Digital marketing has been under scrutiny again this week with the publication of the results of a BBC investigation into the validity of Facebook likes. Recent weeks have seen a great deal in the press about the value of Facebook marketing for business. Technology PR firms have undoubtedly put a great deal of money and man hours into social media campaigns but does advertising on Facebook provide any measurable benefits to the technology, engineering and electronics industry?

The BBC investigation highlights the number of fake, computer generated profiles and campaigns that have attracted millions of likes. Unfortunately the black hat marketeers are happy to feed some businesses’ desire for large numbers of likes and followers, regardless of quality. Pyramid schemes are rife and followers, real or no, can be bought by the thousand for the sake of corporate vanity. This kind of following provides no useful interaction and rarely results in sales.

General Motors very publicly questioned the value of Facebook advertising but just a few weeks after cancelling their paid advertising, GM head of global marketing, Joel Ewanick entered into talks with Facebook to plan their next advertising campaign. GM did not dispute the power of Facebook for promotion, their Facebook groups and pages are an important part of their marketing arsenal. The issue was whether they needed to pay for additional coverage, when Facebook already provided so much for free. In other words, GM marketing executives felt that PR was working but the advertising was not.

So, is social media better suited to Technology PR than technology advertising? Who should be managing a firm’s social media, the advertising department or the PR department? What about the aftersales and customer service department?

This is a very tricky one to answer and varies from organisation to organisation. The real success stories come from technology and electronics firms that use a blended approach.

The greatest proponent of this approach is technology giant Apple. They are masters of this mix of advertising and PR using social media. Their advertisements invariably go viral, shared across networks, debated, edited and re-appropriated by their audience. Their corporate video, presentations and conferences are also popular across the networks. They conveniently leave technology in cafes to be discovered and shared on Youtube, Facebook and Twitter, measuring and gauging public response. The advertisements become PR and their audience make their own advertisements from Apple’s PR efforts.

But if you visit the Apple site, you will find no social media buttons at all. Their product images, press releases and videos are shared from other sites. Apple have a Facebook page for the app store with millions of likes, populated by discussions of the latest apps and games. It is vibrant and engaging, in direct contrast to the Apple Inc. page, which, despite the huge number of likes, has no engagement at all. Instead, Apple relies on its faithful customers to do the work for them.

Electronics firm Sony have a very successful and engaging Facebook presence but they too are masters of the PR /advertising blend. They use Facebook to capture and celebrate their PR activities, eg. their involvement in ComicCon and their Futurescapes initiative. Like Apple they rely on their fanbase to turn their advertising into PR, to share and play with their advertising and branding. They use Facebook ads with social context. This has been proven to be the most effective type of Facebook advert, where targeted individuals get to see how many of their friends have responded to the same ad as this report shows.

The adverts that take off however are the videos that are mashed up and autotuned on Youtube. Sony’s ‘autotune the ad’ spread across the social networks, engaging their customers with Sony software and raising the profile of the brand.

The answer then is to support pr efforts with Facebook adverts to drive traffic to your business and community pages. Be aware that your traditional advertisements can also be fodder for the PR department to share and discuss and approach Facebook as a place where advertising and technology pr can blend together.