Research Proves Facebook Drives Sales, Impacts Your Bottom Line

I have to admit that the inspiration for this post came from something one of my clients reported their Facebook rep told them — that Facebook is not a platform for driving sales.  It’s all about buying impressions for your brand but it’s not a place where users want to engage with brand or consume their content so it shouldn’t be considered as a sales driver.

My reaction was along the lines of: Wait…WHAT?  Is that how they’re selling ads these days?  And people are actually buying them?

Shouldn’t the ultimate goal of any marketing campaign be to drive the business’s bottom line — otherwise, why invest a dime?  Sure, tracking direct, measureable sales from social channels is much more difficult than from other digital platforms like banner ads that drive to an e-commerce site or emails that include a unique and trackable coupon code that consumers have access to when they’re in the checkout line. But if Facebook doesn’t ultimately impact your business’s bottom line, why are brands still investing on the platform?

Facebook Myth 1: Engagement Doesn’t Drive Sales

Why is Facebook telling us this? Only their sales playbook creators know, but my guess is that it’s forcing marketers to see the “low” (it’s all relative…) reach they’re getting on the platform as a problem that can only be solved with paid, rather than being able to hang our hats on the quality of the limited impressions we are getting.

So, we can listen to what our Facebook (sales) reps tell us. Or, we can do what smart marketers have been doing for years and use research and consumer insights to guide our marketing strategies.

Percent of social media users who purchase after sharingMedia Bistro – Social Impact on Purchase Decisions (2014)

  • 38% of Facebook users report having purchased a product after Liking or Sharing it on the network (a Like or a Share = an engagement).
  • 78% of respondents said that companies’ social posts do impact their purchase decisions.
  • 41% of people who found the item they purchased said they just happened upon it and hadn’t previously thought of buying it.



Nielsen Trust in Advertising Study (2013)

Nielsen Trust in Advertising 2013

Notice how low ads on social networks fall vs. recommendations from others. There are two reasons to generate organic engagement on Facebook: 1) Stay top of mind with your friends (the same reason you care about email open rates…) and 2) show their friends the connection between the fan and your brand because people trust their friends’ opinions.

Why the Right Kind of Engagement on Facebook Matters

Now let’s put our smart marketer hat on and qualify that engagement word.  If you’re a brand who has earned a ton of likes on your Facebook photos because your strategy has been to post a picture of Grumpy Cat every day since 2007 but your product has nothing to do with grumpiness or cats, you are probably not driving any sales from Facebook.  But if you’re creating content with the intention of generating engagement around your brand and products, good news: Consumers who engage with your brand and their friends who see those engagements on Facebook are more likely to buy!

But why is this any surprise? It’s a result of the same thinking that’s led you to pay attention to unaided awareness, why you’ve cared about dominating share of voice on TV, why you’ve implemented strategy after strategy with the purpose of generating positive reviews, etc. etc. etc. for the last 60+ years.

If you can get your audience to spend more time thinking about your brand, taking an action as a result of your branded content, and getting in front of their friends actively or passively in a way that lets their friends see a positive connection between them and your brand, you will sell more product.

Facebook Myth 2: You Can’t (and Shouldn’t Try To) Earn Impressions Anymore

Sure, the organic impressions you used to get easily on Facebook with a halfway decent content strategy have all but disappeared thanks to Facebook’s algorithm changes.  And you might even believe those changes were truly designed with the intention of creating a better user experience for their massive user-base (I believe it for the most part, you are not alone.)

But until they close the spigot completely (that day IS coming, we all know it), large brands are still seeing an average of 2.5% organic reach.  Yes, I know. You spent a ton of marketing dollars from 2010-2013 acquiring fans (because that’s what Facebook was selling back then — coincidence?) And now you feel like those dollars were wasted and you have to pay to reach all those people you paid to acquire in the first place, so you’re annoyed, you’ve given up.  But you have 5 million fans! And 2.5% of 5 million fans is still 125K people seeing every Facebook post you publish (assuming you’re creating content that’s relevant to them.)

Not too shabby when study after study suggests that organic impressions are more likely to drive sales and/or buying behaviors than impressions that were paid for on Facebook.

