Over the past two years, Facebook has fast become a major area of
interest for brand marketers.

Lured in by the social network’s 500m+ users, some marketers are evoking memories of the AOL days, going
as far as to promote Facebook Pages over their own websites.

From storefronts to movie rentals, brands are increasingly
focusing on trying to use the site as a platform for commerce. Some
believe Facebook commerce, or f-commerce, could be the next big phase in
the evolution of ecommerce.

But according to a report by Forrester
Research’s Sucharita Mulpuru, despite all of the talk about f-commerce,
Facebook isn’t likely to become a retail force.

The Wall Street Journal has the details:

A social-network presence, [Mulpuru] found, was less effective at customer acquisition and retention than e-mail and paid search.

The study found that the average Facebook metrics are a 1% click-through rate and a 2% conversion rate. E-mail marketing, by comparison, has an 11% click-through rate and a 4% average conversion rate.

At scale, the difference between a 1% CTR and 2% conversion rate, and a 11% CTR and 4% conversion rate, is, of course, likely to be quite significant.

Couple this with the fact that many consumers ‘like‘ brands on Facebook simply to receive discounts, and brands looking to drive sales have to ask the question: is Facebook really providing bang for the buck?

The answer to that might very well be no, but even if Facebook’s performance is overestimated, does that mean it isn’t an important marketing tool? Almost certainly not, making it easy to dismiss Forrester’s report altogether.

After all, not all Facebook presences are created equal, and it’s worth noting that some are pretty uninspired, and the site has limited control over the quality of the offerings and strategies brands implement on its social network.

But other studies are starting to call into question Facebook’s potency too. For instance, the World Federation of Advertisers recently surveyed digital marketers from two dozen global brands. The result: less than a quarter of the digital marketers thought they were getting a “good” return on their investment.

A 2011 Razorfish study discovered that when consumers want to interact with a company, Facebook isn’t at the top of the list of places they turn. Most of the time, Razorfish found, consumers actually prefer to interact with companies through their corporate websites.

These studies paint an increasingly mixed portrait of Facebook as a marketing platform. Yes, it is home to a massive audience, and there clearly are opportunities to engage with consumers in meaningful ways using the social network. But if consumer intent simply isn’t there, or is there in lower-than-expected quantities, those things may not mean a whole lot.

From this perspective, when it comes to marketing, Facebook may be like a $100,000 diamond watch: it sparkles and captures a lot of attention, but its sparkle may mask the fact that there’s a limit to its marketing utility.

Brands should be aware of this, because just as a flashy watch doesn’t necessarily keep the best time, the sexiest social network doesn’t necessarily deliver the highest ROI.