Facebook sponsored results: new possibilities for social complaining

By Todd Bacile | October 3, 2012

Facebook Search and Sponsored Search

Guest speakers are always welcome in my undergraduate e-Marketing class at Florida State University. Ryan Cohn, the Vice President of Social/Digital Operations for Ron Sachs Communications, was kind enough to share his time and his knowledge of social media marketing topics last week. Ryan is a wealth of social information. Anyone who has the opportunity to talk social media, advertising, or PR with him is truly fortunate. Ryan discussed Facebook’s sponsored results with my students. After reflecting on his discussion I see a possible correlation with social complaining. Let me explain below.

Facebook Sponsored Results

Ryan brought up a terrific point: there is a key difference between a person using a Facebook search and a Google search. A Facebook search is used typically when a person is searching for a specific person, page, or brand. In contrast, a Google search is used typically to find a large number of results for competing or similar products or brands. The key difference is specificity: Facebook searchers are usually looking for something specific.

Search specificity creates new opportunities with Facebook’s sponsored results. Sponsored search results are different from sponsored ads or stories, each of which appear on the right side of Facebook’s page or within the newsfeed. Sponsored search results are positioned within the search query results drop-down menu. This is an ideal option to use for brands to offer suggestions of brand-extensions or complementary products. For example, the screen shot below illustrates how a Facebook search for “Mitt Romney” produces a sponsored search result for “Paul Ryan”. Note the sponsored Ryan result – and a sponsored result for Bingo Blitz – are actually the first search results appearing before Romney’s actual page.

Facebook Sponsored Search result

There is another strategy brands can use with Facebook sponsored results: display a competing product or brand. For example, a Facebook search for the dating service “OKCupid” displays a sponsored result for a competing dating service “Match.com”. The screen shot below illustrates the sponsored result appearing before OKCupid’s organic result (thanks to TechCrunch for this image). Situations such as OKCupid and Match.com is where sponsored results get interesting! Positioning a competing brand not only adjacent to a Facebook search of a specific brand, but also appearing before the organic search result may play a factor during episodes of social complaining.

What is Social Complaining?

Social media has created a phenomenon I refer to as social complaining. Consumers have been able to complain or post negative comments for several years on non-brand owned sites such as epinions.com. Now brand-owned media (i.e. a brand’s Facebook page) are targets for consumers posting negative comments. Consumers post social complaints to brands’ Facebook pages to warn others, notify the company to receive restitution, and/or embarrass a brand publicly. How prevalent is social complaining? eMarketer states 46% of consumers using social media for customer service are venting frustrations about poor experiences; and Facebook is the most popular social media site to post complaints.

How does this relate to sponsored search results? Put yourself in the shoes of an upset customer. For example, a faulty Maytag clothes washer is purchased by a consumer, who upon repeated attempts to fix the issue with Maytag is left with the broken appliance. The issue is unresolved. Years ago an online review site would be the destination for this upset customer; but, now this customer can go to Facebook to voice a complaint.

In our example above, the customer may type “Maytag” into Facebook’s search to locate the brand’s page to post a complaint. Surprisingly, the first result – a sponsored search result – could be a smart competitor such as Bosch, a rival brand of Maytag. An upset customer may not only visit and post a complaint on Maytag’s Facebook page, but also may choose to post the negative information on Bosch’s page due to the top of mind awareness generated by the sponsored result! Hey, if an upset consumer wants to embarrass a brand, what better way to do so than on a competitor’s page in front of the rival brand’s audience!

An additional subsequent scenario is brand-switching. The consumer’s clothes washer is broke and a negative review is made available to a competitor. A smart competing brand will engage the consumer and perhaps win them over as a new customer. This scenario also creates a public display of a brand that cares. There is a lot of positive PR to gain in this situation. Are you thinking this would never happen? Check out this story of a blogger who posted a complaint about her broken Maytag washer. Bosch, the competing brand, picked up on the complaint and actually gave the consumer a free washer. This occurred via a blog, but with evolving technology and brand-owned media being a fertile ground for social complaints, a similar situation may occur in the context of Facebook and its sponsored search results.

Todd Bacile is a marketing doctoral candidate and instructor for Electronic Marketing and Services Marketing in the College of Business at Florida State University. Social Media Marketing Magazine recently ranked him as one of the Top 100 Marketing Professors on Twitter. You can contact him on Twitter @toddbacile