Commentary

Facebook Shafts Brands - Again!

Facebook would appear to be at it again. On the face of it, it will appear to be protecting users from posts trying to get them to buy something. While that is true, may I suggest there's an elephant in the room here -- and it is that the social media giant will happily accept such messages as promoted posts.

Marketers have already had to take it on the chin and realise that Facebook's algorithm change a year ago means that a brand is likely to only reach a single-digit percentage of its fans with each post. Now that would appear to be due for reconsideration again with the news that Facebook is to give lower priority to posts that appear to be selling products and services to their fans. A key factor that Facebook will be looking out for is the use of copy in advertising.

There are many points to bring up here. On the one hand, some users may thank Facebook for ensuring their feeds are free from "buy this x" or "download this app." The obvious point to mention here, of course, is these will still appear in your news feed -- but as sponsored posts, which the user can do virtually nothing about. Okay, so under the new privacy regime you can find out why you were targeted with a particular promotional post, but no matter what, they're going to appear in your news feed. You can't turn them off.

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Another rather obvious point might be to mention to Facebook that if people are really annoyed at the promotional posts they receive from a brand they have "liked" they have a very quick way of dealing with the issue -- just unlike the "friend" brand and be done with them. 

So just as with last year, I think we can be under very little illusion that this is anything other than a money-spinning exercise clearly designed to make it harder for brands to get promotional messages in front of even their own fans without paying. To say that users are protected is nonsense because their likes will still be used to direct sponsored posts to them, meaning rivals of a brand a user has liked will be able to target them, so long as money changes hands.

The big question here is what is wrong with a brand I have liked sending me offers and promotions? This is probably one reason why a user has decided to "like" a brand's page in the first place. At least they have control over this aspect. They have no input over how that data is then used to bring a mountain of 'buy this' and "download that" messages from advertisers they have not decided to have a direct relationship with.

So a lot of observers will say it's a marketing channel like any other. It's commercial -- get over it. To an extent, they're right -- only of course, they're also wrong. Facebook drew brands in offering a direct relationship with customers and then has continually dialled down its organic reach to force them to pay to sustain their presence. At the same time, it's just a double standard to say they're clearing up news feeds when the data they collect is used to allow members to be targeted by brands they have not chosen to have a relationship through the magic that is sponsored posts. 

Another year, then, another algorithm change. The similarities are stunning. The official reasoning is always protecting users from exactly the same thing Facebook is willing to subject them to, as long as a brand pays. 

Facebook needs to be warned. So many brands were annoyed but then came to accept last year's dialling down of the algorithm and I suspect the same will be true again with this latest "you can only annoy people with promotions if you pay" algorithm change. 

How many times Facebook can carry on annoying brands in this way without it hitting the bottom line remains to be seen. Surely, at some stage, brands will act on their threats to switch their budget out of Facebook?

Surely?

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