After encouraging businesses for years to build up fan bases, Facebook is now taking away the ability to reach those fans without paying for ads, says the latest digital marketing meme.
Just take a look at headlines like: “Facebook Reportedly Slashing Organic Reach for Pages,” which cites a Valleywag anonymous source who is “professionally familiar with Facebook’s marketing strategy.” Or “The Free-Marketing Gravy Train Is Over on Facebook,” which sources a study that found marketing posts now reach just six percent of fans, down from 12 percent in October.
Breathe, people. Breathe.
Facebook isn’t screwing anyone. The reduction in brand-post visibility is on the same trajectory as every other digital advertising breakthrough. Specifically:
- Consumers adopt a new technology.
- Businesses follow, with the earliest adopters getting free or low-cost distribution.
- The technology matures. More and more businesses jump in. And the free distribution decreases as the competition for attention and the importance of paid distribution increases.
When businesses first launched websites, they submitted them to Yahoo. Over time, every business wanted to be listed. Organic traffic from the Web indexes declined, while shifting the focus to paid “banner” ads, link exchanges and eventually search. The “organic” traffic from Yahoo is now close to zero, and the initial click-through rate of 40 percent on those ads is now less than .1 percent.
With Google’s launch in 1998, businesses welcomed free traffic from search, and even more if their sites were properly optimized for the PageRank algorithms. Two years later, the company launched its AdWords system that let businesses pay for placement, and the rest is history.
Just this past month, BuzzFeed research detailed the rapid decline in organic search results to online publishers. Today, organic results account for less than 15 percent of all Google page real estate for “commercial” searches. And even if you’re lucky enough to be the top search result, you only receive about eight percent of the clicks.
When Facebook was asked about the decrease in organic reach in its News Feed, a spokesperson responded simply, “This is largely due to more competition driven by more sharing.”
This is understandable, credible and to the point. But the critics continue to complain.
Facebook is massive — 1.23 billion users monthly, with more than half logging on each day. It can only show each of these users a few hundred stories out of the thousands vying for their attention. Each News Feed change is an effort to surface the highest-quality content, which is not an easy task at Facebook’s scale.
The declining free reach has triggered a visceral response by many businesses. Some even go so far as to say that they are done with Facebook altogether. Just this past weekend, Eat24’s “Break Up” letter with Facebook went viral, with plenty of “earned media” distribution from sites like Business Insider and Mashable.
These reactions are naive, at best.
The shift from free to paid distribution for websites and email programs didn’t warrant businesses to abandon the Web, Google or email marketing. Actually, those that did fell behind.
The same holds true for Facebook today — and eventually the younger social platforms like Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest when they reach Facebook’s scale.
It’s no surprise that in our newly released research, “Bridging the Digital Divide: How CMOs Can Rise to Meet Five Expanding Expectations,” more than 200 global marketers named flexible and agile marketing processes as a top internal marketing priority, and 52 percent say the growth of digital marketing has led to the need for more qualified data and analytics personnel to make sense of this new world.
Nonetheless, it does mean that it’s time to stop blaming the imaginary bogeyman and to start to understand how Facebook works, if you want to succeed in the feed-first, mobile and social world we now find ourselves in.
It all starts with understanding that Facebook is not in the advertising business. It’s in the high-quality content business. Instead of producing award-winning editorial content, its job is to curate the best content from your circle of friends, family members and organizations you connect with.
Facebook’s primary customer is the Facebook user, not your business. And it has published a roadmap to help you better serve your — and their — customers, and see improved results for your content.
This means that your content needs to be:
- Timely and relevant: That’s what we all expect from our News Feed.
- Shareable: Something that you’d actually share with your friends and recommend to your own network. If you won’t share it, no one will.
- Genuine: Your content must be genuinely interesting and not be a blatant attempt to game Facebook. So get rid of those, “Click ‘Like’ to vote …”
I currently sit on Facebook’s Creative Council, a group that represents the creative community’s interests to Facebook. And I continue to see up close how amazing publishing efforts by brands help them outperform their peers and stay in their fans’ News Feeds.
Case in point: The always-on publishing efforts of Newcastle Brown Ale.
This year’s Super Bowl efforts, in which they chronicled the ad they would have made if they had the budget, received, on Facebook alone, more than 56.6 million impressions, more than 1.3 million engagements, 1.16 million video views, 69,000 “Likes,” 16,000 shares, and 8,000 comments, according to the company’s ad agency, Droga5. All for a fraction of the cost of a Super Bowl ad that they didn’t even make!
You can see a gallery of more awesome work, sorted by industry, geography and more, here.
Michael Lazerow is CMO of ExactTarget Marketing Cloud, a unified marketing platform for brands. Lazerow founded Buddy Media, which was acquired by Salesforce in 2012, as well as Golf.com, which was sold to Time Inc., and U-Wire, which was sold to CBS. Follow him Lazerow.com and @lazerow.
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