Face it! Facebook has led marketers down the primrose path.
They taught us about and addicted us to free earned media. They encouraged us to spend money to attract and engage millions of followers. They ran us through the “like” gates. And now they have tightly restricted access to the audiences we created and extorted us by creating a pay-for-play platform.
By steadily manipulating the Edgerank algorithm, Facebook has systematically reduced access to the fan bases we built. The latest estimates are that less than 2% of a brand’s fans actually see brand posts. And many marketers assume that brand reach will soon be zero. Today we have to pay to reach the audiences we attracted to the Facebook platform. Ironically, Facebook has evolved into an old media model where editorial (posts) is clearly different and separated from reach (advertising).
Savvy marketers are now asking tougher questions about metrics and ROI. If we have to pay for what we used to get for free, what is the business impact of Facebook advertising and how does it move product or build brand loyalty? Engagement, which has been the ill-defined, but widely accepted payoff for several years, is falling out of favor as a useful metric. But there are few hard numbers to justify sustaining investments. The answers are elusive and Facebook’s doubtful and self-serving “research” does little to convince skeptical CFOs.
Surprisingly, brand marketers’ response has been muted. Few are willing to buck the 800-pound gorilla in our midst. Many are reluctant to tell their bosses that this once high-flying platform, filled with the promise of free viral reach and added engagement value, has radically changed. New and bigger budgets are required to make it useful.
One school of thought is betting on creativity. They argue that if a brand can come up with really cool content -- the stuff that everyone wants to see or know about --that even with 2% reach, fans will spread the word among themselves. These marketers are doubling down on video, gifs and games. They are working overtime to devise memes with wings.
A second school is playing ball with Facebook. These brands are investing ad dollars for both desktop and mobile units. They are using the 200+ targeting channels, comparing brand databases with Facebook’s, running contests and promotions and experimenting with different units and page placements, in an attempt to regain access to fans and expand their reach or frequency among Facebook’s billion users. There are many cases of successful lead generation and awareness campaigns, though the ROI varies widely.
A third segment is abandoning Facebook in favor of other emerging social networks. Competing against Facebook’s muscular marketplace positioning, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr and others have increased sales efforts, created new packages, expressed a willingness to customize units and experiment cooperatively with brands to redirect dollars that might otherwise have gone to Zuckerberg & Company.
Now that the stakes have changed and the ante is higher, brands are asking tougher measurement questions, demanding a greater connection between social media activity and business results and further degrading “engagement” as an indicator of communication value.