Commentary

Dr. Content, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love The Facebook

Facebook, once the industry darling, is now receiving close scrutiny and somewhat negative sentiment. Starting in the weeks leading up to the IPO, continuing with questions about mobile monetization, and through the recent announcement about the nearly 9% of problem accounts, Facebook seems to be facing a growing bandwagon of ill will.

In late June, Simon Dumenco published an article about how the law of diminishing returns will impact, in Saul Hansell’s term, “Zuckerberg’s Law.”  The idea is simple:  Zuckerberg’s Law says that sharing output -– content -- on Facebook will double in short periods (like Moore’s Law on computing capability and transistors), and that if true, this flood of content will either:

A) Drown out the signal, making it impossible for marketers to be seen or heard, or

B) Far exceed the ability of individuals to consume or keep up with content volume, thus reducing the utility of, or interest in, the platform.

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In other words, marketing messages and videos will be muted, if seen at all.

While that is a possible outcome, I don’t think that’s where Facebook is headed. Although Facebook has its challenges, Dumenco’s reasoning makes too many assumptions about how people will use this channel in the future. 

Back to the Future: The Content Conundrum

Back in the 1980s, as cable TV expanded, everyone thought that a hundred channels was completely unnecessary, and that the content would all be terrible anyway. 

They were wrong because they were basing the assumptions on how people used their TVs at the time. It turns out that the cable world (as well as the digital channel world) continues to grow and produce higher-quality programming than ever before.  In terms of time spent, we watch increasing amounts of both television and digital video. 

I don’t hear any more talk about cable or broadcast TV having too many channels and too much bad content.  Those claims have moved to the digital channels, which include Facebook, YouTube, and other social and video platforms. Which brings me back to Demenco’s assumption that the only change in Facebook will be an increase in content volume.  Below I address some behavioral changes, but either way, I think we can handle digital content just as we have learned on TV. From user-generated video to professionally produced series, onsumers and technologists will find ways to parse it out, to modify the experience and the discovery, to learn to sort so as to satisfy their interests and needs. 

From a marketer’s perspective, the added volume of content on cable TV allowed brands to evolve beyond traditional sponsorships going back to the future to integrate into content, create it themselves, republish and curate.  These tools abound on both television and in digital channels, and they continue experimentation and change on Facebook. 

Content volume on Facebook, in all likelihood, will evolve as it did on cable and broadcast.  There will be less of what people don’t like and more of what they do like.  To the extent brands can deliver messages and videos that people like, and are interested in, they can use that channel to market with their own content.  Other brands may simply be using it as an advertising platform. 

The “Law” is Static; People Are Not

Part of the reason we can handle the content on Facebook is that the quality and experience won’t be static.  Dumenco writes about cringe-worthy oversharing, persistent tattletales, etc.  Brands already take care, for the most part, to curate the experience and content they provide on Facebook and other channels.  People do the same thing.  They create a vision of how they want to be perceived on the channel in just the same ways that brands do. This means that oversharing will be self-monitored and monitored by your friends (Hey, I’m dumping you if you post one more cat video). Consumers are the curators -- of themselves and their friend’s content.  Will we still see cringe-worthy videos? Yes, but we’ll leach earn to curate those.

The idea that we won’t be able to watch all the videos or read all the posts available on our newsfeed assumes no changes in the type of content or our behaviors. It also doesn’t recognize that these messages replace other forms of communication such as email, text, chat, phone and other social catch-up behavior. 

This content now can be sorted, and begins to take on higher utility functions. 

I know that a single person is not a statistically relevant user pool, and I freely admit, it’s probably worse if the single person is just me.  But, as an individual user, I like Facebook and as a marketer, I like its utility and platform. 

Most people that I know assume everyone is on Facebook -- it’s pretty much a surprise if they’re not.  Half of the U.S. population is a member.  There are over 550 million unique users each month, worldwide. 

With those statistics, seriously, we’re worried that this isn’t a good advertising or marketing channel? 

