A recent Facebook update changed how brands are able to get content onto users’ news feeds. The new algorithm will only post content that is relevant to the end-user, meaning users get the content they care about, not the content that games the Edgerank by hopping on memes or posting cute babies or puppies (if you want more details, you can click here, here or here). The change triggered a lot of negative blog posts in the social media and community management communities.
As someone who manages social media internally for a brand, my initial thought was, “Hey, this sucks.” However, after digesting the changes, talking to peers in agencies and other brands, and looking at my company’s page performance, I took a breath and smiled a bit, decided we’d be fine. I concluded that many of the blogs took the Chicken Little approach rather than noting how this could be a good thing – hanging onto the same core pieces of fear: organic reach for brands would plummet, Facebook was pulling a pay-to-play scheme, or we need to change the way we measure.
After reading the same mumbo-jumbo, I had had enough and posted the following on Facebook:
While the post sparked some good interactions, a repost from my friend Chuck Hemann spurred me to write this post albeit a few weeks later (sorry Christmas with two kids under three is magic and I wouldn’t miss that for the world).
From a Facebook user standpoint, I implore you to take off the brand/agency/social guru hat for a second. What do you want to see when you come on the platform? Is it updates from companies (or pages your friends manage) or is it something that ties into your social sphere? For me, it is relevance – I would rather see a former coworker in Baltimore or Long Island who has a real life update (wedding, kids, coming out, etc.) or updates from professional groups and companies that I love (Under Armour, Samuel Adams and Jimmy Fund) in my feed. What I hate, and I am sure you will agree, are the cheap jump on the bandwagon or meme posts. Seriously Willy Wonka was a creepy pedophile in his movie, so why tie your brand to it? Oh yeah, Mashable said it was cool. Am I right?
So now jump back to the brand side for a second – why should your fans want to see what you are sharing? Is what you are posting in your company’s best interest, or is it something that would make your fan base want to click?
You can ponder that for a second, but also consider the following four points:
There is no free lunch
We all are smart enough to know that there is no free lunch. What we were all victim of is that we built communities on Mark Zuckerberg’s platform for two reasons. 1) it was free (or low cost) and, more importantly, 2) the fish (AKA customers) were there and logging in each day (low barrier for entry). It was an easy thing to build out and the 1:1-to-many conversations looked great on paper in presentations and garnered a lot of industry-wide Atta-boys and high fives. But many lost track that we were buying from George Jung, Walter White or Tony Montoya and got hooked on the freemium model – Yes, that community that you built on Facebook is just rented real estate and your company does not own the user or their data.
Less can be More
One of the misconceptions that I feel is out there is that the dip in organic reach is a bad thing. Sure big numbers look nice; I would be lying if I said they didn’t. However, one thing that I think is more meaningful than a large Organic Reach number is the engaged user tally. In many cases, a dip in organic reach could result in a spike in engagement as the post would reach the brand’s core target audience. I, for one, would rather the hand-raisers seeing my posts than someone who liked my page because their friend liked me. One reason I feel strongly about this is due to Facebook’s Insights (Facebook’s analytics tool). In an export of the page data, I noticed that many unsexy posts that tied back to the core messaging of our page had stronger engagement and less negative feedback than a post that had a cute baby or puppy that killed it on overall organic reach (to see these numbers do a post-level data extract).
Facebook is the world’s largest social network
There may be a lot of uproar out there on Facebook’s changes, but there is no platform in the here-and-now that can compete with Facebook. Sure stats say that there are other platforms to play on that will hit vertical X, Y or Z, but can you hit as diverse and audience with an organic and advertising mechanism with the same user pool that Facebook has right now? The answer is No. Google tried, but has yet to provide a competitor with Google+, Timberlake couldn’t bring the sexy back to Myspace, Instagram is owned by Zuck, and Snapchat; well they have their own issues. So with that said, where are you going to attempt to lead your flock Mr. Pied Piper?
You should have seen this coming
For brands and agencies that did not see this coming, I have three words for you – Shame on YOU. Over the past two-three years, we have seen Facebook take away the freebies like default landing tabs, Timeline, tweaking algorithms, adding prominent in-feed ad units and threatening to, and following through with, cleaning up the Newsfeed. What I wonder is why social media managers and agencies are now throwing up their hands. The writing was on the wall it was all about optimizing and advising the best way possible and continuing to make it rain in our own ways. If you didn’t plan or adapt for these changes, again, I say Shame on YOU.
Sure the change sucks, but it is more for the small business owners that copied the big brands. Facebook and the social media echo-chamber have failed the small business community in how to use the platform. From a social media “expert” standpoint, it was a follow-the-leader approach as opposed to here is how big brand X does things and how corner-coffee shop-Joe does things. Moving forward, I ask the think-tank that is the social media speakers circuit to encompass all and for Facebook to do a better job to explain their platform to my father and companies similar to his construction business rather than relying on me and you to do that.
In closing I would also to point one more thing out. Facebook is a public company, traded on the NASDAQ, aside from building a platform that is optimal for end users; they need to turn a profit for their investors. This means exploring all avenues of revenue generation, which includes charging brands to play on their platform if organic methods are not working, well shucks a promoted post might.
We all need to take off our marketing hats more and get back to what social media started as – a conversational media platform. If you have great content that ties into what your customers and fans want, you will reach an engaged audience. Please refrain from going back to corporate and selling your Facebook fan base as an equivalent to an email list (that you have to try hard to opt out of) because you are doing it wrong. ROI is not a unicorn, proving value for social activity is necessary and not something that is open to interpretation.