRs don’t track real impressions, of course, but they are a good proxy for how much of your online audience is actually digesting the offer. Part of the challenge lies in social media sites being refreshed frequently as users click to update the news streams, making “impressions” on each page relatively inflated compared to news sites where readers linger over articles. If true organic impressions are only a fraction of the actual paid ads that make it to real eyeball retinas, Facebook’s 10% problem may be more like 0.002% — a tiny, desirable dynamic in which your consumers tell others how good you are, sweetly powerful and so very hard to control.

You can download the Nielsen report here.

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