x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

Brands rethink social-media strategy

Social media experts say brands must reinvent the way they use Facebook following GM's decision to pull its $10 million in advertising spending on the site.

Chasing "likes" is no longer the way to engage with Facebook users, say experts, amid mounting concerns over the effectiveness of advertisements placed on the site.

Big brands may need to reinvent the way they address consumers on the social media site - after a warning shot fired by one of Facebook's biggest clients.

General Motors this week caused a storm when it pulled its US$10 million (Dh36.7m) worth of advertising from Facebook, raising questions over how effective the site really is in influencing its subscribers' consumer behaviour.

The timing could not have been worse, given today's expected initial public offering by Facebook, which could value the site at over $100 billion.

Big Arab brands have reconfirmed their commitment to advertising on the site after the move by GM.

But experts say they must tailor the way they use the site, to better engage with potential customers rather than just accumulating thousands of online "fans".

Yousef Tuqan Tuqan, the chief executive of the Dubai digital agency Flip Media, said he did not expect brands to desert Facebook en masse.

"So long as consumers aren't abandoning Facebook, brands aren't going to be. Because ultimately, they have to be where their consumers are if they want to speak to them," he said.

However, Mr Tuqan said that brands should no longer concentrate solely on accumulating Facebook "likes"- in reference to the button users click to become fans of particular pages.

Some brands pay third-party companies to artificially boost their Facebook fan base - which Mr Tuqan said was an ineffective strategy.

"It's paying to get all these drones to 'like' a page," he said.

"We see brands that are jumping by 40,000 or 50,000 fans in a week, but the actual amount of engagement on the page doesn't actually go up."

Some of the region's biggest advertisers reconfirmed their commitment to Facebook after GM's surprise move to cut its advertising from the site.

Emirates Airline said in a statement sent to The National thatit had been "successfully advertising on Facebook for some time". "We have no plans to discontinue advertising on Facebook."

Unilever, one of the world's biggest advertisers, also said it continued to see the appeal of Facebook advertising.

"We will use any digital channel that delivers our objectives cost-effectively," said David Porter, the media director for Unilever in the Middle East and several surrounding regions.

He added that Unilever allocated its advertising spending on a "brand-by-brand" basis.

"The company doesn't set aside a sum of money that it will commit to," he said. "We make a decision brand-by-brand, week-by-week, based on the results we get."

Despite this, Mr Porter said Unilever's approach to Facebook was changing. This involves less of an emphasis on attracting fans, he said.

"There's a fundamental change in how we are looking at Facebook, in terms of moving from this land-grab of trying to attract fans," said Mr Porter. "Now there's a much greater focus on engagement, and having strong relationships with people who liked our brands, rather than just playing a numbers game."

Santino Saguto, a partner at Deloitte Middle East, said Facebook still had the potential to attract advertising revenue. But brands need to be smarter in how they interact with users on the site, he said.

"It's a tool that needs to be used properly," said Mr Saguto. "It's not just a matter of investing in advertising on Facebook. You need to manage a social community."

Advertising executives - who have a vested interest in promoting Facebook - said they did not agree with GM's decision to cut advertising from the site.

"I don't agree with the statement that it doesn't work in absolute terms," said one advertising executive based in Dubai. "Will more brands desert Facebook? I doubt it. Facebook is too big to ignore now."

bflanagan@thenational.ae