There is no simple answer to this question. 

Every form of mass media that has ever been used for advertising purposes was never created for advertising. When Tim Berners-Lee developed the Internet he didn’t do it so he could see ads popping up. Likewise for the inventors of the television, radio and the printing press. Advertising came along after the fact. And this is also true of Facebook.

Traditional marketing has always been about the numbers: 

  • How many people are watching a TV show? 
  • How many people read a magazine?
  • How many people listen to a radio station?

The bigger the numbers, the more advertisers are prepared to do to get in front of all those people. And that often means paying heaps to be there.

So you can imagine the excitement amongst the first global brands that advertised on Facebook a few years back. The numbers were huge and the cost to reach them was tiny when compared to producing and flighting an ad for the Superbowl. 

But do those high numbers translate into sales?

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Let’s look at an example.

I worked at one of New Zealand’s larger clothing companies. They were really good at measuring the effectiveness of their marketing material and they tracked all their printed and online activity meticulously

So one day we were in a meeting discussing Facebook, and one of the online account managers was very happy because the company had just racked up more than 15000 likes. This made everyone happy, especially top-level management. But those likes were not translating into sales. On average, only 2% of those likes purchased anything from the online store during any given month. And to make matters worse, the company routinely got an 80% or higher purchase rate from their mail order catalogues.

There are possibly dozens of reasons for this, but at the route of the problem is the fact that Facebook is an extremely social place, and thus it comes with its own, often volatile, cocktail of emotions. We go to Facebook to share our lives and to peak into the lives of others. It’s only logical that this environment will have a few psychological factors effecting it.

A recent study done by two German Universities proves this fact. According to their research Facebook is rampant with envy simply because Facebook has produced an unprecedented platform for social comparison. 

The researchers found that one in three people felt worse after visiting the site and more dissatisfied with their lives, while people who browsed without contributing were affected the most. Research showed that many people have a negative experience from Facebook in regards to envy, which leaves them feeling lonely, frustrated or angry, leading people to leave Facebook or at least reduce their use of the site.

Biggest causes of resentment were:

  • Vacation photos - with more than half of envy incidents triggered by holiday snaps on Facebook
  • Social interaction was the second most common cause of envy as users could compare how popular they were i.e. how many birthday greetings they received to those of their Facebook friends and how many "likes" or comments were made on photos and postings.
  • They found people aged in their mid-30s were most likely to envy family happiness 
  • While women were more likely to envy physical attractiveness.

These feelings of envy were found to prompt some users to boast more about their achievements on Facebook and to portray themselves in a better light i.e. lie about themselves.

Men were shown to post more self-promotional content on Facebook to let people know about their accomplishments while women stressed their good looks and social lives.

The researchers said the respondents in both studies were German but they expected the findings to hold internationally as envy is a universal emotion.

They said "From a provider's perspective, our findings signal that users frequently perceive Facebook as a stressful environment, which may, in the long-run, endanger platform sustainability.”

We all know that this research is true. Humanity is a social mix of dizzying highs and dreadful lows and it’s no more apparent than on Facebook.  

So should brands be on Facebook?

What you need to consider is:

  1.  Why do you want to be on Facebook? If it's for the numbers or because everyone else is doing it than you've made the wrong choice.
  2.  How are you going to connect? E-Cards, pics of kittens and special offers aren’t enough
  3. How will you measure it? Facebook and social media is barely 10 years old so the metrics change all the time.
  4. Most important: If you stopped your Facebook activity, how would it impact on your business?  Does anybody care enough about you being on Facebook?