Five Steps Marketers Need to Take to Survive the Facebook Problem

May 9, 2014

Facebook LikeOne of the challenges of social media marketing is that you are often at the mercy of third party platforms. If a platform says jump, then you need to jump in order to maintain the effectiveness of your activity.

Over the last few years Facebook has ‘tinkered’ with its platform on numerous occasions and this has repeatedly moved the goalposts for marketers. Post reach is an area that has been affected like no other. While an algorithm updates over recent years saw posts from Pages reaching only 16% of fans, a further update in December 2013 pushed this down to between 3% and 6% on average for most brands.

I was recently asked to contribute to an eBook looking at what this trend meant for marketers, brands and users. You can download the full eBook for free here but, in the meantime, here is the chapter I contributed in full which pulls out the five steps marketers need to take to survive this latest change.

1. Accept it

This has been coming for some time. There is no doubt marketers are angry about this and that is understandable – many have spent a lot of time and money over the last few years building communities on Facebook (and this is something that Facebook actively encouraged). But now, Facebook is essentially saying that, in order to reach these communities and engage them, you need to pay.

In the past the strategy was (mainly) pay to gain fans and then reach them for free. That has now changed to a point where you have to pay to gain fans and then also pay to reach them. So the reason for brands and marketers being disenfranchised is understandable.

But any chance of a backtrack is wishful thinking. This is a strategic move by a company that is looking to further cultivate the experience users have on its platform and that is feeling the pressure from the stock market like never before.

Look at things from Facebook’s perspective. There’s more competition on the newsfeed than ever before – from friends and brands. It is in the best interests of both Facebook and brands to keep user engagement high and stop people looking to leave the network. The algorithm has, for some time now, been a potential solution to this problem. But as brand involvement in Facebook has grown, the need to keep tweaking the algorithm to reduce reach has been necessary.

2. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater

The irony of all this, of course, is that social media marketing – which Facebook pioneered – was meant to signal a change from the broadcast/push marketing of the past that so many consumers wanted to see change.

Facebook’s move heralds a step back in this aim. I’ve heard many brands arguing that this essentially turns Facebook into one big advertising platform. And that’s not necessarily an incorrect assessment. But it is still important to remember that to its users, it remains a social platform. And the ‘ads’ that exist are still social ads in the sense that they largely appear in the form of posts that users will be familiar with.

So you still need to craft a post that is insightful, engaging and adds value to your audience – nothing has changed here. But it now needs to have paid media support behind it to ensure it reaches audiences effectively.

I’ve heard talk of marketers looking to simply repurpose content from other channels on Facebook. Again, this is a risky strategy. You need to take Facebook seriously as a platform if you are going to use it and that means creating relevant content and then boosting it with paid media. It’s still an earned media approach with paid support – very different to an old school advertising-led paid approach with the potential of earned reach further down the line.

3. Stop seeing Facebook as the only social network

Now is a good time to totally reassess a brand’s social media strategy. For too long, brands have seen Facebook as the centre of their social marketing ecosystem.

While I think there is no surprise Facebook has made this move, I do question the wisdom of it for the sake of the platform. I’ve long argued – in the face of those that like to predict its demise – that Facebook will remain a dominant player in the social space and won’t be going anywhere soon. And I still think this is true. However, the way the platform matures over the next year will be interesting.

With these changes, Facebook is now no longer the best place to build a community. Facebook, because of its sheer size, remains a good place to achieve broad scale and engagement and yet there will be serious questions around whether the cost/return ratios will continue to make sense. And will users be enamoured with an influx of advertising messages hitting the platform?

4. Use targeting, data and relevancy

So when it comes to Facebook marketing, there are a number of options for marketers:

  • Treat it as a direct marketing, ad-supported channel
  • Use it as a way to reach existing customers and prospects at scale with engaging content
  • Use it as a way to reach highly engaged, loyal customer base who are very motivated to hear and engage with the brand

I’m not massively interested in the first option here. I don’t believe, at the moment, that this will be a cost effective way to spend marketing budgets (when there are lots of other options available out there) and I don’t believe it is in the best interests of brand reputation or Facebook as a platform.

So when you come to the second two, for me, the secret to success increasingly lies in data, targeting and relevancy. Facebook has slowly been developing a highly sophisticated way to target, segment and reach users through, for example, custom and lookalike audiences. Facebook’s highly engaged and loyal user base remains an attractive source for marketers. But it needs to be approached in a new way to really make it effective for brands.

If you have to pay to reach then the knock on effect of that will be that targeting becomes financially beneficial. You have to be selective – making sure that you only share content with audience segments that are likely to be most receptive to it and that are likely to engage with it.

Our approach to paid needs to change too. When it comes to paid media on social channels, it is all about being agile – placing spend in small, incremental pots that allows for real-time changes in strategy depending on content performance. Again, for cost-effectiveness, anything that forces brands to think twice here is only a good thing.

5. Focus on quality not quantity of content

At the end of the day, for all the talk of paid media, if you manage to create engaging messages and posts that fans like, then they still have the opportunity to share and endorse these posts with their own friends. And we now have the opportunity to boost and build awareness of that social action. Used in the right way, that remains a significantly important marketing technique that combines owned, earned, paid and shared media in a powerful way.

But the upshot of this is that, increasingly, content on Facebook needs to focus on quality rather than content. So shift your real-time, always-on activity to Twitter (and even Instagram) and use Facebook as a way to distribute highly targeted content with clear objectives to maximise the paid support that is now the reality of doing business on Facebook.

With a wealth of experience working in digital marketing and PR, Danny Whatmough is an Associate Director working in the digital team at Ketchum and is a thought leader in the wider PR industry. He is chairman of the PRCA’s Digital Group and is currently heading a PRCA working group looking at the ‘future of the PR agency.’ He is also an influential industry commentator through his own blog (dannywhatmough.com) and as a guest blogger on Econsultancy, The Wall, Huffington Post and Social Media Today. Danny is often quoted in the industry press as well as being a regular speaker at industry conferences and events. He is on Twitter at @dannywhatmough