Forrester Research Disses Facebook To Generate Coverage, Controversy

facebookBy now you’ve read or seen coverage of Forrester Research’s “open letter to Mark Zuckerberg.” A raw PR stunt, the letter is partly intended to generate controversy and exposure for the firm. And in that sense, it appears to have succeeded.

The Forrester analyst who wrote the letter, which carries a dismissive and arrogant tone, uses survey data to argue that Facebook is failing marketers:

First, your company focuses too little on the thing marketers want most: driving genuine engagement between companies and their customers. Your sales materials tease marketers with the promise that you’ll help them create such connections. But in reality, you rarely do. Everyone who clicks the like button on a brand’s Facebook page volunteers to receive that brand’s messages — but on average, you only show each brand’s posts to 16% of its fans. And while your company upgrades its advertising tools and offerings monthly or more, you’ve done little in the past 18 months to improve your unloved branded page format or the tools that marketers use to manage and measure those pages.

The survey itself is based on a sample of 395 marketing executives from three countries (US, Canada and UK). It asks for satisfaction rankings of different marketing channels. Here are the published results:

Forrester survey re Facebook

Beyond the fact that Facebook’s satisfaction score is not very far removed from other media on the list this is a single survey, which doesn’t justify the sweeping conclusions in the letter. Indeed, the findings above appear to be directly contradicted by the recent Adobe Social Intelligence Report.

The Adobe report examined “over 131 bil­lion Face­book ad impres­sions, more than 1 bil­lion Face­book posts and 400 Mil­lion unique vis­i­tors to social net­works includ­ing Twit­ter, Pin­ter­est and Tum­blr.” Adobe found that since last year “Face­book Ad ROI and CTR have experienced strong growth . . . Face­book, ROI (defined as revenue/expense) has increased 58 percent over the last year.”

However the Forrester survey is consistent with other survey data showing confusion and/or frustration on the part of some marketers over social media ROI. As an aside, opinion or survey data must always be balanced with behavioral and other “empirical” information such as in the Adobe report.

A CMO Council-Nielsen survey released in Q1 of this year also reflects confusion on the part of marketers about social media ROI. The respondent pool in that survey included “287 senior brand leaders, 176 agency executives and 152 publishing representatives.” Survey respondents were from the US exclusively.

The CMO Council-Nielsen report shows that senior marketers are still struggling to understand social media ROI and want better and clearer metrics accordingly. They were asking for “improved clarity around the actual return on brand advertising investment” and “the ability to verify that brand advertising created the desired results.”

CMO council ROI needs

Source: 2013 Online Advertising Performance Outlook 

As the digital landscape has become more complex and fragmented marketers have struggled to keep up with consumers. The Forrester survey results reflect the perceptions of marketers, which may or may not be accurate in terms of the actual performance of the various media on the list.

A medium may be “working” while marketers may not see that clearly or have the tools to interpret what’s happening with their marketing spending — hence the request for more clarity in the CMO Council survey. There’s often a perception-reality ROI gap across many media.

Does TV still “work”? Does print? Does online display? There’s lots of debate and confusion surrounding these types of questions.

For example, studies by Nielsen and comScore have shown in the past that clicks are not a good ROI metric for online display advertising:

  • comScore (2012): Clicks had lowest correlation (0.01) with conversion vs. other metrics
  • Nielsen (2011): CTR “showed no connection” to actual offline sales lift

Yet clicks have historically been the coin of the ROI realm.

Many have also made the argument that Google gets the benefit of being the “last click” before the conversion. Thus the ROI of paid-search, some argue, is overstated and fails to reflect the many consumer touch points that precede the final click.

Facebook has moved over the course of the last year to simplify advertising on its site and to introduce new ROI metrics and methodologies. Accordingly Facebook has become increasingly involved with what I’ve called “real world analytics.” The company now has a range of data partners helping it track online impressions to offline sales and thereby “close the loop.”

This is just one of several efforts the company is making to respond to historical concerns about the perceived lack of social media ROI.

Related Topics: Channel: Social Media Marketing | Facebook | Facebook: Advertising | Facebook: Business Issues | Facebook: Insights | Facebook: Statistics | Top News


About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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  • Frank Strong

    Are you kidding, Greg? Forrester is expressing what many of us think, and complain about vociferously to no avail. For a brand to have any semblance of success on Facebook, it must a) BUY an audience and b) BUY ads to improve the chances your messages will ever have the possibility of being seen. It’s dangerously close to racketeering!

  • Pat Grady

    Don’t completely blame the night club, the primary responsibility for engagement still falls on the dancer. #toomanywallflowers

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