Facebook Gets Earful on How to Spend IPO Cash

Ad world says search, data and mobile should be its priorities post IPO

With Facebook expected to go public this Friday, May 18, Mark Zuckerberg is already getting an earful from Wall Street about what he needs to do to boost earnings. Madison Avenue and the digital ad world are also having their say.

“At the highest level, they should definitely be thinking of investing in utilities that will [directly generate revenue], product features that they can offer consumers and that they can monetize at the same time,” said Jordan Bitterman, senior vice president and social marketing practice director at Digitas.

For Bitterman, the most attractive option would be to build out a full-blown search offering, as opposed to the circa-1996 experience embodied in its current search engine.

“Brands would love to leverage that search space on Facebook,” Bitterman said, adding that it would “instantly be one of the most used search engines in the world.”

Facebook already runs ads according to search results, but a robust search engine would refine the process—so that a query for “coke” would not, for example, return ads for the Facebook game DoubleDown Casino and Marquis Dental Spa (which was the case when Adweek checked last week). Beyond that, Bitterman added, a powerful search offering could crawl brand pages and surface purpose-driven data to inform how marketers use the platform—identifying, for example, which elements of a brand page are of most interest to users.

Not all agree that improving its search functionality should be Facebook’s top priority post-IPO.

Jill Fletcher, Virgin America’s social media director, said she would like to see more in-depth analytics from Facebook’s Insights dashboard, particularly those that enable better targeting by demographic.

Bryan Wiener, CEO of 360i, also points to a need for better data. “Brands have one foot in the pool with Facebook, but they need better measurement to jump into the deep end of the pool, and what that means is affordable tracking to measure the impact of Facebook on offline behavior,” he said. “It’s going to be critical to get to the next level.”

Wiener would also like to see a mobile ad offering that drives consumers to visit brick-and-mortar businesses. Facebook continues to struggle with a rudimentary mobile ad strategy. It admitted as much in regulatory documents filed last Thursday. “We do not currently directly generate any meaningful revenue from the use of Facebook mobile products,” the company said.

Still, Facebook has shown movement toward linking social with mobile and local, buying social discovery app Glancee months after acquiring former Foursquare rival Gowalla. It has focused those teams on helping consumers find and share locations with friends.

Strengthening those ties could better position Facebook for the long haul. Said Forrester senior analyst Melissa Parrish: “If Facebook could figure out a way to be an integrated part of that engagement between people in places in a context-rich engagement, then they become an indelible part of people’s lives in a way that isn’t just about being the indelible social network.”

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