6 comments about "Dr. Content, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love The Facebook".
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  1. Eric Steckel from Turnpike Digital, August 9, 2012 at 1:33 p.m.

    I read Dumenco's article, and thought that he made some relevant points regarding the oversaturation of Facebook and unchecked growth and ubiquitous integration. It's not so much the "cringe-worthy" accidental posts as it is the sheer volume of posts. It's interesting to consider your point about how people change and use tools (like e-mail, texting and social media) differently as they evolve. Both scenarios that are described could play out, perhaps even simultaneously. Those who don't evolve their use of tools as the onslaught of data comes their way might indeed be overwhelmed. Others will learn to curate and organize it.

  2. Adam Hartung from spark partners, August 9, 2012 at 4:36 p.m.

    You are so right about the attacks on Facebook and CEO Zuckerberg. Today Forbes mag offered a column on the advice Steve Jobs might give Mark Zuckerberg today http://onforb.es/NbxFn2

  3. Johann Encke from None, August 9, 2012 at 4:43 p.m.

    My experience (as a user of Facebook) has been that the ads are annoying and irrelevant. Despite what it knows about me, Facebook seems incapable of figuring out what sorts of ads would make sense for me.

    As a result, when I see BRAND X advertising to me on Facebook, I think "Wow, BRAND X sure is stupid."

    On TV, users didn't have the option of talking back. I can.

    Sometimes I make a comment like this on my Facebook wall. "Wow, BRANX X sure is stupid. I hate the way they clutter up my view of Facebook. If, in the future, I might have a need for something that BRAND X makes, I'll be sure to patronize their more intelligent competitors."

    I'm thinking of installing an ad blocker in my web browser. It may be the only option if Facebook continues to fill my peripheral vision with such nonsense.

    Of course, I'll make sure not to block ads in Google search results. Those ads are usually relevant.

  4. Jeff Martin from IMF, August 9, 2012 at 4:54 p.m.

    Quote:
    "The idea that we won’t be able to watch all the videos or read all the posts available on our newsfeed assumes no changes in the type of content or our behaviors."

    YouTube is an example of this already happening. They have been trying to deal with this issue. The more channels you subscribe to and the more content/messages those channels put out makes it harder for the user to be aware of all the new content. A notice in the feed about a new upload/message is a scrolling moment in time. The more videos/messages there are the faster the scroll moves.

    YouTube has tried to do some filtering with feeds but it doesn't always work out as you have users complaining that they aren't getting notices in their feeds that they expect to see and of course publishers complaining that they are seeing their views drop off.

  5. Eric Korsh from DigitasLBi, August 14, 2012 at 8:18 a.m.

    Johann: I haven't found the FB ads annoying, although for me I'd agree they can be irrelevant. If you don't want them at all, that might be a problem, of course - but if you have suggestions it would be great to hear them. If it's just about brands making better ads, or data providing better targeting, these things take time and FB is still a very young platform.
    Jeff: I was thinking that YT mirrors the TV experience closely in this sense: the "TV" feed is continuously scrolling, yet we still manage to sift through and find our shows. I imagine that can happen on YT - the notification is a signal that YT has not reached appointment status. While both YT and TV need reminders/promotions to work, YT and, really, all premium digital video, have to work much harder to engage repeat, dedicated viewing.

  6. Sirpa Aggarwal from Arktan, Inc., August 14, 2012 at 5:28 p.m.

    Key to effectiveness of advertising and marketing efforts is delivering relevant content to users. Blanketing users with random ads has never been a good strategy, and in the age of social media this strategy can cause downright damage to brands - regardless of whether the random ads are delivered on Facebook or some other social media platform.
    Leading brands already understand the concept of relevancy very well, and are using curation tools on their websites and apps to filter through all the social media chatter from Facebook, Twitter, etc., in a way that engages the users. Those kinds of targeted efforts will ultimately lead to brand loyalty and real monetization opportunities.

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