Is Facebook Really a Good Lead Cultivation Environment?

Hey marketers: is Facebook finally good for something?

I know, I know: I’ve been a bit pessimistic about Facebook marketing lately. The reason for this, frankly, is because so many people do it ineffectively. They seem to think there is inherent value in social media engagement. Well, the cold, hard truth of the matter is that there isn’t. There’s no inherent value in any form of marketing. At the end of the day, everything we do should be measurable, and what sucks should be cut. Part of this process is figuring out if you’re using your tools appropriately.

When marketers look at the big numbers that Facebook brings – around 750 million users at this point – they begin to salivate. They want to find a purpose for Facebook, because it’s big and fun and exciting. It’s so much cooler than dropping mail or shooting a press release over the wire. So, many look for ways to make Facebook fit, often in vain.

Facebook does have potential as a lead cultivation environment. For rapid conversion, it doesn’t seem to work. Just compare your email house list to the number of fans you have on Facebook, and you’ll probably see that it’s a drop in the bucket. If you can convert via email, why invest heavily in Facebook? This is where cultivation becomes an option.

If you have a strong Facebook presence, there is certainly value in converting to “likes” so you can market to these people later. The goal isn’t to sell right away through Facebook – it might not even be to sell through Facebook at all. Rather, you want to use your Facebook presence to keep people engaged with your brand. Use the environment to stay front-of-mind with your target market. Then, when they are ready to buy, they’ll either click over from Facebook or complete the transaction by going directly to your site, responding to an email or so on.

The challenge with lead cultivation, however, is to add value regularly, particularly as people in your customer base advance in the sales cycle. For direct marketing, cultivation is easy. You can segment by stage in the buying cycle and customize the message. Facebook, however, is more of a mass medium, even if your fan base really is a segment of a true mass environment. So, you need to cycle your status updates to appeal to the different segments and engage each without pushing so much content that each message gets lost in the shuffle.

This can become pretty unwieldy, and you’ll need to ask yourself whether a cultivation approach is more prudent than routine advertising or marketing. Does pushing the brand or offer make more sense than trying to cultivate different segments in one environment?

It’s a tough call, and the size of your fan base and nature of the interaction obviously play a role. Email still strikes me as a better electronic medium than Facebook for lead cultivation, since it’s easier to customize the approach for leads in different stages in the buying cycle. Having different prospects in your environment does make it easier to stay in touch with them regularly, though, so if you can pull off the social media balancing act, lead cultivation through Facebook is a possibility.