Does Facebook deserve credit for holiday sales successes?

Most analysts agree that Black Friday and Cyber Monday were exceptionally successful for online retailers.  Facebook wants to take credit for some of that success.

In a blog post this week, Facebook wrote that referred traffic from Facebook to online retailers rose significantly on Black Friday.  The problem is, IBM and Adobe’s independent research attributes only 1-2% of online retail traffic to social referrals.  How can Facebook claim these great successes in the face of contrary evidence?  Good question.

Last click attribution

Two of the arguments that I’ve seen in support of Facebook have been that these studies only measure last click attribution, or that consumers researched products on social networks and purchased offline.

To the point about last click attribution, that is absolutely true.  That said, a lineman in (American) football rarely will score a touchdown.  A quarterback throws for touchdowns all of the time.  Although a lineman works just as hard at his specialized job, he can’t say that he is a quarterback.  Last click attribution doesn’t take into consideration all of the contributions that led to a sale, it does look at the point immediately prior to the sale.  Facebook isn’t making an impact there.  (***note: for European futbol, substitute defender for lineman and forward for quarterback :) )

To the point about Facebook users research products on Facebook and buying them offline (ROPO), I can only state my observation that Facebook isn’t well designed for this at all.  Google, Bing, manufacturer’s websites, retailer websites all are much more user friendly venues for this behavior than Facebook, and I suspect if anyone does an analysis of ROPO behaviors on Black Friday they’ll find social networks to be a negligible driver of traffic as well.

Venture Beat ran a great analysis comparing Facebook’s claim to IBM and Adobe’s data.  Although Facebook wouldn’t substantiate their claims with data, eCommerce company Fab shared their Facebook statistics attributing 25% of their referrals to social sources, with 20% of their purchases made by people who joined their site through Facebook.  While that might be compelling, what IBM and Adobe’s data suggest are that Fab is an outlier and not necessarily indicative of other businesses experiences.

These are the new leads. These are the Glengarry leads.

To Facebook’s point about their impact on Cyber Monday – it true that a lot of conversations probably wouldn’t have happened had it not been for a Facebook conversation.  BUT, even when you factor in last click attribution an event like Black Friday or Cyber Monday should have shown a larger proportion of referred traffic from Facebook.  At some point we have to point out to the Emperor that he is naked. right?

I can see how it would be advantageous for Facebook to be a bigger factor to drive online sales.  But that’s not happening (this year anyhow).  It’s a little strange for Facebook to make such a bold claim in the face of contrary evidence, but I guess they figure if Twitter can do it they can too.

Maybe they just need Mitch and Murray to send Alec Baldwin down to Facebook for a reality check:

“Put. That coffee. Down. (Facebook) Coffee’s for closers only.”

Facebook may be a more significant driver of online retail traffic in the future.  Or it may be able to better articulate its role in the marketing process in the future.  But what it claims to be capable to do and what others are observing it doing are quite different.  And that dissonance is a problem.

Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty

Writer and chief of miscellany at
I'm the guy that wrote the article you just read. Sorry for the typos.