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A Brief History of Facebook Marketing

By Steph Ferrell on September 28, 2016

As I rounded the corner in the Boston T station to make my train home after work, the lights above the doors started flashing—which, paired with a ding, signaled the doors were about to close. I broke into a sprint, squeezed through the sliding doors, and let out a sigh of relief. Once I had sandwiched myself between two other sweaty commuters, I took out my phone and began scrolling through Facebook.

Engagement announcement: how exciting! *Like*

Tasty video of a chocolate chipwich dessert: arguably more exciting! (Pretty good for a Facebook marketing video.) *Love*

A photo of Tom Ferrell in front of the ER with his arm in a sling, and a paragraph detailing his fall off a ladder: "What?!" *Calls Dad*

"Are you kidding me, Dad? I find out you fell off of a ladder through Facebook? Why didn't you call me first?"

"I don't know. I knew you would see it there anyway. I busted my shoulder, but I'm on some pain medication now."

While I wish I could explain away his judgment to post on Facebook before calling me, his actions actually weren't all that surprising. My last birthday? He posted to my Facebook wall (he did call me later in the day). When he wants to catch up, he uses Facebook Messenger. The guy loves the thing.

That isn't surprising, either. Facebook is quite obviously a central platform through which people communicate and share with one another. My dad's ladder incident only further solidified this for me, and reiterated how wide-reaching Facebook is in terms of age demographics.

This is one of the many reasons content marketers need to understand how to navigate Facebook marketing. As this series rolls out, we'll look at which brands are nailing Facebook marketing, how to measure success, and examine features that go underutilized on the social media platform. But first, let's focus on the basics.

Pew Research Center

Facing the Facts

"Everybody on campus was using it. 'Facebook me' was the common expression after two weeks. And Mark was the biggest thing on a campus that included 19 Nobel laureates, 15 Pulitzer prize winners, 2 future Olympians, and a movie star."

The quote above, excerpted from the movie The Social Network, spells out the reality of Facebook's incredible success: it spread through Harvard, the country, and the world all in less than a year—2004, mind you. What's even more incredible about Facebook is that it continues to grow and dominate over a decade later. On the Content Standard, we've talked about the large user bases of Snapchat (100 million), Instagram (300 million), and LinkedIn (450 million) and the worthwhile opportunities they present for marketers. Well, Facebook has 1.13 billion active users. Suffice it to say, brands love Facebook.

According to the most recent Pew Research Center report, the majority of internet users are on Facebook. In fact, over 63 percent of internet users in each age demographic, with the exception of the 65+ age group, uses the platform.

Step back and even consider that one exception, though: 48 percent of 65-year-olds (and older) using the internet have a Facebook account. That is impressive in its own right. Facebook user statistics are staggering, and that's exactly why Facebook and brands have leveraged these numbers to their advantage over the years.

A Timeline: Brands Getting Face Time



Old School: Facebook Flyers

The first instance of revenue generated for Facebook was through Flyers, which were paid for by school clubs or local businesses that wished to advertise events or services in their respective locations. Ads in this form evolved to operate on a CPM (cost per thousand impressions) basis to generate further revenue. This monetization strategy continued to develop in the early years of Facebook through Sponsored Groups. Companies such as Apple and Victoria's Secret sponsored Groups for which they paid Facebook a flat rate fee along with a monthly payment for each member of the group.



Gwen Stefani Released "Hollaback Girl"

No, but really. Interscope Records released Gwen Stefani's cheerleader-chant-like song and felt there was no better place to market this than on a site with such a large student user base. Facebook was easily capable of mining profile data and targeting cheerleaders for this purpose, which opened the floodgates in the marketing industry for how brands could be using information explicitly provided by users to their advantage. These techniques would only be further developed over the years to target geographies, languages, and special interests of users (both on Facebook and other sites). Targeted Facebook Ads continue to be a basic component of Facebook marketing.



Facebook Pages

This feature allowed brands and celebrities to build profiles through which they could post original content. Despite undergoing enhancements over the years as the company developed overall, Facebook Pages has remained the persistent foundation upon which marketing on Facebook stands, serving as the first link to learning more about a business on the platform.



Sponsored Stories

Users were now able to see when their friends Liked, commented, or interacted with a brand on Facebook in their News Feeds. This ended in 2014, however, and left brands wondering what the future of marketing on Facebook would be without it.



All Things Mobile

Facebook Acquires Instagram

While the Facebook mobile website rolled out in 2007 and the very first Facebook app was released in 2010, it wasn't until 2012 that the company turned mobile-first with a native iPhone app. Delivering ads via mobile also occurred in 2012, driving this strategy home. It was around this time that Facebook also acquired Instagram for $1 billion, about which Zuckerberg wrote the following: "Now, we'll be able to work even more closely with the Instagram team to also offer the best experiences for sharing beautiful mobile photos with people based on your interests."



Facebook Canvas

Facebook Messenger for Business

Instant Articles

So, about that time when brands were worried about the end of Sponsored Stories? Cue 2016. Since Sponsored Stories' halt in 2014, the marketing industry has undergone a dramatic shift—one that Facebook has responded to with newer features that cater more to the sustainable storytelling that defines marketing today. Facebook Messenger for Business rolled out in March, giving brands the opportunity to re-engineer customer services and the connections they make with their user bases. Facebook Canvas was also released this year to facilitate better storytelling via immersive mobile ad experiences, while Instant Articles was developed to allow brands to commit to the publisher mind-set and deliver great stories to desired audiences.

"We Lived on Farms, Cities, and Now the Internet!"

This quote, yet again taken from The Social Network, says it all: today, we truly are living on the internet. Through social networking platforms like Facebook, marketers are given the opportunity to instantly and easily enter the lives of their audiences. This is not something to be taken lightly. Marketing on Facebook must be done right, and this series will help prepare you to do just that with all the learnings, tools, and opportunities the social media powerhouse has to offer.

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Steph Ferrell

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