Mar 16, 2010

Part I: Should You Advertise on Social Media Sites?

It's official!  As of yesterday, Hitwise confirmed what many had long predicted: that Facebook surpasses Google as the most visited Website in the U.S

So what does this new development mean for those lawyers who've hedged their Internet marketing bets on Google-driven search engine optimization (SEO) or pay per click?  This  article from Fast Company discusses the implications of Facebook's ascendancy for advertising.

For starters, Google will continue to dominate search.  So to the extent that you invested in professional SEO services or activities like blogging to build visibility online, your efforts will still pay off.  Moreover, even if you're a diehard Facebook user, with hundreds of friends and fans, you won't get much mileage from that presence in Google search.  And while users could also search Facebook to find you, as  the Fast Company article points out, search is not why folks flock to Facebook:

 Facebook does have a search ability inside the site, but what's really driving users to Facebook in droves is that it's a genuine phenomenon. Social networking is still riding that "oh you should try this, it's new and cool" wave and the site itself has reached a critical mass of user numbers whereby if you want to contact almost anyone, odds are that they have a Facebook account.

Of course, that doesn't mean that Facebook is without value - not just as a participant but potentially as an advertiser.  Fast Company suggests that:

 Facebook is now in a position to leverage those user visits to seize control of the online ad-placement business from Google--advertisers will begin to do the math and work out which site will get their ads in front of more eyeballs. And while Web 2.0 has been with us for a while, the fact that more people are visiting Facebook than Google indicates that this interactive revolution has really changed U.S. Netizen's online habits.

With enormous traffic numbers and still undiscovered advertising potential, there are certainly benefits to marketing legal services on Facebook.  Moreover, Facebook makes the advertising process easy with these tools that enable you to design your ad and specify where you want it placed.  Features of Facebook ads include the ability to:

  • include a photo or logo as well as a link to a website or fan page.  The graphics feature makes Facebook ads snappier than the bland Google pay per click ads that dot the top and side of Google search results pages.
  • specify the precise demographic audience you want to target based on age, gender, marital status, sexual orientation, and key words on a fan page.
  • choose amount to pay per click through, as well as a daily and/or total limit for the ad campaign.   
But for all their benefits and low cost, Facebook ads haven't been terribly effective, as described here, here and here.  That's not surprising either.  After all, most people come to Facebook to interact with friends or socialize.  Thus, an ad for lawyer website isn't going to be terribly appealing, and in fact, might be regarded as an annoyance (though a recent study from Australia showed otherwise).  In fact, to the extent that Facebook ads are effective, they tend to work best for entertainment or recreational services rather than for the pharmaceutical or financial industry.
Like Facebook, Linked-In also offers advertising opportunities.  My guess is that Linked In ads might potentially be more effective than Facebook -- since Linked In users are more likely be combing the site to find a service provider rather than to chat with buddies -- I haven't been able to find studies that corroborate my hunch.

Despite the ineffectiveness of Facebook ads thus far, some (for example, a few of the commentors at this post) suggest that Facebook ads may be worth a try for a couple of reasons.  First, because the ads are cheap and users can limit their budgets, they have little to lose.  Second, because users can include logos and pictures, the ads offer an inexpensive way to build brand - though branding of this type is arguably less important for lawyers.

As for me, I'll concede that Facebook ads might be appropriate, albeit not all that useful to publicize a discrete law firm activity or product, like a free webinar or ebook (In fact, I've used Facebook for that very purpose, and I'll share my results in Part II of this post).   But as general tool to advertise a law firm, the the potential intrusiveness of lawyer ads ultimately outweigh any minimal benefit they might provide.