Social media marketing is part hard data and part alchemy. No matter how strong raw numbers and clear metric goals may seem, there’s always something unpredictable or downright mysterious about what works. What’s more, what works today is almost certain to change tomorrow. Facebook is perhaps the strangest beast in the social media marketing jungle, though with proper perspective, none of the changes to Facebook’s practices should be a surprise. Let’s take a look at what makes Facebook a worthwhile marketing platform and why it’s so confounding to so many people.
The Old Facebook
Here’s one thought to carry the narrative from now on: there is no more “free” marketing on Facebook and, honestly, there never really was.
For the past decade, organizations and entrepreneurs have loved Facebook as an ever-evolving, highly social multimedia marketing platform. It’s a place to position inbound content, launch promotions, receive qualitative feedback, and build a highly personable brand identity. Also, up until 2014, it was all free of cost.
Of course, that’s not entirely true.
Facebook is a for-profit corporation. It never gave anything away for free, even if it didn’t always monetize in the same ways. Facebook spent years growing its user base, collecting data, and selling those data to increasingly bigger clients. Their organizational and entrepreneurial users were happy to make their information available to Facebook in exchange for what essentially amounted to a no-cost advertisement space. With a proven concept and a massive global audience, Facebook now has the power to ask for money from its self-promoting users.
Long-time Facebook users got a shock to the system when a pay gate suddenly went up between them and their “Friends.” Organizations that were used to seeing each of their posts reach the majority of their Friends, who often numbered in the tens of thousands, found their posts failing to land on all but a single-digit percentage of their Friends’ news feeds.
Let’s take a step back. Make no mistake– there were always gates on Facebook. Organization pages, as opposed to personal pages, always required an extra investment and an extra layer of verification. That took time and money. There have also always been so-called “Like gates” that only allowed promotional content to appear in the news feeds of users who actively Liked an organization’s page. In short, there has always been a lot of opt-in and buy-in with Facebook marketing plans.
This in mind, the addition of a pay gate for organizations to reach their Facebook Friends doesn’t seem so surprising. After all, an organization does not own its Facebook presence or the data of its Friends. Those things have always been Facebook’s products. The years leading up to the 2014 pay gate were always just a trial period. Organizations got a lot of use out of the product and wanted to keep using it, so the fees kicked in. A bit of an organizational exodus occurred in the wake of the pay gate, but the smartest marketers didn’t run, they adapted.
The Learning Curve
All online marketing has had a wicked learning curve over the past few years. Keyword seeding, link-dropping, and other quick-and-dirty exploits got targeted and annihilated by Google, ushering in the modern age of quality content-based strategies. That’s evolution, plain and simple. Similarly, Facebook marketing has had to get smarter and more work-intensive. It’s an investment now, but those who know how to use the New Facebook get an excellent return, both in conversion rates and holistic marketing skills.
The aim of Facebook marketing used to be in concrete metrics. It used to be about the sheer number of Likes, Friends, and Shares, the average click-through rate, and the exponential widening of demographic nets. Today, it’s not such a blunt tool. Organizations shouldn’t think of Facebook primarily as a way to capture new stakeholders or keep existing stakeholders engaged. Even for those who pony up for the pay gate to get their content featured on more news feeds, the numbers just don’t pan out. What’s more, Facebook has already said that it plans to cut back on the amount of promotional content that shows up in user news feeds. Facebook listens to its users. Organizations should follow that example.
So, what’s Facebook good for now? In a word: focus. Facebook is no longer interested in helping organizations broadcast a message or turn users into advocates for products. Contrary to how it may have seemed a few years ago, social media is not the new billboard, radio, or TV. Facebook and all social media by extension are excellent data-gathering tools for those who know how the system works.
Under the hood, Facebook now has a lot more user functionality than in the pre-pay-gate days. The pay gate isn’t a mere binary “reach more or reach fewer” toggle. When a user chooses to pay to promote a post, new options become available, including the very valuable “Add Targeting” tool. Located in the bottom left of the fillable post field, targeting allows the user to filter who sees the post from the pool of all available Likes. It’s essentially a demographic isolator. Good products and marketing campaigns are already honed to reach specific demographics, so why not let Facebook do some of the legwork with its targeting algorithms instead of relying purely on the subjective demographic targeting of the content message?
One of the somewhat unexpected results of the Facebook promotional pay gate is a marked increase in the prevalence of email marketing. Once thought to be a relic of the age before social media, the personal and direct touch of a good email marketing strategy is now better at generating conversions than ever. It isn’t an either/or situation, though. Many stakeholders first interact with an organization via social media, then organically seek out the organization’s website and opt into the organizations’ mailing list when they get there. In this scenario, Facebook isn’t the place where conversions happen. Rather, it’s the point of first contact. A strong, consistent brand personality across multiple forms of communication creates brand loyalty. It’s more work, but that just weeds out the lazy organizations.
Despite what the naysayers insist, Facebook is still a viable marketing platform. It’s not the same tool it was just a few years ago, but it fits better into a holistic marketing philosophy that demands careful, consistent engagement with stakeholders. The pay gate is worth it, the targeting functionality is smart, and social media, at long last, doesn’t have to be the newfangled voodoo of B2C communication.