Facebook is Screwing Your Brand, and You Should Thank Them For It

by Mack Collier

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For brands that rely on using Facebook to reach customers, the hand-wringing just went up a notch.  Time and other sources have recently reported that Facebook’s plan is to restrict a brand’s ability to organically reach followers down to 1 or 2%.  That means that eventually, only 1 or 2 percent of your followers will see the average update your brand posts.

Unless…your brand agrees to pay Facebook for more exposure.  Apparently social media is free…until your company goes public and has stockholders to answer to.  It’s not a coincidence that Facebook is looking for new revenue streams now that it’s a publicly-traded company.

Newsflash: Twitter is now a publicly-traded company as well.  Don’t be surprised if the San Francisco company doesn’t also try to generate new revenue at the expense of brand activities that had previously been free.

While I have never been a huge fan of Facebook, I also recognize its right to monetize as it sees fit.  Let’s be honest: Facebook has been letting your brand effectively advertise for free for a while now.  You could argue that they have been letting you get ‘hooked’ on using its service for free and then they charge you, but its still your brand’s choice to use Facebook.  This is why I have been cautioning clients and companies for years now to not plant all their seeds in digital gardens that they do not own.  Facebook in particular has a history of changing the rules and making things more difficult for brands.  Now it is algorithm changes that affect organic reach, before that it was constantly changing rules on running contests on brand pages.

The bottom line is that you never want your brand to be in a position where all its content eggs are put in a basket that someone else owns.  If your social media efforts depend on Facebook to reach your customers, then effectively you have ceded control of said social media efforts to Facebook.

The reality is that Facebook is screwing with your ability to reach customers for free.  And that’s a good thing.  This move is going to force companies to do one of two things:

1 – Start paying for exposure on Facebook

2 – Start creating content via tools that the company controls

Many companies will go the first route.  Budgets devoted to SEO and other digital marketing channels will likely be diverted in a quest for paid Likes.

The smart companies will be the ones that invest in learning how to create and distribute content via channels that the company owns.  Guess what?  The corporate website is about to become relevant again.  The same corporate website that was bemoaned as being an archaic waste a few years ago has been seeing its own Renaissance recently.

Let’s be clear: Your website should be the central home or base of your social media efforts.  All your efforts should feed back here versus going through Facebook or Twitter.  Because while you don’t control Facebook, you do have control over your website.

I am a fan of this move because it is going to force brands to become better content creators.  It’s also going to require that brands get serious about social media: Either by paying for exposure, or by investing in learning how to create content that’s valuable enough to customers that they will seek that content out via channels that the brand owns.

For brands like Red Bull and Patagonia that have been nailing content marketing for a while now, this move won’t have a huge impact, because customers will actively seek out content from these brands.  If no one is reading your content on Facebook now, that’s not on Facebook, it’s on you.

Now’s your chance to get serious about social media and content marketing, and start seeing serious results.  Want to learn how to create effective content that gets seen by your customers? Make sure you follow this one simple rule.

Pic via Flickr user BobLinsdell

{ 31 comments }

Robyn March 25, 2014 at 8:56 am

Very interesting Mack, I’ve never thought of it that way.

We see this in economics as well when markets become a sellers paradise and business is booming because it’s all so easy. Businesses become complacent and stop trying hard; getting by with just the basics. When the tide shifts, only the smart and the strong survive.

FB’s move will force brands’ approach to marketing to mature and those who embrace the challenge will grow. Thinking as a “growth hacker” becomes so much more a necessity.

Mack Collier March 25, 2014 at 9:02 am

Thanks for the insight, Robyn. Ultimately, this will be a good move for both brands and customers. It will weed out a lot of the brands that are just ‘phoning it in’ for free, and require them to either start paying for exposure, or start creating better content. For customers, it means we’ll be seeing less content from brands on Facebook, and the content we do see, on the whole, should greatly improve.

Content marketing is an incredibly effective way for brands to connect with customers IF done correctly. The brands that win moving forward will be the ones that invest in creating a better experience for their customers. As it should be.

Jerome Pineau March 25, 2014 at 10:03 am

“I am a fan of this move because it is going to force brands to become better content creators.” – that’s quite an assumption, supposing you mean better content and not better distribution/production. Why would brands with poor content feel compelled to change just because the content is now on their owned properties?
Brands with crappy content that was being pushed to 15, then 4, now 1.5% of their FB audience would have improved greatly at the first sign of the squeeze if the assumption was correct.
I think in a lot of cases the strategic question will be whether to remain one of numerous voices in a sea of humanity vs. cultivating one’s own community — or maybe a hybrid approach.

Kerry O'Shea Gorgone March 25, 2014 at 10:19 am

I don’t think it’s so big a leap, Jerome. If visibility of your content becomes restricted, it follows that you’ll need to up your game and create better content in order to maintain your audience’s attention.