And, if you’re like some brands who’s pages we manage, you’re still seeing 5%, 10%, on a good post, maybe even 80% reach if your following a content strategy designed to truly engage your fan base around your brand rather than push a brand message.

VisionCritical: Social to Sale (2013)

How Social purchases are discovered - Vision CriticalWorth a read as this survey-based study is loaded with stats that support how impressions and engagement on multiple social networks result in sales, but here a few fun facts specific to Facebook:

  • Facebook impressions were responsible for product discovery 25% of the time, so the more impressions we can drive, regardless of whether they’re organic and paid, the better. Sure, the percentage of organic these days on Facebook is smaller than it used to be, but every little bit counts.
  • Half (50%) of purchases impacted by social media occurred within 1 week of a social engagement around a product, so not only is engagement important, but driving that engagement consistently is key.

Brands following a strategy of only publishing a few times a month to align with a paid-only social media budget are just plain doing it wrong.

Comscore – Power of the Like 1 (2011) and 2 (2012)

(Published in collaboration with Facebook, by the way…)

These studies specifically show across multiple case studies that earned exposures (created through earned impressions which are generated by engagement) result in a significant lift in likelihood to engage in purchase consideration behaviors, and in the case of Starbucks, where they could track all the way to sale, purchases.

  • Amazon & Best Buy Fans spent more than twice as much as the average Internet user (both online and in-store). Target fans also spent nearly twice as much, while Target friends of fans spent 50% more and Best Buy Friends of Fans spent 100% more than the average Internet user.
  • Starbucks saw a 38% lift in purchase incidence (in-store) as a result of earned exposures on Facebook.Starbucks Comscore Power of the Like Fans and Friends of Fans Purchase Behavior

IgniteSocial Media & Comscore (2013)

We conducted similar research on behalf of our Chrysler Group client just last year, comparing earned vs. paid exposures on Facebook.  Since autos are a highly considered purchase (something not addressed in either Power of the Like Study) we wanted to see if the data proved similar against behaviors that would suggested a person was considering purchasing a Chrysler vehicle as a result of earned exposures.

  •  Earned exposures resulted in a 76% lift in likelihood to visit the brand websites (vs. a 28% lift from paid exposures).
  • Not only did they visit the sites, but those who saw organic updates visited 6 times more pages (vs. 2x more pages from those who were exposed via paid).
  • There was a 55% lift in likelihood to conduct a branded search in the 4 weeks following an earned exposure (vs. ZERO lift from those who saw paid exposures.)

Chrysler Social Media Impact Study Comscore


I’m not saying don’t spend money on Facebook. In fact, we’ve seen brand reach numbers exceed the total size of their fan base on a per post basis with the help of a very limited promoted post budget (I’m talking $500 per post, not the $5-10K per post I’ve heard of some brands spending, extending reach into the 100s of thousands per post on Pages with under 500K fans as a result of an Earned + Paid strategy!) It’s all about driving efficiency with those media dollars, right?  And on a social network like Facebook, that efficiency comes from a strategic mix of paid + earned impressions while you can still earn them.

Facebook Myth 3: It’s All About Creating Brand Moments

How does Facebook get their propaganda into our smart marketers heads? (Heads that should be the best as sniffing out marketing messages designed to get us to do what they want us to do?) They talk about “Creating Brand Moments”. Those moments that result in your audience truly connecting with your brand are what will drive sales.  And they are completely right! But they tell us you have to pay to create those moments…

But wait, “creating a moment” — which requires a creative concept that truly connects a brand and customer as a result of the customer having an emotional reaction to branded content — is EXACTLY what the best marketers have been doing for more than 60 years!  Sure, all the best advertising case studies have had a few dollars behind them to get initial eyes on the content, but truly great “moments” (large and small) will (and always have) taken on a life of their own and spread like wildfire through word of mouth.

That’s the beauty of a platform like Facebook. It’s built from the ground up to fuel social spread through organic word of mouth when truly great moments are created.

…Until they tighten the algorithm so much that those moments can no longer spread…but that’s a fight for another day.

Where Facebook marketing goes wrong is when we forget that emotional connection with our audience through content that will result in getting them to take a desired action is the key to smart marketing, and, instead, just buy impressions for the sake of reporting on the eyeballs we “bought” in our Media Mix Models.  Just remember, you usually get what you pay for…

Ignite Social Media