Commentary

Facebook Is No Longer Social Media, But That's OK

Since going public -- especially over the last few months -- Facebook has been rolling out changes that encourage brands and marketers to pay up for Facebook ads if they want anyone to see their page’s Facebook posts.

As someone who works in social media, I haven’t exactly welcomed these changes with open arms. That’s because it forces me to realize that I work in advertising. And I hate advertising.

I see ads, especially online ads, as a game of dodgeball, and it’s not fun. The ad is the ball, and the player is the person ducking and turning, actually dodging the ads to get to her destination: an article to read, a YouTube video to watch.  

But what I do like is social media, which I view differently from advertising. Social media is democratic. It’s people first, brands second. It’s about really listening to what people want. It’s about figuring out a way to give people something of value: a cool, helpful infographic, a funny video, an app that will help save time. It’s about building relationships, and being transparent and honest. It’s about creating value for consumers, because social is measured by engagement: by shares, by likes.

Social media is not about making ads and pegging those ads out at people’s heads like dodgeballs. Because people duck dodge balls. People don’t engage, they don’t share, they don’t participate. Instead, social media is like playing catch.

If you, too, work in social media, you’ve watched Facebook steadily become the giant in the room, the platform your clients are most familiar with -- for better or worse. Up until this year, for us social folks, this was fine. It actually made our jobs more visible. Clients started to take Facebook seriously. Prior to this, social was seen as a secondary marketing concern (or third or fourth). The red-headed stepsister, so to speak.

But then suddenly clients began saying things like “Edgerank,” and asking, “How do we track the ROI in social?” (good luck with that!). Suddenly you were invited to meetings. You were talking to CMOs. You were an expert.

And then things began to change (again). Facebook reps started telling us how Facebook is now about awareness, not simply engagement. That they have done tests, and they are sorry -- they have learned that “measuring Facebook by engagement does not equate to any real tangible sales lifts.”

The foundation that Facebook was built on, its Edgerank algorithm -- which means that the reach and visibility of a brand’s content is directly dependent on people engaging and liking what the brand is creating -- doesn’t really matter, in that it won’t grow sales. Facebook changed its algorithm accordingly; it will become increasingly difficult for brands to reach their fans without paid media.

Following suit, industry news outlets began publishing reports of these Facebook changes, as in “Facebook Admits Organic Reach Is Falling Short, Urges Marketers to Buy Ads.” More alarmingly, the piece “Facebook Slightly Tweaked How the Site Works—And It Screwed An Entire Profession” highlights how this change cuts out the value of the folks who run Facebook pages for brands (AKA us, the social media people).

Look, I get it. Facebook is supported by ad media dollars, so it should aggressively go after brands to pay up for ad space in order to connect with highly targeted consumers. It makes total sense. It’s just not social.

As these changes happen, it’s more important than ever to remember what social is -- and to recognize that its value is going to be, more likely than not, more abstract than a clear ROI. The value of social is all about building participation brands: brands that don’t simply push ads at people, but that get people to participate with them. It’s about sharing content in the places where your demographic is hanging out. It’s about listening and responding in the moment. The value is about having people see your brand differently: as maybe a little more cool, less antiquated. More personable and less boring.

The best brands in social have top leaders who believe in social. They allow their company and agency infrastructures to be nimble, fast, and brave -- brave enough to take calculated risks, lead and be the first instead of copying what other brands are doing in social.

Facebook’s change in philosophy and algorithm should inspire us -- the people who identify with social media, not traditional advertising -- to work even harder to cultivate clients and brands who are innovative in social. We must remain extremely creative and think outside-of-the-box (Snapchat strategies, anyone?). And most importantly, we must instill the confidence in our clients to be brave.

Because, after all, this is why social is fun. In social, change is constant. Transparency is mandatory. People come first and we judge our success not necessarily primarily by sales, but by building “brand love” and participation, giving people something they will enjoy, use and share.

Unlike dodgeball, social is giving people something they want to catch.

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