The internet is ablaze with chatter of how Facebook is “backstabbing” advertisers and “corroding” the relationships between brands and the followers they have worked so hard to attain.
Between Eat24’s heartfelt breakup letter to Facebook and Nate Elliot’s “told you so” article on Forrester’s blog, many companies and commentators have very publicly voiced their opinion of Facebook’s decision to limit organic reach and drive marketers to paid advertising.
But before you sever your social marketing ties with Facebook, take a second and review the situation.
Facebook isn’t necessarily backstabbing marketers (although they are trying to make money). Instead, the social network is simply growing up and going down the natural path of marketing evolution—one that we’ve already seen with Search.
As former VP of Search at Yahoo, I saw a similar pattern when search first launched a decade ago.
As part of their initial go-to-market plans, Yahoo and Google offered free traffic for a limited time to business sites. As a result, Yahoo and Google were able to improve and refine the relevance or search while simultaneously building a large and loyal user base.
Once they achieved this, both companies monetized their large audiences by offering advertising through Yahoo Overture and Google Adwords. Businesses that initially enjoyed free site traffic had to start paying for top results as well as invest in SEO in order to maintain quality traffic and leads.
Today, businesses understand that investing in paid search and SEO is necessary to drive relevant traffic to their business. More recently, Google increased focus to the quality of content in paid and organic search. When companies try to game the system with generic, bland content or excessive links, their rankings and traffic drop.
If you want to keep rankings or traffic high, you have to pay Google to stay on top in sponsored links and keep up with SEO.
We’re witnessing the same process underway at Facebook, so don’t take it personally.
Facebook is not targeting or attacking the businesses they spent so many years cultivating—it’s just the natural evolution in marketing.
There are now 1.3 billion people actively logging into Facebook every month, and similar to Google and Yahoo's go-to-market strategies, Facebook has spent the last few years getting businesses hooked on the free traffic.
However, Facebook realizes that the value of traffic depends on the quality, not quantity, of content. There are many reasons people like or become a fan of a business page: Perhaps you are a loyal consumer.
In many cases though, you probably liked a page for the chance to win a convertible, a free vacation, or another one-off giveaway. This means that you don’t want to always see offers or promotions from that brand. Without some boundaries, the current technique of spamming fans would eventually annoy users, driving down engagement and conversion for the business and Facebook.
Just like in search, companies marketing on Facebook now need to work harder to maintain engagement with their Facebook audience. This can be achieved by improving the quality of their content and targeting (i.e. SEO) or by paying top dollar for promoted Facebook ads (i.e. Adwords).
Facebook marketing is still effective if a business generates good, timely content that is relevant to its audience.
Now that Facebook is prioritizing relevance, the ability to use predictive social analytics to identify quality content is more critical than ever before. The old method of inundating “likers” or “followers” with multiple offers is no longer effective. Businesses must focus on messaging that their audience cares about.
But how do you know what your audience cares about? The answer is simple—they tell you!
Social media is a cornucopia of public information, particularly facts about people’s personal lives. Moreover, Facebook's recent implementation of hashtags and Instagram acquisition make it easier for companies to use predictive social analytics to identify hot leads, increasing the chance for conversion.
From “#itsaboy” announcements to “#ihateapple” rants, consumers constantly tell businesses what they want (or don’t want). Brands can then predict buying behavior based on these announcements of definitive events or personal preferences that require specific products or services.
Just as the old methods of Facebook advertising and marketing will no longer work, traditional monitoring and engagement tools will also fall short if they do not offer predictive social analytics. Marketers must invest in tools that gives their brand the ability to predict buyer behavior so that Facebook marketing tactics stay relevant and effective.
It’s important to remember that Facebook is evolving, and like any natural evolution, it takes time to find the balance between old and new that produces the strong, fruitful, next generation. Similar to search a decade ago, it will take Facebook a few changes over time to identify the winning algorithmic combination.
The lesson of the story is: don’t let a few jaded commentators convince you that all hope is lost, and don’t let a few evolutionary marketing changes cause you to breakup with Facebook.
Instead, work to keep the relationship strong and effective by understanding the changes and adapting your strategy. Or take a page out of Eat24’s marketing playbook—its breakup letter may have gotten the company more attention than any of its previous campaigns.
—Jeff Revoy is the CEO of Viralheat.
[Image: Flickr user Maria Elena]