Jerome Pineau March 25, 2014 at 10:23 am

Sure, but FB has been restricting (squeezing) free reach for a while now. Has content improved as a result? It’s not so much about maintaining attention IMO, it’s about reach — engagement numbers dont change depending on how many people you reach because they’re “per piece of content seen” metrics. And it appears FB is gaming attention anyway…You can’t properly measure content impact if FB arbitrarily decides who sees it. At the end of the day, FB will eventually become a pure paid play for brands i think. It would behoove them to start planning for that a few months ago :)

Mack Collier March 25, 2014 at 10:31 am

The first warning signs were when Facebook first started changing the rules on running contests on your brand page. This is just a continuation of that, and it’s gotten ratcheted up as Facebook went public and more revenue streams are demanded.

The experience for me has already improved dramatically as I never see ‘Like if you agree, share if you disagree’ nonsense anymore :)

As I said above, brands have two options now:

1 – Pay for access
2 – Learn how to create content that does a better job of driving organic discovery

A win for customers over what we had and have now. Also a win for brands that are smart enough to embrace this as an opportunity and not a threat.

Julie March 25, 2014 at 10:15 am

Hi Mark,

Hmm, not sure what you mean by “Start creating content via tools that the company controls” Can you be more specific, please, and cite examples? I’m fairly new at this game, so I think I’m missing something.

But I really enjoy your updates!

Mack Collier March 25, 2014 at 10:21 am

Hi Julie! What I mean by that is focus more on creating content via channels you control, like your blog and website. I’m not saying to abandon Facebook and Twitter, but Facebook and Twitter can change the rules on your brand anytime they want, as we are seeing now. It’s the downside of having potential access to a larger audience on Facebook: The tradeoff is that FB can regulate how much of that access is realized.

Jerome Pineau March 25, 2014 at 10:26 am

Incidentally, Google also throttles your site’s access via SEO algorithms when you think about it :)

Kerry O'Shea Gorgone March 25, 2014 at 10:17 am

Love this, Mack! Always with the glass half full. ;) As long as customers are on Facebook, though, it will be worth the money for some brands to pony up. They do need to get much more strategic about driving that traffic to their owned properties, though: a “Like” doesn’t get you far. Reshares, click throughs, time on site and other engagement metrics will be key to each brand’s decision in terms of whether Facebook is worth the investment.

Mack Collier March 25, 2014 at 10:23 am

Kerry that is a great point about focusing on moving FB audiences back to owned properties. It’s like renting a house versus owning one, and getting to hang a picture where ever you want versus being told where to!

Monica Nielsen March 25, 2014 at 10:38 am

Great article and I do like the positive approach you took. :)

Mack Collier March 25, 2014 at 10:41 am

Thank you Monica! Why not see the opportunity? BTW Twitter is headed down the same path, there are already rumblings that they might be targeting hashtags in the future, which could impact chats like #Blogchat.

Noah built the Ark before the rains came :)

Jeffrey Friend March 25, 2014 at 11:03 am

Yeah, it’s really unfortunate for businesses in countries like where I live now (Costa Rica) who rely solely on Facebook for their business. About 1/4 of the country’s population is on FB (I think the highest % of any country?), so most businesses here don’t even have a website! They use Facebook as their website, lead gen efforts, marketing, advertising, etc.

I’m seeing more and more businesses here using FB ads, but that budget is going to run out and they’ll be stuck wondering what happened. Being from Los Angeles, it’s really interesting to see a culture take on a social media platform so entirely, but unfortunately that also means that their lack of diversification is going to ultimately either cost them a ton of money to maintain, or cause their revenue to suffer while the competition (with money) mops up all the business.

Unfortunately it’s really difficult here to get companies to see the value of putting up really great blog content for both biz gen and SEO. I wonder if any other readers have had a similar experience?

Kerry O'Shea Gorgone March 25, 2014 at 11:35 am

U.S., India and Brazil are the top Facebook countries according to Social Bakers: http://www.socialbakers.com/facebook-statistics/. Relying so heavily on a single platform is dangerous, but for those who’ve had no other option, I’d suggest spending their remaining budget promoting posts that drive traffic to their own site. Get those people to sign up for the company’s e-mail newsletter instead: much better access to the audience, and mostly within the brand’s control (except for spam filters, etc.).

Mack Collier March 25, 2014 at 1:35 pm

Thanks for chiming in, Kerry! #StatsGirl :)

Jeffrey Friend March 26, 2014 at 12:09 pm

Thanks for those stats Kerry!

Do you know which metrics go into the “Top Countries On Facebook” results by chance?

