The Reality of Facebook Promotions

by · February 4, 201342 comments

Most businesses don’t have tens of thousands of Facebook fans. Most don’t have hundreds of thousands of website visitors. So it’s easy for the social media expert in your neighborhood to follow the hippie’s and tree-hugger’s version of social media and say Facebook advertising and promotions are bad.

In the end, though, it’s all a numbers game. The more fans you have, the more potential click throughs you can get on a Sponsored Post. The more your audience is incented to share a coupon or a deal with their networks, the more conversions you’ll see. The more numbers, the less inclination you’ll have toward the purist’s way of thinking.

We ran a little experiment during my first week on the job at CafePress. I wanted to see what a simple promotion via social media would do. How many fans would it reach? How many click throughs would we get? Could we possibly derive revenue from social media?

The Level Set

Our promotion was a Share-And-Win construct. Our website visitors were offered a small layover banner that asked them to share CafePress.com with their networks (Facebook, Twitter or Email) and they would be entered to win an iPad Mini. The winner was a random drawing of all entries. The contest lasted one week, from Friday, Dec. 7 until Friday, Dec. 14.

Keep in mind that this is peak season for online retailers, so we knew we were biased in that we had more people on our site shopping for the holidays than are normally there during other times of the year. But we were not promoting the contest at all – just hanging the layover on the site and if you saw it, you saw it. If you didn’t, we didn’t tell you about it.

The share-and-win post on FacebookThe only promotion of any kind we did was when we, ourselves, entered the contest (certainly recusing ourselves from winning) and, thus, shared CafePress and the contest with our networks. You can see mine here.

It’s also fair to know that, according to Compete.com, CafePress.com registered six million unique visitors in November. If you’ve ever tested your on-site analytics versus third party ones like Compete, you know they are far from accurate. While I’m not at liberty to share specific analytics numbers from our efforts, let’s just say they are significantly higher than published estimates. But we’ll use six million as a baseline.

The Metrics

Our promotion attracted 2,900 shares … or entries in the contest.  (I’m rounding off numbers for convenience sake.) Keep in mind those shares were people who saw the overlay on the site, clicked and entered. We didn’t drive anyone to the contest through other means. Those 2,900 shares drove an additional 3,000 contest entries from their fans/networks. The circulation of the promotion drove roughly 9,500 additional visits to the site.

But what those visitors did while on the site is what’s interesting. Our number of transactions and revenue from social channels jumped 21 percent over the week before. The conversion rate and per-visit-value jumped in the mid-teens percent. And even if you want to say that we should have expected a lift as peak holiday shopping rises, we went back and corrected based on the same week last year and still saw an 11 percent lift in the week’s revenue from social channels, seven percent lift in visits and 10 percent lift in transactions.

So we can reasonably conclude that one small, non-promoted promotion gave our bottom line from social channels a boost of around 11 percent over the same week the year before.  Certainly, there are some other factors involved, but no specific Facebook or Twitter promotions were interfering with our numbers during that week. So, as contained as our measurement was, we’re comfortable with that number.

We saw more shares of the contest on Twitter, but a higher click through and conversion rate on Facebook. We saw a decidedly higher click through and conversion rate with email shares than the other two options. In fact, transactions generated from an email share were more than double in value on average than those generated from Twitter. Email was about 25% more effective in driving order value than Facebook.

The Takeaways

The point of this experiment was to find out what we could do naturally, with no promotional strength behind a given promotion. Certainly, our success with something like this will fluctuate based on time of year, economic conditions and the like. But it gives us a benchmark from which to work.

For you and your business, I hope you can now see that in the great numbers game that is advertising in all of its forms, even a soft promotion on Facebook can turn a handsome profit. And you can also emulate experiments like this to level-set your social efforts.

