So I’m sure that it’s not news to anyone that Facebook’s recent changes to its Newsfeed algorithm have left many a marketer in a bit of a flap. Hate pieces are being written on an almost daily basis about Facebook’s apparent greed and arrogance — the latest one making the rounds is Eat24’s “Dear John” letter. Now as funny and witty as I found this letter to be, I think there are some realities that marketers need to face if they hope to succeed on a social platform like Facebook.
The most crucial thing to remember is that very few people — if any — go onto Facebook to view marketing messages from brands, just as no one switches on the TV looking for ads. Generally users only look for a brand if they’ve had a nasty experience and they want to let the brand have it (in which case I hope the brand has a comprehensive social CRM strategy in place).
People typically visit Facebook to look at pictures of their friends’ cute babies, to secretly curse people who post holiday pictures while they’re stuck at work, and to stalk their exes or latest crush (you know you’ve done it). Brands are mostly not a consideration unless they are posting truly useful, engaging content that people are genuinely interested in and are willing to share with their connections as a consequence.
In one part of Eat24’s letter it bemoans the fact that Facebook changes so often that it no longer has time to “…think about sushi rolls”. It goes on to state: “Just saying, but maybe you could take a lesson from this amazing webpage for The Space Jam movie. The website hasn’t changed since 1996 and it’s AMAZING.”
Now this may work for that website, but the unfortunately reality is that this is just not an option on the social web. MySpace learned the hard way what happens to platforms that don’t change and adapt to users’ behaviour.
Founder of Buddy Media and serial entrepreneur Michael Lazerow wrote a great piece in which he puts it to his reader (Barry Roux inference totally intended), that brands need to stop whining about Facebook, start learning what works, and then start producing that type of content if they expect to stay relevant.
He speaks about how in the early days of any digital platform, the early adopter brands will find it easier to get noticed as there is less content to compete with, making free distribution of content a simpler task.
However as the platform matures and competition for attention increases, brands have to work that much harder to get noticed. This is not that different to the early days of Google when early adopters who optimised their websites found it easier to rank higher in the organic search results. But, as Google matured and more websites began competing for attention, it became more difficult to get noticed. When Google introduced Adwords, brands began paying to get noticed as well as optimising their websites for the organic results.
This is the reality of digital platforms as they start to scale to the level that Facebook and Google have. Writing open letters placing the blame squarely on Facebook may get you some likes, comments, and the odd chuckle, but I doubt the long-term loser is going to be Facebook.
Some brands are missing out on a real opportunity to engage with their customers in a personal, authentic manner on a scale that’s never been seen before. It certainly is in no way an easy task, and is something everyone in the space grapples with on a daily basis as we try to create engaging, sharable content. Most of the time we succeed but sometimes we don’t, and the more we learn about our clients’ customers through the myriad insights tools that are available, the better we get at it.
Facebook is an exciting, dynamic and (I will concede) often frustrating platform. However, with the correct strategy and insights, it can be a truly invaluable part of a brand’s marketing mix. As digital platforms continue to mature and scale to the levels of traditional media channels — and in some cases exceed traditional media — a natural progression from free to paid distribution of content has to be expected. Learn what works, optimise (yes this will mean some paid media will be necessary), optimise again and watch the magic happen.