Who's Facebook Kidding? Unless Brands Spend Big, They Can't Build Scale On Helpful Hints And Tips Alone

Does Facebook take marketers and advertisers for fools? It's hard to conclude that even if that's not the case, it doesn't openly elaborate on the whole story. What it gives out in advice, on the one hand, it takes away on the other, through algorithm changes.

At yesterday's Advertising Week Europe addresses, the Facebook presentation may not have leaped out -- considering it was competing with WPP Chief Executive Sir Martin Sorrell, talking about the future of privacy, third-party networks and native advertising. It was interesting to see that The Guardian -- which has featured Snowden's revelations -- focused on privacy, while The Times concentrated on Sorrell's on-stage conversation with its own Chief Executive.

In contrast, the advice given by Facebook's Creative Director, Mark D'Arcy, probably didn't resonate quite as much beyond those involved in social media and Facebook's unpublished -- yet very clear -- intention to force brands to up their paid-for social budget. The truth is, D'Arcy's points were all great and well intentioned, but they didn't come with the proviso that everyone in social now knows -- unless you pay, you will not scale. It really doesn't matter how many fans you build through following every tip and ensuring that content is timely, relevant, lightweight and features a picture, video or link to interact with. Anyone involved in social media knows Facebook has been turning the screws on its algorithm to allow fewer and fewer fans to see brands' posts. 

Until earlier this year, the percentage had been dialed down so that although it varied, a brand could expect to reach 15% of its fan base with a reasonably interesting, engaged-with message. Now, however, estimates suggest that we're well down in to single figures. Facebook says, with some credibility -- this is to prevent users' news feeds from becoming "spammy." When it dials down the proportion of brand messages that get through, spam reports go down. So it's acting to improve user experience.

Of course, there are some major "hang-on-a-moment" questions here. Not only might the social network choose to look at its own privacy policies -- particularly default settings -- in improving the user's experience. It may also want to draw a line that if -- in privacy terms -- customers want to improve their experience, they're expected to navigate through half a dozen sub menus to make the change.

So why is Facebook so bravely defending news feeds from becoming too spammy when it could just rely on users to unfollow or hide messages from a brand that gets on their nerves with irrelevant content?

Just as with Google, the answer is always money. Facebook is motivated by making it virtually impossible for brands to build scale without promoting posts into news feeds, meaning that it's okay to have messages that might otherwise not have reached a news feed displayed in a news feed, as long as they're paid for.

There's actually a far more important proverbial elephant in the room here. The adverts that appear online, to the right of a news feed, don't appear in mobile. So, as D'Arcy said yesterday, everything is about mobile -- and so, by definition, although it isn't openly discussed, the news feed becomes the only means for Facebook to currently monetise the channel.

So brands can follow every tip Facebook gives out but be aware the social media channel is aggressively monetising itself post IPO (nothing wrong in that, in itself) and so the official line at conference is not always the whole truth.

To gain scale, even among your own followers, you have to immerse yourself in paid-for social campaigns now. The free ride is long gone. Time to pay the ferry man.


Recommend (3) Print RSS
2 comments about "Who's Facebook Kidding? Unless Brands Spend Big, They Can't Build Scale On Helpful Hints And Tips Alone".
  1. Jen Knoedl from JenChicago , April 1, 2014 at 5:25 p.m.
    Yep- seems to be the case for me as well. I guess the only free way is to post on your personal profile. Thanks for the update.
  2. Sara Duane-Gladden from Smartpress.com , April 1, 2014 at 6:04 p.m.
    We never invested in Facebook ads because the degree of targeting customization doesn't work for our products, spending the money is a waste. If Facebook is so intent on making a profit, perhaps it should fix how it's ads work in the first place, instead of trying to force people into the current disappointing ad platform. Instead of playing FB's game and paying up, we're still maintaining a presence there, but refocusing the majority of our social efforts on Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn. Maybe if Facebook ever fixes its ads, we might try it, but they seem to be looking for solutions in all the wrong places.