Is free social marketing over – at least on Facebook?

Nov 17, 2014

Many brands as well as large and small retailers have aggressively invested money and time building up the number of "likes" on their Facebook pages. The hope was that the "likes" would spread rich branded content like wildfire across users’ news feeds.

But last week in a blog post, Facebook said beginning next year, the company would reduce the number of unpaid promotional posts users see in their feed. Many reports claim the changes, along with other recent moves, mark the end of businesses using Facebook as "free ad space." Instead, buying an ad will be the only way to get in front of targeted Facebook users.

For its part, Facebook said the moves come after widespread complaints of too many posts that read like commercials. Facebook’s note identified three traits that make "organic posts — posts individuals or companies write on their walls for their followers to see — feel too promotional." These include posts that:

  • Solely push people to buy a product or install an app;
  • Push people to enter sweepstakes with no real context;
  • Reuse the exact same content from ads.

While the new policies are designed to decrease promotional posts, Facebook said it will not increase the number of paid ads users see. Facebook said, "This change is about giving people the best Facebook experience possible and being responsive to what they have told us."

The changes come as brands and celebrities have already been complaining their posts don’t go "viral" like they used to. Facebook has said that’s because many posts are bound to get lost in the 1,500 stories the average user now sees each day. Facebook’s algorithms also narrow those stories down to about 300 most relevant to the user. Often, those are videos, photos, news articles and updates from friends rather than brands.

Critics claim Facebook is just focusing on paid rather than unpaid ads.

"Every day it becomes more and more clear that Facebook has abandoned social marketing, and is just a place to buy old-fashioned ads," Nate Elliott, an analyst at Forrester Research, wrote in an e-mail to Bloomberg News.

Facebook asserts that creative, engaging posts will still attract attention across news feeds. It has recommended that rather than looking to "go viral," brand should aim to achieve specific objectives, such as boosting in-store traffic or app downloads. Still, Facebook touts that advantages of Facebook ads, which offer not only tracking but the ability to tailor content based on interests and geographic location.

Brian Boland, VP of ads product marketing at Facebook, told The New York Times, "An ad maker doesn’t want to serve content to people who don’t want to see those posts."

How is the Facebook opportunity for brands and retailers changing with its greater focus on paid ads and rich content? Should brands and retailers stop investing in “likes”?

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10 Comments on "Is free social marketing over – at least on Facebook?"

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Chris Petersen, PhD
7 years 6 months ago

The old adage “The best things in life are free” does not apply to marketing.

The days of “dumping” things into social media are long over. Like any media, social media marketing needs to be much more targeted to consumers who have a context to engage.

Facebook itself faces a challenge in marketing to new users. Facebook users do not want to be deluged with ads when connecting with their network. Facebook needs some way to filter the mundane and inane.

Max Goldberg
7 years 6 months ago

Facebook needs to generate revenue and profits, so it will tweak its policies in ways that are necessary to accomplish these goals. It’s been shown numerous times that building “likes” does little to build brand loyalty. Brands should use Facebook as a place to listen to consumers and for dialogue. “Likes” don’t matter. Most of them were built on promotional offers and forgotten until the next, better offer came along.

Ian Percy
7 years 6 months ago

Oh the humanity! What on earth are we doing to ourselves?

First, the term “rich content” is pretty well an oxymoron.

Second, any individual who truly thinks “likes” mean a darn thing is desperately needy and organizations who see “likes” as an “investment” need to sell off the inventory and lock the doors.

Here’s a new thought that suddenly came to me and apparently to Facebook too: “You get what you pay for.”

Jason Goldberg
7 years 6 months ago
Facebook isn’t in the business of helping brands connect with their audiences for free. Like any other ad platform, they are in the business of selling audience to marketers. So it’s not surprising that they continue to tweak to their mix of content to maximize their profits. The mistake many marketers make is treating Facebook (and other social networks) like a platform they own. You don’t own your presence on Facebook, so you shouldn’t be spending money to build an audience there. Pay for ads/content there if you can profitably turn that attention into business but build that audience on a digital property that you own (like your own website). Too many marketers focus on growing their audience on Facebook, which is silly. You are essentially a digital sharecropper there. Spending money to build your Facebook audience is a bit like spending money to get more people to watch the Superbowl just so you could then buy an ad during the Superbowl (great for the NFL, not great for the advertiser). If you have KPIs… Read more »
Dan Raftery
7 years 6 months ago

It is not surprising that Facebook would make changes in the way it does business. Everything digital is continually evolving. Plus they have competition too. So, with their recent investment in a server facility in Iowa, Facebook is demonstrating a strategy to remain relevant. This is not the time for manufacturers or retailers to go to the digital sidelines. Society certainly isn’t.

