On the face of it, the question above may seem stupid. In 2021 Facebook (now renamed Meta) made almost $50 billion in profit, most of it from advertising.
A brief history
Remember when you first joined Facebook? You could find old friends on the network; you could be the first to invite new friends to join; it was like being a member of an exclusive club.
Back then, there was no advertising. And I doubt many people questioned where the money was coming from. We all acted like Facebook ambassadors, inviting others to join us on the platform, effectively becoming the company’s biggest marketing resource. Mark Zuckerberg must have been rubbing his hands!
Fast forward a decade and around one in four people on earth accesses Facebook every day. Much of what is now served up by the platform has become advertising. Facebook became the go-to place for businesses that wanted to target a highly specific audience. Suddenly, as a business, you had access to information about Facebook users’ activity on the network, and then increasingly across their entire web browsing history.
Businesses could target people in a specific area, with specific interests, using a specific browser on a specific device. They had access to demographic information like never before. Suddenly advertising was not only for big companies because smaller businesses could also target affordable audiences.
Then Apple decided to get serious about user privacy and iOS 14.5 appeared. Apple specifically asked users if they wanted to be tracked across other companies’ apps and websites. Unsurprisingly, when faced with the choice, most (in fact, almost all) users said, ‘no thanks!’. This has severely limited the up-to-date information and insight Facebook has on users. Facebook’s ability to understand more than any other social network about its audience and deliver this information for advertisers is, if not destroyed, then at least severely limited.
What is next?
Today’s customer journey (from first encountering a brand to purchase) is extremely complicated so it has always made sense not to rely too much on one source of lead generation. The smart money has always been invested in capturing prospect information in multiple ways across several different platforms and building a consistent brand experience across them all. This includes your website, email marketing and multiple social media platforms including, but not limited to, Facebook. While Facebook advertising may not be able to deliver the spectacular results it once did, the importance of delivering a clear message about who you are and what you do is still the starting point for all successful PR and marketing communications campaigns.