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At some point, we have all “Liked” or followed a brand on Facebook thanks to an ad or promotion that caught our attention. All you had to do for a chance to win an iPad or a trip to the Bahamas was click “Like.” But let’s take a look at the numbers — how many times did you win that iPad or trip compared to how many times you subsequently saw ads or updates from the brand promoting products and services you have little to no intention of buying? My guess is the latter greatly surpasses the former.

Well, that’s all changing now. Facebook’s recent update to its Feed algorithms prioritizes news and engaged posts from friends rather than a chronological display of posts. This seemingly small change has pleased Facebook users while simultaneously infuriating advertisers, as company posts will now most likely go unseen.

What does that mean for businesses that use Facebook as a marketing technique — especially for those businesses that have invested chunks of their marketing budget (with first-generation social companies like Wildfire, Buddy Media and HootSuite) to grow “Likes” on their Facebook pages? How can businesses continue to use Facebook as an effective marketing technique without losing the time, effort and money they’ve already invested?

Know history, no problem

Before answering these questions, first let me say that this isn’t the end of the world (although it may seem like it to some companies, given their reactions to date). This has happened in the past, albeit in a slightly different manner. The changes Facebook is making are comparable to what happened with search 10 years ago (and to some extent with email marketing, over the past decade). As a market matures, businesses must be more sophisticated with their messaging and outreach, which includes timing, quality and relevance. While this may cost the company more in the short run, it eventually rewards businesses of all sizes that invest the time and effort.

Take Google and Yahoo, for example. When they launched their initial search products, they only offered organic search when they entered a new geographic market. This was a part of specific, go-to-market plans for Google and Yahoo, as it helped them improve and refine the relevance of search while simultaneously building a large and loyal user base and significant free traffic for businesses. When market traction/share was established, Google (AdWords) and Yahoo (Overture) would go to the advertising community and offer their large audience in exchange for paid advertising or sponsored links in that market. As a result, businesses had to start paying for the top slot in search results, as well as investing in SEO (quality of website and relevant links) if they wanted to continue to have quality traffic and leads driven to their business sites.

The best things in (business) life aren’t free

A decade later, it is widely accepted in the market that there is no free lunch (traffic) in search. Businesses grew to understand that they need to invest in a combination of paid search and SEO to drive relevant website traffic. Over the past few years, Google has focused even more on the quality of Web content, both in paid and organic search, with Panda, Penguin and other updates. You’ve likely noticed this crackdown — when you try and game the system or produce poor-quality content, your Web traffic goes down with your rankings. If you want to stay on top, you need to pay Google for sponsored links and keep up with quality SEO.

Now take another look at Facebook’s recent Feed algorithm change. It makes more sense now, doesn’t it? It’s simply following the natural evolution in marketing. Facebook is today’s most popular social networking site, with over 1.3 billion active users worldwide. Similar to Google and Yahoo’s organic-search go-to-market plans, Facebook has spent the last few years reeling businesses in with free traffic.

Facebook, however, realizes that the value of traffic is critically dependent on quality, not quantity. We all know that “Liking” a business or fan page does not mean we want to constantly see their offers or promotions. Allowing businesses to spam their “Likers” with advertisements will annoy users and drive down engagement and conversion rates for both Facebook and the business. This means that companies now need to work harder on their quality and targeting (i.e., SEO), or simply pay top dollar for promoted ads (i.e., AdWords).

Find your inner geek: Predictive social analytics speaks

Remember when I said, “as a market matures, businesses must be more sophisticated with their messaging and outreach, which includes timing, quality and relevance”? Now is that time.

If a business uses good, timely content that is relevant to its audience, it will find Facebook effective. The change to the Feed algorithm does not mean you should stop using Facebook as a marketing technique; it means you should find a way to stand out from the companies that use Facebook in one particular way (spam ads/posts), and make the investment in optimizing Facebook traffic. The ability to obtain and analyze “predictive” social data is even more critical in this changing Facebook world.

For example, Facebook’s implementation of hashtags has made it easier for companies to use predictive social analytics to identify hot leads and increase the chance for conversion. Social media is a ripe stomping ground for people to publicly share facts about their personal lives. From countdowns to “#movingday” or “#graduationday” to announcements of “#imengaged” or “#isaidyes” to personal interests like “#WalkingDeadFinalRocked” or “#RollingStones coming to town,” consumers constantly provide information that allows businesses to predict buying behavior by announcing definitive events or preferences that require specific products or services. This information alone significantly increases the chance for conversion, as businesses are presented hot, pre- and self-qualified leads.

Your current social marketing and monitoring methods are going extinct (i.e., Google shutting down Wildfire). Bombarding “Likers” or “followers” with multiple offers will not be effective in the new Facebook world — virtually no one will see your content, as it’s buried underneath stories of proposals, graduations and television spoilers, making your promotions irrelevant.

The bottom line: Don’t be upset with Facebook’s change. Embrace it, and outmarket your competitors. Predictive social behavior keeps your Facebook marketing efforts relevant and prosperous. The right tool then takes this data, applies predictive social analytics, identifies leads and locates users who have a definite purchase intent before they need to make a purchase decision. In doing so, brands keep messaging relevant, high quality, and likely highly converting.

Jeff Revoy is the CEO and president of the enterprise social media management suite Viralheat. Past positions include CRO of ChooChee (acquired by Deutche Telekom/T-Mobile in 2012), and CMO/CPO of iContact, where he led revenue, marketing, product and strategy through an impressive growth phase to an acquisition by Vocus in 2012. He has also served as vice president of Yahoo Search, and Yahoo Answers, and was president and general manager of interactive services at Embarq. Reach him @jrevoy.



1 comments
RBearSAT
RBearSAT

Interesting article. One point I would disagree with is that while you say Facebook users are pleased with the changes, I've found the opposite truly, especially after noting some of the changes on my Timeline. What almost all my friends have stated, as well as myself, is that the feed no longer produces relevant content to the situation. In many cases, the updates are as much as a day or two old, only surfaced to the top because of an interaction. In other words, the "Timeline" is no longer a timeline, but a somewhat random collection of statuses that seems to change by the refresh.


I agree that relevant content is critical to getting a brand's message out. After all, Facebook is all about a conversation. But to characterize the Timeline as something beneficial to the users is a stretch, in my opinion. Most of my friends dislike the pseudo-random nature of listings.


The real problem is, as you point out, there's really no other game in town with the audience or reach that Facebook has. So it's more a point to deal with their experimentation with the Timeline, and it's an experimentation with no real information to back the success of the algorithm. After all, what really is success for Facebook other than more sponsored content.

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