Before you go out and recruit a bunch of fans and run a bunch of promotions remember this:

  • You’ll see better numbers per order and better volume in orders if you have quality fans or followers. Don’t just add fans to add fans. Go for quality over quantity. (We’re going to work on that in the coming year to improve our numbers!)
  • Promos and deals will drive visits and conversions, but only a portion of your audience is interested in them. Vary your content to ensure you’re feeding the value for your audience, as well as offering them value in purchase opportunities. (We’re going to work on our content mix, too.)
  • Know that Facebook users are mainstream and mainstream isn’t stuck on some utopian notion that brands and advertising have no place on social networks. It’s a balance you have to strike, but sometimes people just want a deal, a coupon or a prize.
  • Twitter is a lower value network, but we think this is because Twitter is used by most as a broadcast mechanism. Therefore, users are accustomed to tuning out promotions and much of what companies will post. That, coupled with the “follow everybody” mentality of the platform and you’ve got depreciating returns compared to more manicured networks like Facebook and Email.

What are your thoughts? What would you do to improve a share-and-win promotion like this? Have you tried one with your company? If so, share some metrics or concerns with us in the comments.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is the founder and chief instigator for Social Media Explorer's blog and signature Explore events. He is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for CafePress, one of the world's largest online retailers. His opinions are his, not necessarily theirs. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments & Reactions

Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://twitter.com/Trishke Patricia Cools

    Correct me I’m wrong but doesn’t Facebook forbid sharing as an condition to win something?

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Great question/point, Patricia, which leads to a good opportunity to clarify. Facebook does prohibit using native Facebook functionality as conditions to winning something. But if you use an approved third-party application, you’re in the clear. We use a number of approved, third-party apps — in this case Social Annex.

      What Facebook is doing by using this approach is saying, “We’re not going to be held legally responsible for someone suing you and then us because they didn’t win some scam contest you set up. So you have to use an approved third-party company/application, then you’re cool to use Likes and Shares to fuel your contest entries.”

      Make sense?

      • http://twitter.com/TylerHakes Tyler Hakes

        Thanks for addressing this – I had to same exact question.

        I’m curious, does this mean that all share-to-win contests like this must originate from a page outside of Facebook? Is there a mechanism where this could work entirely inside of Facebook (e.g., “Share this photo we posted to be entered to win”) and still fall in line with their terms?

        • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

          Good question, Tyler. As long as the “inside Facebook” functionality is run by a third party, you should be good. But you can’t do it as an individual or a business yourself in Facebook’s native environment without using a registered third party application.

          • http://www.TabSite.com/ Mike Gingerich

            Jason is right on.  This is a common misinterpretation by people about Facebook promotions.  The key is that you cannot use Facebook’s native tools to run the contest itself (such as commenting on a post enters you or Liking a page enters you).  You must use a third-party app tool (registered Facebook app that manages the contest functionality) and a Page can then run the contest on a tab on the Facebook Page.  

            I appreciate you documenting the setup, specifics and conversion results of this promotion Jason!  

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Igor-Reznitsky/100001152191839 Igor Reznitsky

            Your comment refers to sharing as a RESULT of entering a contest, which is permitted and it does not matter if it’s done automatically by a 3rd party app or manually. In the example above, they CONDITION an entry upon sharing on Facebook, which clearly violates promotions guidelines, again, regardless of posting through the app or doing it manually.

            What many promo apps do is they request permission to auto-publish on user’s behalf and a user cannot enter a contest without granting that permission. It leads to the situation when de jure the contest is compliant, but de facto it generates the same amount of status updates as if the entry was condition upon sharing.

          • http://www.facebook.com/Alaska.DianneRoberson Alaska Artist Dianne Roberson

            Would you please explain registered third party application?

          • Jnelson

            There are lots of this party apps to run promos on face book. Check out North social, shortstack are a few that come to mind.

          • http://www.TabSite.com/ Mike Gingerich

            Our http://www.tabsite.com app is one of those 3rd party apps that allows you to run contests and promotions.  

          • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

            Sure Dianne. A registered third party application is a company that goes through a screening process with their software to get approval from Facebook that they aren’t up to something suspicious. So social media management systems, promotional tools, etc., fall into these categories. Some examples would be Social Annex (which we use at CafePress), ShopSocially (which we also use), WildfireApp, OfferPop, Expion, Vitrue … even some lower-market tools like HootSuite and such have the ability. Some may or may not have the actual features to run promotions, though.

            For the record, I’ve used WildfireApp before to run a video contest. It was fairly reasonably priced. The others, I don’t know as well. Social Annex and Shop Socially, which I do know, are not what I’d classify as small business solutions.

      • http://www.TabSite.com/ Mike Gingerich

        Well said!

