Beardbrand: Facebook Is Frustrating, But We May Shift Our AdWords Budget There
Despite great content, company struggles to reach its audience organically on Facebook. But love-hate relationship has it experimenting with ads on the social network again.
Beardbrand seems like a perfect candidate to be a Facebook marketing success story.
An evangelist for the bearded lifestyle, Beardbrand produces a steady stream of quality content aimed at men “who are passionate not only about their facial hair, but their style, their careers and their independence” as co-founder Eric Bandholz told the panel on Shark Tank last year.
The company sells beard oil, mustache wax and other grooming supplies, but it’s also making a strong pitch to create a community for men with beards. That ethos has helped it build a large following on Facebook, with more than 57,000 likes on a Facebook Page brimming with photos, video and stories celebrating bearded men and advising them how to take care of their facial hair.
Most of the content comes from Urban Beardsman, the company’s slick blog that is helmed by a full-time editor. It’s exactly the type of high-quality material that Facebook recommends businesses share on the platform. No hard sell; no spammy come ons; no click-bait. Beard oil, not snake oil.
So why is Bandholz grumbling?
Because despite what seems like a perfect Facebook fit, Beardbrand still struggles to reach an audience on the social network. On average its posts are seen by 3,000 to 7,000 people; often it’s a lot less, dropping below 1,000 — less than 2% of its fan base.
“And that’s just frustrating,” Bandholz said, “for someone who has invested so much to know that there are 50,000 people who have expressed interest in seeing your content and only 900 people see it.”
Bandholz’s feeling is not unique, of course. Falling organic reach for Facebook Pages has become something of a truism in social media marketing. Everyone is seeing it; everyone complains about it, but nearly everyone continues to devote resources to feeding their Facebook Pages.
It’s just too big a potential audience — now more than 1.4 billion strong — to ignore.
Bandholz said his expectations for Facebook are low, at least for the brand’s organic content. Advertising could be another story. Last month, Beardbrand started to advertise on Facebook again after a two-year absence, experimenting to see if targeting lookalike audiences and interests can be effective.
Early results have been positive, good enough to continue testing and spending about $2,000 a month. Bandholz said they aim for a 5x return on their digital advertising dollars and are considering shifting money from Google AdWords because competition is making that platform more expensive.
In an effort to shed more light on how marketers are tackling Facebook, Marketing Land is checking in with businesses using the social network. Beardbrand — which now has 10 employees and annual revenue of more $1 million and is still independent after leaving Shark Tank without any investors — is the first in an occasional series. We caught up with Bandholz via phone and email to discuss how his company is approaching the Facebook conundrum.
Marketing Land: What happened when Beardbrand first started advertising on Facebook?
Bandholz: Our first go-round with Facebook was when we just started out probably back in 2013 when it seemed like we could get millions and millions of impressions for just a nickel, and we used it as kind of a top of funnel marketing strategy. But we saw a gradual decline of results with Facebook and subsequently just pulled it out all together. We probably were in there for about three to six months.
We moved that budget to AdWords as well as some nontraditional marketing strategies, or traditional depending how you look at it. We invest a lot into our PR campaigns, we invest in SEO firms and content creation and content marketing.
Marketing Land: Can you expand on your content marketing strategy? You hired an editor to run the Urban Beardsman blog in October. Why place such high bet on content marketing?
Bandholz: What’s really important to us is making a move to own our traffic and we are doing that though generating content on urbanbeardsman.com. The ultimate goal is to build our community there and stay in front of our audience more regularly.
Any of our competitors can go on Facebook and buy more ads than us. Or Proctor & Gamble can come in with a beard oil product and just start spamming ads on Facebook and ultimately drive up the cost of ads and we’ve seen that; we’ve seen the price of ads get more expensive on Google AdWords as more competitors hit the market. So we are really putting a lot of resources into building our content marketing so we’ve got a little bit more control over our audience and the cost of acquiring them.
ML: So how does Facebook fit in now?
Bandholz: Facebook changes on a daily basis so the reality is we never know if it’s going to be a good platform for us or not. Some months it may be; while other months it may not. We’ve tried doing paid with Facebook in the past with success, then no success, and are trying it again with moderate success. It’s really a hard beast to handle and that makes life frustrating.
I’ve got kind of a love-hate relationship with Facebook. I hate how they constantly shift. The problem is that I can see it happening, and I think it’s shifting a little bit more back in favor of organic. It’s just hard to grow the business when you are dealing with a company that changes so much so rapidly. You don’t know if this month it will work for you and next month it doesn’t.
It’s not a platform where you can just set something on autopilot let it run its course and then focus on a different aspect of your business like improving operations or developing new products or there’s a million things you have to do as a business owner.
It’s frustrating from that standpoint. But it does have an opportunity out there if you are willing in invest in it. Every entrepreneur has their doubts and their questioning how to build a business, how to market your business. As much as I’d like to, you just can’t rule out Facebook all together. There’s a lot of people on the platform.
ML: It would seem that your content-marketing focus would play especially well on Facebook. Where’s the disconnect?
Bandholz: We’ve got something like 50,000 likes our our Page and we post original content that’s good and literally 900 people will see it. That’s just frustrating. I’ve looked at redbull.com on Facebook, they produce original content and you would have 30 likes on a post and they have a million people who like the Page.
From my standpoint if an individual likes a Page it’s because they want to see the content, and if they don’t want to see the content then they’ll unlike the Page. Whereas Facebook is like ‘like a Page and we won’t show it to you unless you are super engaged and super into a brand.’ That to me doesn’t make sense. Not everyone goes around liking things knowing that that’s what they need to do to see more content from it.
It’s Facebook’s company, then can run it how they want, that’s just the frustration of it as a brand manager.
Bandholz: Passionate writing has done well for us. When we post with emotion, we’ve found that that type of content generates a lot more engagement with our audience. Things that are very inspirational almost or just invoke emotion do very well on Facebook.
ML: So good content gets noticed?
Bandholz: Good content is all relative. Memes always seem to blow up like wildfire. I’d post a beard meme and then I’d get a thousand shares but the thing with our brand is that our brand isn’t built on memes and gimmicky type of marketing. For our audience it takes a little bit more engagement to read an article, whereas with a meme you just read it in five seconds and click like. Is that actually good content? I personally don’t think so, but Facebook says it is because people instantly click on it.
It’s a little frustrating to hear Facebook say just put good content out. Well, you can put out tons of good content and still not get the engagement that is appropriate.
But when you play on someone else’s field, you have to follow their rules. So it’s just a little bit of a risk in building a business. But you can’t completely avoid Facebook because there’s opportunity there.
ML: One of those opportunities for you appears to be advertising. What prompted you to consider using more Facebook advertising?
Bandholz: We’re spending about 7K a month on AdWords, and then about 1,500 bucks on Bing. Facebook’s a lot less; we are just exploring and have started with a pretty modest budget. We’ll scale up [if the experiment is successful]. AdWords has just gotten a little more expensive for us so we actually might be switching a lot of that budget from AdWords to Facebook.
My AdWords guy came to me and talked about some of the new tools Facebook released, the ability to really dial down into your audience list and approach people by matching them to their interests. In addition there’s the increased costs of Google AdWords. If Google AdWords was still rocking and rolling for us as they originally were, I probably wouldn’t be looking at Facebook.
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