Facebook CPM-based ad prices jumped more than 400% in Q4 2013, according to some 240 billion impressions analyzed in Adobe's Q4 2013 Social Media Intelligence Report. However the holiday season delivered "warning signs" for Facebook in the form of tepid growth in the visits and revenue it's driving to retail sites, relative to some of its rivals.
First, the ad data. There seems to be a fair amount of quarter-to-quarter volatility in Facebook's ad pricing and performance, as measured by Adobe. While CPMs leapt 437% in the fourth quarter, Adobe found its CPC rates were flat year over year. However those CPCs were up compared to the previous three quarters. Adobe characterized this as a seasonal rebound.
CTRs meanwhile rose 365 percent year over year, but were down sequentially compared to the third quarter.
The fluctuating price data demonstrates how Facebook continues to test a range of ad products, and to tweak the ratio of performance-based and impression-based pricing to optimize both yield and its consumer-facing ad experience.
Tamara Gaffney, principal analyst, Adobe Digital Index, expects this to continue. "It feels like Facebook will swing a little bit one way [and] a little bit the other all year long as the balance shifts between what marketers want to buy and what FB offers," she said.
But Adobe sees "warning signs" in the revenue per visit (RPV) Facebook drives to commerce websites, relative to other social channels. According to Adobe's downstream traffic data, Facebook's RVP grew 72% year over year, and 31% compared to the previous quarter. That's not too shabby, until one notes the much larger RPV increases at other sites such as Tumblr (340%), Pinterest (244%), Twitter (131%).
Even so, it's important to observe that while Facebook's RPV growth rates were less than those of competitors, the actual increase in average RVP was about equal between Facebook and other sites, in most cases. Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest all grew their average RPV by about $0.50. Only Tumblr reported larger actual gains; its average RPV jumped by $0.85 to $1.10.
"Tumblr keeps coming up as having some really high growth rates for such a small social media network that no one ever talks about," Gaffney said.
Adobe's data also suggests Facebook faces more competition for "share of referred visits to retail sites." Twitter and Pinterest increased their share of retail site visits by 125 and 89 percentage points, respectively:
It's important to note that with regard to the downstream commerce activity on Facebook, social revenue still represents a very small slice of the pie. Social platforms only referred 2% of purchases to retailers over the holidays, Adobe said. Gaffney said, "Overall, pretty small."
Adobe sees a whole lot of impression and website referral data. Its Q4 index is based on 240 billion Facebook ad impressions, half a billion referred visits from social sites (Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr, etc.), 1.5 billion Facebook Posts, and 6.3 billion Facebook engagements (comments, shares and likes).
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