Do you run a Facebook Page for a brand? I'll bet that you do, or maybe someone in your company or group does. Putting up Pages and attracting consumers has become practically a standard practice for brands large and small. The local plumber has a Page and global brands have Pages. Over the last several years, Pages have emerged as a great tool for connecting with your consumers, and for finding more people who are interested in what you have to offer. Pages have been cost-effective ways to communicate, as well, giving brands an easy and quick way to ask questions, provide insight, and give bits of advice on an ongoing basis.
And ... that's all changed now. Sorry.
Earlier this week, Facebook announced (in a carefully worded blog post) a change to the algorithm it uses to determine which items to show a user in their Newsfeed. Facebook made an important and (I think) correct distinction between the status updates posted by your friends and status updates posted by brands.
We have to face a real truth if we are going to make the most of social media: a brand is different from a friend. I do truly believe that social media brands can transcend the rigid structures that "advertising" has applied and speak in a more natural and authentic voice. Brands can become gathering places for like-minded people and even forums for real debate. But we have to always remember that brands are there, in these spaces and in these discussions, to generate sales.
I don't think that is a bad thing, personally. That is the job of the advertiser: providing content that brings consumers closer to making purchases and generating loyalty. Consumers certainly show up with that mindset. Brands can (and should, and need to) engage in conversations, but they should be clear about what that relationship is all about. And, because this is the underlying nature of the conversation and the relationship, the brand needs to behave in a different way than a friend.
Simply put: a friend can simply hang out with you, But a brand needs to make sure they are always bringing new value.
Content = Exposure
The change in Facebook's algorithm is simple: text posts from brands will get little exposure. If you put up a post that simply says "Happy Friday Everyone!", don't expect a lot of responses, because not a lot of people will see it. Even if you change the post to a question ("Happy Friday, Everyone! What are your plans for the weekend?"), a classic method of generating engagement, you won't get much response, because you won't get much exposure.
Text ads from friends will still work, but that is the nature of the change that Facebook is pushing. Pages can no longer act like friends (at least in this particular method).
Instead, Facebook's algorithm is going to favor posts that have links to content, specifically ones that use the link tool in Facebook to generate the post. So, a post that links to a YouTube video of a song about the weekend, with text that says "Happy Friday," will work far better than just the text itself.
This is Facebook's not-so-subtle message to all of us who use their platform to engage with consumers. Facebook, like Google, wants to have an efficient system that provides a lot of value to people with a minimum amount of fluff. If you follow 20 brands and 10 of them have already wished you a happy Friday, is there any real value from the 11th doing the same thing? Of course not. In fact, 11 brands wishing you a happy Friday is not only bad marketing, it makes someone's whole Facebook experience less engaging and worthwhile.
Through the medium of an algorithm, Facebook has told us very clearly what it thinks good marketing is: content. Fresh, relevant, unique content. If you create and post content, they will reward you with exposure.
Your New Strategy: Create Content
This may be the simplest bit of advice I have ever given in the 12 (yes, 12) years that I have been writing this column: start making content and linking to it on your Facebook Page.
That's all. Get to work. You need to really think about your Facebook Page (at least in part) as a way to show off the amazing content that tells the story of your brand or helps people do things that are important to them. I don't think you should abandon text updates as a whole. Some brands actually have a solid relationship built on providing clever lines or even positive bits of advice via status updates. If those are valuable, the people who see them will propel them forward.
But overall, Facebook has officially told the world what it thinks brands should do. I happen to agree with them in this case. Brands should bring valuable content to consumers and Facebook is a great channel to do that.
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Gary Stein is SVP, strategy and planning in iCrossing's San Francisco office. He has been working in marketing for more than a decade. Gary lives in San Francisco with his family. Follow him on Twitter: @garyst3in. The opinions expressed in Gary's columns are his alone.
March 19, 2014