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Is Facebook Making a Mistake by Forcing Brands to Pay?

03.24.14

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It appears the days of free social media marketing on Facebook are all but over. According to ValleyWag, Facebook is in the process of cutting organic delivery of Facebook Page posts to 1–2 percent. This comes after recent reports that the average organic delivery of posts was already down to 6 percent in February. By throttling the organic delivery of brand posts, Facebook is essentially forcing brands to pay to reach their audience. Simple as that. So the question becomes—is this a smart move by Facebook or will it backfire? The answer is—it depends.

The problem with Facebook making this move is many brands are still struggling to find a way to make Facebook work for them. If a brand isn’t getting much of a return on their investment on the site for free, it will be a tough sell to get them to spend money to get the same results. The argument can be made that brands need to have a better content strategy, better social strategy, better landing pages, better community management, or better overall marketing strategy but if a company is seeing better results through AdWords or other online advertising, they aren’t going to pull money from those budgets to put it on Facebook unless it can deliver the same—or better—results.

Facebook originally touted its brand Pages as a place for companies to engage with fans, develop relationships, and ultimately deliver marketing messages to the audiences they built. Brands bought into it in a big way. It got to the point where every company had to have a Facebook Page, it wasn’t an option anymore. Even if a brand’s social strategy consisted of posting “10% off” sales posts on a daily basis, companies had to have a presence on the site (unless you’re Apple). Facebook is banking on companies wanting to now pay to keep that engagement happening and getting those messages to their fans. The problem is, if those “10% off” sales posts are now only going to be seen by 1 percent of a brand’s audience, and less than 1 percent of that audience ends up converting, it doesn’t make sense to keep pushing them out every day. Facebook is hoping brands will then pay to promote those posts, but it’s doubtful brands will decide to put money behind them if they have similarly poor conversion rates. There are large brands who would be just as happy to shut down their Facebook Page and distribute that time and money elsewhere rather than spend money on a platform that in their minds, doesn’t deliver positive ROI.

If a company does have a thriving Facebook community, and a good content strategy in place, then the chances are good its content will still be well-received and have more than a 1 to 2 percent organic delivery rate. Facebook has always focused on delivering engaging content to its users. Unfortunately, many brands idea of “engaging content” consists of repurposed marketing materials and blatant advertisements disguised as posts. The irony is the popularity of Facebook Pages among brands is partly to blame for Facebook cutting back on their messages being delivered to fans. There are now so many brands posting so many messages that if they were to deliver all of them, some people’s news feed would never stop moving. Something has to give and this is why it makes sense for Facebook to cut back on showing users brand-created content rather than cutting back on posts from a users’ friends and family.

One unexpected byproduct of Facebook forcing brands to pay-to-play is it could turn into an opportunity to revitalize company blogs and social capabilities on brand websites. Marketers have often warned of social media sharecropping—building an audience/presence on someone else’s platform you have no control over. Many companies are learning this lesson firsthand after spending a lot of money to build their audience on Facebook only to be told they will now have to pay to reach the very same audience. Instead, companies can take the content they wanted to push out through Facebook and push it out through their company blog or website for free and it will be seen by anyone who follows them. That way nobody can throttle the delivery of messages to the desired audience and with some effort to make the content SEO-friendly it will be available for anyone using Google.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out for Facebook. Many brands will continue to do business as usual, hoping their content is viral enough to break through the barrier, and those that do have good content should see that still happen—although not as much as in the past. Brands not publishing good content, or who don’t have a solid social media strategy in place, will see their engagement continue to drop and the effectiveness of their posts flounder until they will be forced to decide on paying Facebook to get more eyeballs or moving on to another channel with better ROI. Either way, if companies continue to have trouble showing efficient results from Facebook, paid or organic, the social media giant may have a much bigger problem on its hands.