I was referring to Costa Rica being the largest number of people on FB “per capita”, rather than amount of people using it (CR is a small country, especially compared to the U.S., India and Brazil). However, that’s just what I heard, and who knows if it’s true. It would be interesting to find out the Top Countries on FB per capita though.

Promoting posts that drive traffic to the website / email collection is definitely the game plan for my clients here. It’s just unfortunate for all of the “mom and pops” that rely so heavily on FB for their business :-(

Thanks again for the response Kerry!

Laura P Thomas (@LPT) March 25, 2014 at 1:16 pm

“The corporate website is about to become relevant again.”

And hopefully, the corporate blog, as well. :-)

~LPT

Mack Collier March 25, 2014 at 1:35 pm

In some cases it always was ;)

Lionel Menchaca (@LionelGeek) March 25, 2014 at 8:01 pm

Great post Mack. Agree with you that it will probably raise the bar for Facebook content. Also agree with what you said about the corporate website, and like LPT, I remain a corporate blog cheerleader as well. :)

Mack Collier March 25, 2014 at 8:03 pm

Lionel, I can see why you would be :)

Tom Hoehn March 25, 2014 at 8:42 pm

Mack,
Yes, this is the direction where things are heading (already there actually). I am concerned about losing a range of voice as a brand though. For example, at companies I have worked at we would post current events like the passing of a well known person (e.g. Neil Armstrong, Andy Griffith, etc.). It was expected as part of our content, part of our voice, by the people who raised their hand, or more accurately, clicked “Like.” That is not something I would boost with media. Do you think this concern is valid? Not all companies can be Red Bull, or can they? Should they?

Mack Collier March 25, 2014 at 9:03 pm

Hi Tom! One of the ways companies can counter-act these moves by FB (to a degree) is to start actively promoting its Facebook brand page URL in its other advertising. I agree with Jason Fall’s recent post on this completely. I think you’ll see companies stop focusing so much on ‘Like us on Facebook!’ and instead shift to ‘Follow us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/BrandA‘. Which is honestly what brands should have been doing all along.

So there will be a bit of customer education that has to come into play and brands will have to explain to customers that they will have to visit the brand’s page to see the latest new content.

Of course some customers won’t do that so each brand will need to decide if they want to pay FB for increased exposure.

As for your question about getting customers to view content posted on FB that’s unrelated to your brand, if you have a newsletter maybe you could mention those birthdays there and add something like ‘we’re discussing this on our Facebook page, please check out the discussion!’ and then link to the FB page.

Also, this move is going to force most brands to do a lot of experimenting. Which is going to lead to innovation as a lot of brands are going to be trying new things, and while a lot of it won’t work, some of it will. And the few things that do work, could make all the difference.

Adam Helweh March 25, 2014 at 9:32 pm

Spot on. I just wrote something similar to this today. https://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20140325203743-7310799-facebook-slashing-page-reach-again-stop-overlooking-the-solution

You’re indeed right. Pay or create more thoughtful, relevant, awesome content.

Sofia Rhodes March 26, 2014 at 6:53 am

There is nothing wrong from Facebook side for collecting money for promoting our brand effectively.As every one knows that Facebook is a very powerful media to promote your brand or products,we can pay them for much better promotion.

Donna Gilliland March 26, 2014 at 11:03 am

Mack, a timely post containing excellent points.

Facebook strategic ads and customer centric content are inevitable in order to gain higher visibility on Facebook. With our these two forces some may never be seen in the newsfeed of customers or potential customers.

By the way, I caught your article from Scott Monty’s paper.li today.

Mack Collier March 26, 2014 at 12:37 pm

Agree completely Donna, and thanks for commenting!

Melody March 26, 2014 at 10:39 pm

I think that breaking ties with Facebook is hard because when you see that you have had success and still do have some limited success with Facebook, it’s hard not to think the 10% or 15% of your 6k likes aren’t important. And developing other social media is time expensive and hard. I’ve never been able to get much traction with Google+ – Just feels like too few people are on Google+. I know you’re right: It’s wise to not put all your eggs in one basket. But I see the lure in putting effort into a FB page: You’ve got a lot of likes; it still grows; and it’s reaching some.

Mack Collier March 27, 2014 at 7:15 am

Melody in your case you also have a very popular blog and a solid presence on Twitter. So it makes sense for you (and really everyone) to keep using Facebook as long as you see the benefit.

What really worries me is the small business that decided 4 years ago that instead of building a website that it would build a Facebook page instead and let that be its ‘website’. Free always comes at a cost.

Jessica March 27, 2014 at 7:36 am

What does this mean for the small business owner? Like local salons and deli’s that have 500-1000 likes?

Jessica Smith April 22, 2014 at 5:25 am

Facebook is also help me find new clients..

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