No-one can afford to ignore Facebook as the vital ubiquitous social networking communication medium it has come to be: marketers least of all. But when marketing came into contact with Facebook it had to unlearn some of its intrinsic habits.
How Facebook Changed Marketing…
In traditional marketing, a message is first created and then disseminated. It might be something as ingenuous as a late nineteenth century Pear’s ad, as unlikely as the panaceatic claims made for snake oils in the backs of old newspapers or as slickly disingenuous as Don Draper’s masterful rebranding of Lucky Strike in Mad Men; the message was sent out across various media intact. The marketers produced the message and the public, hopefully, consumed it. Notwithstanding Burma Shave’s classic attempts to involve its public by having them write its rhymes, the communication was largely a one-way street.
Facebook’s Interactive Marketing Model
On Facebook things were immediately different. The disparity between the voice of the consumer and that of the marketer disappeared: anyone can speak just as loudly on a social network. Marketing became about engagement, building relationships, getting involved in conversations, positioning yourself in your space by the interactions you had with other users. The two magic words for Facebook marketing became ‘reach’ meaning how many people saw your posts, and ‘engagement,’ meaning how many cared.
Facebook’s level playing field meant that marketing messages had to compete with users’ friends and relatives for space in their News Feeds. Reach and engagement both had to be got by quality content, learning what kind of posts were most engaging and building relationships with fans so that their engagement with previous posts made new ones appear in their News Feeds.
Only to Change It back
With its recent alterations to its algorithms, though, Facebook has changed that level playing field. And it’s tipped so far that reach (and engagement as a result) have begun to slide off the edge.
User numbers fall
In the week beginning December 1, organic reach and organic reach percentage both fell by an average of 44%, with some pages seeing double that decline. The figures come from a survey of 689 posts across 21 brand pages by Ignite Social Media, and while one page was able to show an increase in reach of 5.6%, the overall message is very clear. Facebook is actually punishing brand pages, regardless of how interested their customers or fans are in seeing their content.
Engagement drops too
The number of engaged users fell as well. The average fall was a little less steep than the reach figures, at about 35%, though some pages experienced drops of 76%. That’s between a third and three quarters of these pages’ customers disappearing in a week! As a result, where Facebook’s own figures showed that brand pages typically reached about 16% of their Facebook and, brand pages will now be lucky to reach 2.5% of their fans.
How? Facebook has tweaked its algorithm again. That’s all. While every change in Facebook’s algorithm provokes coverage from all sides it usually provokes little actual concern. The expectation is that after the latest changes everything will be the same, only different. Not this time. When the news was announced, it was assumed that the targets would be companies like Buzzfeed and Upworthy, whose provocative, short articles gain traction by focusing on memes and other high-engagement material. This was a reasonable assumption, given that these sites link to their own hosting, taking users away from Facebook –and given rumours that Chris Cox, the Facebook executive in charge of News Feeds, has a personal animus against these sites.
But the people who will really suffer are marketers.
Facebook now treats image only posts and posts with a few words as “meme” posts with very limited reach.
Link posts however seem to have a much higher reach.
The Future of Facebook is Paid-For
Facebook business pages are a form of advertising from which Facebook has previously not directly made any money. Some see that as the bottom line. Carol Lyn Rivera, writing for Websearchsocial.com, says that ‘user experience and what YOU want – as a person or as a business – only matters insofar as it makes Facebook money. If you start from that point then the rest becomes very simple.’ She dismisses Facebook’s claims that the company was motivated by a desire to optimise News Feed experience for its users. Ignite disagrees, hoping for a more balanced approach and seeing the punishment of brand pages as a side effect of Facebook’s real intentions.
(Un)learning our lessons
As marketers we’re going to have to unlearn a lot of what Facebook taught us. Memes, pictures, photo-heavy posts, all that engagement fodder we’ve been learning how to implement for the last few years has suddenly become, not just obsolete but actually bad for organic reach: Facebook’s latest changes will punish these very types of posts, at the expense of link posts and ‘high quality media outlet’ material from newspapers and other media organizations.
Maybe newspapers will finally have found a way to monetize their online presences, and Facebook will have found a way to monetize its huge user base: by charging advertisers and marketers for access to them. But whichever is the case, Facebook has been clear: it’s not just EdgeRank that’s dead. On either side of it in that digital Boot Hill are Reach and Engagement, and their replacement is going to be cash.
That, in turn, will have profound effects on the social media marketing landscape. Without free access to Facebook’s user base, what should you do?
- Start buying sponsored Newsfeed posts (rather than ads down the side) for the best pieces of content you share on Facebook
- Newsfeed Advertising space (sponsored posts) is fast becoming a more competitive space – so ensure that you fine-tune your audience targeting
- Get creative with your copy – still focus on captivating images that drive engagement for promoted posts (remember you are paying for exposure)!
- Ask your fans to turn on post notifications from your page
- Do not just click on the ‘Boost Post’ button – use Facebook Power Editor for crafting and targeting ads
- Set tangible goals for your Facebook Marketing Campaign – Use Facebook to build your email list
- If blogging is fundamental to your Facebook strategy, ensure that your articles are optimised to display images using Facebook’s Open Graph image meta tag (the optimal dimensions are 1200 x 630 pixels).
With the drastic fall in reach Facebook advertising is here to stay and if Facebook plays a key part in your digital marketing, you would have to Pay to Play Facebook.
Photo credits: West.M via Flickr