I had an interesting conversation the other week with a senior marketing professional of a major corporation that represents many brands.
They had asked me what I thought the percentage was of posts that get through to the News Feed on Facebook from brands to people who have liked the Page? You would think that the answer is 100%. You would be wrong. There is so much sharing happening on Facebook, that the company throttles access to the News Feed (not just for brands for people too). They do this as a way to preserve and balance the diversity of content that we see on it. They also do this, so that brands (and individuals) don't monopolize the feed. The more cynical might argue that Facebook does this as a business model. If you want more access to the News Feed, you can buy your way in with sponsored stories. I've heard brands say that anywhere from 12% - 18% of their posts make it through organically (without paying to promote it). It's kind of shocking that a brand will spend so much time, money and effort to get as many likes as possible and only be able to connect with about 15% of their content/efforts, even if 100% of those people have agreed to stay connected. It is the Facebook business model: once you get a follower, you have to pay to connect with them. This senior marketing professional of a major corporation said that he is seeing percentages drop as low as 2% for some of the brands that this multi-national represents. Another analytics marketing professional told me that they are seeing the same meager numbers.
What is Facebook for brands?
I then asked the frustrated marketing professional what they are going to do about it? Are they going to allocate more dollars for advertising and sponsored stories? Are they going to continue paid fan acquisition strategies? This was their response: "we're treating Facebook for what it has become: an advertising platform. Nothing more. Nothing less." If you're going to read one article this week, you may want to check out the Business Insider piece titled, Facebook Is A Fundamentally Broken Product That Is Collapsing Under Its Own Weight. It's definitely a negative piece and slanted (so take it with a grain of salt). It's hard to not argue that Facebook is still a viable and valuable place for brands to be, but it does point to a contentious issue that Facebook is grappling with: if everyone is sharing everything on Facebook, how realistic is it to assume that anybody is really seeing anything? From the article: "In August, Facebook revealed that 'every time someone visits News Feed there are on average 1,500 potential stories from friends, people they follow and Pages for them to see, and most people don't have enough time to see them all. These stories include everything from wedding photos posted by a best friend, to an acquaintance checking in to a restaurant.' Let's say the average Facebook user is awake for 17 hours a day. To consume all that stuff, they would take in 88 new items per hour, or 1.5 things per minute. That's just not possible. Facebook knows it has a problem. It planned a major redesign that gave users more control over the News Feed. But it was scrapped when the first batch of users showed low engagement with the new design."
A victim of their own success?
The people who populated, connected and grew Facebook were none concerned about the marketers or how the organization was going to find a business model. Much like any online success, once the exponential growth rates start kicking in, it becomes nearly impossible to manage success. Brands will often ask me how to best define if something has "gone viral," and my standard answer is: when you can't handle the results of your work. Success in the online sphere is often overwhelming to the point of near-collapse. The Business Insider article also points to newer challenges facing Facebook (couldn't resist) like mobile as the real social platform. You don't need to stay inside Facebook's walled garden to share a photo (Instagram or Snapchat), to chat with someone (messaging or WhatsApp) or play a game. The social nature of the smartphone and the apps make switching from place to place completely frictionless. As mobile becomes the more dominant screen in the consumer's life (which it is), Facebook is going to have to do more than nurture an acquisition strategy to maintain their relevance and dominance in the online social networking sphere.
What makes Facebook interesting.
For marketers, Facebook is interesting because so many people are there, connected, sharing and spending a lot time with it. For Facebook, it is attempting to ensure that as it grows, it can still enable each user to have a higher and more valuable level of engagement. Somewhere, in those last two sentences, lies the answer to what Facebook can do next. If the WestJet Christmas Miracle viral video sensation of the past few weeks has shown us anything, it's that 30,000,000 (plus) people will spend a whole lot of time connecting with a brand, if it can tell a good story, add value to their day and give them a moment of thoughtful pause. Facebook has millions upon millions of people who are spending a whole lot of time engaged on the platform. When brands start using that opportunity to truly connect, instead of abusing that moment with an impression and repetition-based mass media mindset, they probably won't see Facebook solely as an advertising platform, but rather a place where deep and powerful marketing connections can be built, nurtured and leveraged.
Facebook is not collapsing.
Most brand's Facebook strategy is failing. They're just looking for someone to blame. It seems to me like Facebook is throttling the News Feed in a bid to keep their consumers engaged and sheltered from brands doing very boring or traditional things. As this platform becomes more powerful on mobile, Facebook is going to have to be even more diligent in this process. Does this mean that Facebook is faltering, or is it that brands aren't doing the very hard work of figuring out how they can add value to the online social network?
The more consumers share, the less consumers will see. Brands have to find their own way in this cluttered world. Obviously, more clutter is not the solution.