  • Craig Kessler

    I agree, a lot of social media is a numbers game which is why I see how many small businesses don’t want to take the time to get involved.  Good brief case study, and clearly a site that has 6 million uniques will generate pretty good engagement numbers.  Were these results higher/lower than what you expected?  I know this was used as a baseline, but in your head you might have had a number.

  • Dara Khajavi

    I have never held a Facebook promotion contest. This breakdown of the contest is very helpful. I often see many brands use Facebook contests, and I have always been curious about the effectiveness of such a contest. Thanks for the great post!

    • Craig Kessler

       Make sure you have your business objectives set before moving forward with a Facebook promotion. Also, understand that money needs to be put behind the marketing in order to drive people to the promotion.  Too many brands think just having a promotion automatically means people will interact with it.

  • OBVAVirtualAssistant

    Same here. I too have never held a facebook promotion contest. This is a great guide for the same.

  • Greg Narayan

    Solid Jason. I think a Facebook like will always be worth more than a new Twitter follow, or maybe even a retweet. It just seems more permanent and thought out. 

    I love brands on Facebook. I think even the most random Facebook pages (Advil, Hope Depot, random Whiskey Brands) will convince me to give my business over the competitor. So they don’t drive a sale on Facebook but they get my sale eventually. 

  • http://www.agencyplatform.com/ Dave Thompson

    I totally agree with your point of concentrating more on Quality Likes over Quantity Likes but then Quality Likes means more investment on Facebook Ads which sometimes isn’t feasible but then Quality Likes will always stay with you. Great Post!

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  • Ozio Media

    There is no doubt that Facebook advertising can
    offer real value for money when it is used the right way (as you apparently
    have) and a lot of the naysayers who don’t see the value are just people that
    were looking for a quick fix and found a long term proposition. The take away
    is that, as you say, the real value in Facebook is the quality followers who
    are actually interested in engaging with you and it takes time to establish
    that sort of audience.

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  • Caryn

    Jason, thanks for sharing your experiment and talking about it in a nicely digestible fashion! 

  • http://www.facebook.com/tanya.andryushko Tanya Andryushko

    Reallty interesting article, thanks. But I always wonder is not against the rules a Share-And-Win  promotion construct? As far as I know, one of Facebook’s rules for pages is that if they are going to run a contest, it has to be done through a third-party application, such as OfferPop, Wildfire or EasyPromos, am I wrong?

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      You’re not wrong. You do need to go through a third-party application. We used Social Annex for this particular promotion.

      • Social Ninja

        Not quite true Jason. Here’s a link to Facebook policies which states that you can’t attach an incentive for sharing on Facebook. Looks like this app required users to share this contest on Facebook in order to enter the contest which is against the policy. It doesn’t matter whether or not you are using a third party service. https://developers.facebook.com/docs/guides/policy/examples_and_explanations/Rewarding_Users/ 
        Looks like this SocialAnnex contest was in clear violation of Facebook policies.

        • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

          I’m afraid you’re mistaken. The third party applications that are approved, and Social Annex is one, have special authorization and approval from Facebook. If not, no one would ever be able to run contests. We work directly with Facebook as well, so we’re clear and confident in our approach.

          • Social Ninja

            you are right about the third party bit but the core FB policies apply to third parties as well. In this case they clearly violated the following:
            1) Share-and-win construct is not allowed. That’s a violation of policy rule IV.1 which says “You must not incentivize users to use (or gate content behind the use of) Facebook social channels, or imply that an incentive is directly tied to the use of our channels.”. This is as clear as it gets.
            2) They were on the borderline for IV.3 unless they showed exactly what content was being posted on user’s behalf and gave users a way to opt out of that.

            This is just for the benefit of the readers. Feel free to derive your own interpretation. 

  • http://www.hisocial.com/ Hisocial

    Let me add

  • http://www.hisocial.com/ Hisocial

    Let me add one tip. It’s important when you run a promo, to promote it across several platforms, do not limit yourself to Twitter or Faceboo, use both, also use your website to get participants.

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  • http://expertmarketingcoach.com/ Debra Zimmer

    Thanks so much for writing this. It’s not often someone shares real numbers. I forwarded to my team/clients so they could understand how the numbers play out.

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