Yes, Facebook’s killing your page… now grow up and stop moaning about it

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Crying Baby

This may be something of an unpopular opinion, but I honestly don’t understand why everyone’s up in arms over Facebook’s decision to be what it always has been and always will be – an operation to make money.

Since late last year, I’ve been amused to watch the gradual rise in hysteria as community managers and various other marketing types noticed that Facebook was getting serious about making money from brands. They’re doing this by essentially forcing brand pages to buy the ability to have updates reach users.

The hysteria, at least for me, reached a crescendo with Eat24’s, now viral, breakup letter to Facebook. If you missed it, in a masterpiece of theatrics with GIFS and memes, this company made its exit from Facebook while essentially branding it a liar, cheat, cad, and downright ungentlemanly. It was a screed deserving of Scarlett O’Hara herself.

Being a firm fan of over-the-top theatrical turns, I have to give Eat24 a standing ovation for sheer entertainment value alone (Though no “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn”, Facebook’s response would not have shamed Rhett Butler).

But beyond Eat24’s masterpiece, what really is the issue here?

For some reason this debate is being cast as one between Facebook and brands. I don’t see it that way. While brand pages are at stake here, I see it as a fight between Facebook and marketers – the primary controllers of these pages.

The primary role of a marketer is to connect a brand with its audience. Now marketers are feeling betrayed, cheated and hurt by Facebook deciding that it’s no longer interested in giving them free access to that audience.

And brands should be concerned about this because, why again?

Let’s — if at all possible — try to look at what’s going on here in a calm and rational way.

For the past decade in various guises and forms, Facebook has been giving out free advertising. An entire industry of specialists, strategists, gurus and managers with carefully researched strategies has cropped up, selling plans to brands for how to engage with customers on this “exciting and dynamic new medium”.

As players in the marketing industry we have been very happy to show how much better your brand will do when you use some of your marketing spend for social media. Entire data centres and rainforests worth of reports have been put together and printed so we could document just how much greater the ROI from social media marketing is. We’ve told brands that social media is no longer the next big thing, but the thing.

And we’ve been right. The returns brands have seen in terms of recognition, customer relationships, and actual sales, have backed up what so many have been preaching for so long.

Together with other digital marketing efforts, year-on-year, greater shares of marketing budgets have been taken away from traditional marketing efforts to be shared with social and other digital channels.

If everything’s going so well, why is Facebook suddenly changing the game?

The General Motors case

In 2012, General Motors very loudly announced that though it would be keeping its Facebook brand pages active, it would no longer be purchasing advertising from the company. Though that was a decision which only lasted a year, one can’t help but wonder if Facebook loses any sleep over how many other GMs there might be out there. Brands are paying this army of specialists and strategists for all this social media marketing ROI, whilst never having paid a cent directly to Facebook.

Sure the US$1.5-billion profit Facebook made in 2013 is nothing to be scoffed at. But when you consider that, according to analysts, this $1.5-billion was made largely off the back of a 76% increase in advertising revenue in Q4, why wouldn’t Facebook want to force those other circa-2012 GMs out of hiding and onto the income statement? I’m pretty certain they can see how many of them there are.

Is Facebook a legitimate media channel

While the General Motors story may be interesting, it is admittedly largely speculative. What’s really compelling in this casting of Facebook as a betrayer, however, is the seemingly sudden change in attitude to how marketers are seeing Facebook.

In the wake of legitimate and illegitimate privacy concerns, today’s average Facebook user has made the decision that ceding their privacy and data (at least in part) to Facebook is a rational choice for them.

Boiled down to basics, we give Facebook our data in return for Facebook giving us the platform they’ve built. Though not traditional, it’s an economic transaction nonetheless. If marketers say brands can make fantastic returns on Facebook, why should brands not have to make their contribution in this economy?

Do the same marketers who claim betrayal by Facebook expect print, radio, or broadcast media to give them free media?

If we’ve spent the last decade arguing that social networks are more than cat GIFs and memes, and a proper media channel that brands can use to reach consumers, why are we shocked when Facebook acts like a media company?

Is Facebook the boyfriend who duped us, or merely another media company? I can’t see it going both ways.

Ultimately, I see this move by Facebook no differently to it buying Whatsapp or Oculus.The social network is no longer the happy-go-lucky wunderkind company developed in a Harvard dorm room. It may be a social network, but Facebook is also a mega media company. It’s getting serious about that, and so the free rides are coming to an end.

Image: Morgan via Flickr.

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  • The Eagle

    Perfectly summed up, Mvelase. The free ride can only continue for so long.

  • http://www.thefrostical.blogspot.com/ Nick Frost

    Great article, agreed 100%.

  • Marina Pape

    Couldn’t agree with you more. They’re going to be sorry they deleted their page.

  • Last_cast

    Dont agree 100%. Radio, print and other platforms differentiate between Editorial (usually free) and advertising (paid for). FB does not. If I want to put out a message to my fans about how to avoid the flu, or some other public interest post, I still have to pay. It is bullying.

  • Mvelase Peppetta

    Hi Last_Cast,

    My day job is all about securing earned media for brands, and you’re absolutely correct. If I can successfully motivate why something the brand I represent has to say is editorially compelling I will receive coverage (and marketing exposure for the brand) at absolutely no cost.

    That model won’t easily apply to Facebook. However, if we do want to apply that traditional earned media approach to Facebook we can consider that perhaps – as we’re always telling brands – they should seriously consider themselves to be publishers.

    If your consumer/audience knows that on regular basis there is interesting (editorially compelling) content on your brand page, then they will click over to it to check what you have posted.

  • Mvelase Peppetta

    Hi Marina,

    The decision to delete their page is a classic case of “cutting off your nose to spite your face”. If for no other reason, they should’ve kept the Facebook page open for CRM purposes.

  • Last_cast

    Hmmm, yes and no. If a certain brand is offering free financial literacy training for unemployed people, for example, and they ask me to share it with my fans, who are prime candidates for this support, unless I pay top dollar as a promoted post I cannot share this non-commercial, helpful info. The system has no way to determine legitimate dissemination of useful info versus brand building attempts.

  • http://www.justinmccall.co.za Justin McCall

    Nail on the head. Social Marketers have had a free ride for too long now, Facebook is first and foremost here to make money, secondly to provide users with relevant information. If the algorithm determines that your Page’s information is irrelevant to some users, then as a user, I am super happy. I don’t see junk in my newsfeed. The real upset here is that Social Marketers had it free, now they must pay, as with anything in Marketing Land, to gain exposure. How dare you demand free exposure for your client while you charge exorbitant amounts to said client! If you want the audience, pay for it. Simple as that.

  • NewOrb

    Hmmm, I cant say I have seen ‘many’ of those posts on FB.

  • Last_cast

    Obviously not, because they have to be paid for if you are to see them!!

  • Aliice

    Did we really think facebook would stay free forever?. Did we really think the internet would be free?. God ads follow us everywhere now. Aint nothing for free. Just buy and buy again or move out of the consumer rate race. i deleted the ABC when they started advertising their own programs. I deleted the commercial TV when it started running ads too long. Its nothing at my age to pull down a facebook page.

  • Pingback: Facebook changed Newsfeed to show how friend’s posts affect your emotions | memeburn

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