Social media advertising can often be a source of division for brand marketers. Unlike search advertising, which has been tested, measured, and proven itself as a channel over many years, social media advertising has suffered from widely circulated reports discrediting the value of the channel, citing the extremely low ROI and even going so far as to compare the business to a Ponzi scheme.

However, that isn’t the whole story. As a channel, Facebook advertising is relatively untested, and increasingly the data is beginning to show that the audience and engagement levels are there.

The Social Media Seasonal Boost

New research from Marin Software has shown that Facebook ads experience a greater seasonal uplift than paid advertising on Google. Analysis of $6 billion worth of clients’ advertising spends during 2013′s third and fourth quarters, has revealed that Q3/Q4 Facebook advertising experiences a greater jump in clicks in comparison to Google (in contrast to their respective January figures).

To be clear, the research doesn’t suggest that Facebook ads are outgrossing Google’s, just that there is a greater element of seasonality in paid Facebook advertising.

back-to-school-infographic-01-2014

July, traditionally a slow time of year for retailers, was the only month in which Google saw a bigger jump than Facebook, with the August/September back to school period, and all-important winter holiday period from October through to December, seeing a greater percentage point change on the social media network.

What Does It Mean For Advertisers?

Brian Lee, Research Analyst at Marin Software, offered his insights as to why the platform experienced such a seasonal boost.

“Facebook is a social platform, first and foremost. Its user base operates differently from other digital marketing channels, such as search or display,” Lee said. “As the seasons change, so do people’s activities and conversations on Facebook – perhaps even the amount of time they spend on the site. Consequently, it makes sense that Facebook ad performance would be affected by seasonality more so than search or display,”

“Ad clicks on Google and Bing tend to remain largely consistent throughout the year with a bump in the fourth quarter,” he said. “However, Facebook experiences some noteworthy shifts.”

“There’s a significant drop in ad clicks in February followed by a recovery in May and another drop in the middle of summer.” he continues. “Ad clicks in July are 25 points lower than the baseline (January) and then suddenly in August ad clicks jump to 13 points above the baseline. That’s a 38 point swing in a matter of weeks and likely due to users shifting their focus from summer vacation (both school-aged users and parents with school-aged children) to either heading back to school.”

“While Facebook ad clicks continue to climb as back-to-school gives way to the holiday season, Google and Bing didn’t experience these shifts,” he said. “Ad clicks on both search engines didn’t start spiking till the holiday season, suggesting that Facebook is indeed affected by seasonality more so than search.”

“It is important to keep in mind search is a more mature medium. Advertisers have a solid decade and a half of experience tweaking campaigns to maximize seasonal shifts,” Lee said. “Facebook is still a relatively young advertising channel. The ad landscape and inventory is completely different on Facebook than it was 2 to 3 years ago. Refining ad campaigns to maximize seasonality is likely an untapped tactic when it comes to Facebook.”

How Can Brands Best Use Facebook Advertising?

Kevin Hinojosa-SpidelLinkdex spoke to Kevin Spidel, director of digital marketing agency, Voice Media Group, who offered his advice on how brands can conduct their Facebook advertising.

Linkdex: What are your thoughts on why Facebook advertising experiences a greater seasonal uplift in clicks (particularly in the August/July and winter holiday period) than paid advertising on Google?

Kevin Spidel: We have seasonal campaigns that revolve around tourism and home service. For HVAC we tend to shift traditional SEM marketing in the summer months to Facebook, because the CPCs go way down, and inventory is more available on Facebook. For our tourist destination clients, we also are very aggressive on Facebook during the winter months for markets like Denver, Aspen, Lake Tahoe, etc. We target feeder cities from LA to NY to these venues in these ski/tourist destinations. We also tend to dip into Facebook a lot in December when inventory and searches for “gifts” and “holidays” become very demanding on SEM.

Linkdex: Are brands maximizing their opportunities on the channel?

Spidel: Brands, more than ever, are looking to paid media experts to drive their reach as Facebook locks down organic reach. Brands don’t want to waste money, but know they have to pay to play. So they want a professional to help. More and more brands are coming to agencies to better their Facebook game.

Linkdex: What’s the most common mistake that brands are making in the way they approach Facebook advertising?

Spidel: They approach targeting literally. If you are a pizza brand and you are targeting pizza eaters, then you tend to spend too much and drive a lot of clicks with little conversions. You need to think of the buyer persona and build your campaigns around behaviors, not literal intent. See more on this here.

Understanding Intent on Social Media

The saying that has been making the rounds in marketing circles is that “people go to Facebook to interact with their friends and to Google to find something they need, and possibly to buy” and for this reason the channel is fundamentally less valuable for brands. However, Marin’s research suggests that it may be time to revisit social media advertising on Facebook, especially during seasonal periods.

Stephen Croome, founder of social advertising agency Firstconversion.com, suggests that in many cases brands may simply have been approaching Facebook advertising with the wrong approach from the outset.

“There are two mistakes I see over and over,” Croome said. “The first is putting up pictures of their products rather than the story of the product and the second is not testing enough.”

A perfect example of how a brand can express story rather than product, as well as leveraging the seasonal Facebook boost, was Coca-Cola’s ‘Sweater Generator’ 2013 campaign. By combining exciting brand content with seasonal driven engagement, they showed how Facebook, and indeed social media advertising can tap into user intent and build brand awareness and equity.

Having the agility to mobilise marketing efforts on social channels is a message that brands are increasingly beginning to realise. Merry Morud, Social Advertising Director at integrated online marketing agency aimClear states that “smart brands realize that Facebook is a powerful selling channel, be it via ads or organic community management. Both are necessary to succeed in Facebook (and really any social channel) and neither should be ignored. With the constant changes Facebook unleashes on the platform (seemly on a weekly, even daily basis), often with NO notice, brands that don’t react quickly to these changes can be rendered obsolete quickly in the eyes of users – this is why brands often turn to agencies with specialties in social with dedicated teams that are constantly ‘tuned-in.’”

Perhaps rather appropriately, the content formed part of Coca-Cola’s EnjoyEverything campaign initiative. Perhaps brand marketers need to learn from Coca-Cola’s cross-channel marketing ambition, and give seasonal advertising on Facebook a second look.

What’s your take? Tell us in the comments or tweet us @Linkdex