Joel Rubinson
7 years 6 months ago
First, from Facebook’s perspective I feel they are really close to killing the goose that lays the golden egg. When likes stop mattering, marketers will begin looking elsewhere. The argument that too many posts were looking like ads is offensive to our intelligence. Marketers specifically tried to avoid that, yet I now see an endless stream of paid ads in my newsfeed. Huh? Research I conducted using compete data proved that liking a brand on Facebook provided a 30 percent lift in visits to that brand’s website, pre-post three months. Tight post-hoc experiment. However it all came from those who revisited the Facebook page. Not many do that but it has a huge impact if they do. I suspect that this came mostly from organic impressions in the newsfeed which Facebook now killed. Why would I pay to send someone to my Facebook page if I could send them to my website instead? For three years, I advised clients to avoid thinking of their Facebook page as their media presence and now it is… Read more »
Shep Hyken
7 years 6 months ago

Facebook is just another social channel, although it may be the most popular. If FB makes it difficult for brands to have a page and use it as a social tool, they will drop off. It will take a critical mass of brands willing to pay for this to work. If FB charges for what is currently a free service, there is a chance they will lose the critical mass necessary.

As for investing in “likes,” if a brand has to pay for likes, it’s not real. Growing the likes organically is real. Paying for likes may look good, and does serve its function of perceiving to be popular, but those likes don’t turn into sales. I’d rather have 1,000 “likes” from raving fans than 10,000 manufactured “likes” that won’t spend a dime in my store.

Karen S. Herman
7 years 6 months ago

Facebook is adapting as it deals with increased competition.

Ello launched this past summer in beta as the “anti-Facebook” social networking site and quickly went viral. It’s tagline is “simple, beautiful and ad-free” and many of my colleagues flocked to it and rave about it.

The fact is that consumers are actively finding social networking platforms that work best for them and many are migrating away from Facebook to Google+, Instagram, Snapchat and now, Ello.

Brands and retailers need to stay up-to-date on these new social sites and evaluate how best to reach consumers. For big names and celebrities, Facebook may be a place to stay but for small to medium sized businesses, I don’t see a good return by investing in “likes.”

Ben Ball
7 years 6 months ago

I can’t help laughing.

First off, brands dropping off Facebook pages won’t make FB any less “social.” The social part is the people.

Second, I’ve always loved the term “earned media.” Earned how? By doing something newsworthy of course. And there is precious little in most brand FB pages that is newsworthy.

Third, of course FB is going to monetize its product. And its product is the audience it generates by allowing PEOPLE a place to be “social.” Not from giving brands free exposure. If someone wants to post about the latest “secret drink” at Starbucks on FB, fine. They can still do it.

Marketers are just carping over losing their free lunch—and FB is in no danger as a result.

Good grief.

Dan Frechtling
7 years 6 months ago
An “ad”itude adjustment is in order. When marketers begin evaluating Facebook just like any ad medium rather than as a place for free promotion, they feel differently. People don’t complain Google is ineffective because their G+ post didn’t go viral. Facebook has a massive audience, and charges by action, such as PPC. These two factors make Facebook both elite and performance-based. These are also the factors that have made Google great for advertisers. Facebook offers features that make it superior to other properties. First among these is access to massive data sources. Facebook has nearly 900M DAILY users. Almost no property achieves this MONTHLY. Then Facebook goes beyond internally gathered demographic and interest information. Their partnerships with Datalogix and Acxiom enables them access to data on offline buying patterns. Second is precision targeting. Custom audiences is a great tool to narrow impressions to current customers. Lookalike targeting reaches those more likely to become your customers. Partner categories allow targeting by brand preference, past category purchases…and to see audience size before they buy the spots. Expectations… Read more »

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