Facebook becoming a ‘paid channel’ is a good thing for brands and users

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A hot topic in social media marketing at the moment is the reduction of the reach and effectiveness of businesses’ organic Facebook pages.

This is the recent trend which has seen fewer and fewer of the people who like a brand’s page have content from that page appear in their Facebook newsfeeds.

Until this shift, posting content on Facebook for free was a recognised and successful marketing tactic. People needed to have liked a page before they were shown its posts, and it was up to businesses to ensure their content was interesting enough to get shared (to reach new people) and not annoying (which could lead to loss of followers).

However, over the past year the reach of these organic posts has dropped drastically. No longer are posts shown to everyone who has liked a page – far from it in fact – and many within the industry expect the number that are to drop further in coming months.

But this continued drop in reach has been going on for a number of years. It’s no shock to anybody.

The question is ‘why is this happening?’ – with some cynical marketers thinking Facebook wants them to pay for something they previously had for free – this is not a view we agree with.

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Facebook advertising gives you a clearer understanding of your campaigns

Why Facebook has reduced the reach of organic posts

The reasoning behind this skeptical view seems fairly straightforward and, to a certain extent, totally understandable. If businesses pay for adverts instead of posting for free, Facebook will get more money. However, this logic falls short when you consider the main driving force behind what Facebook is trying to achieve. It’s proposition – and this is in my words, not Facebook’s – is to provide as good a user experience as possible.

So while Facebook may well see an increase in revenue in the short term it’s not the motivating factor the cynics believe it is.

Social networks, whether that’s Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or any of the others, are constantly working to preserve and improve their user experience. This may seem odd when you think of the complaining and moaning that occurs whenever a major change is rolled out (newsfeeds and cover photos anyone?) but trust me, platforms’ understanding of their responsibility to users is very real.

The reason social media networks take this charge so seriously, and why it should never be dismissed as a catalyst of change, is because having customers continue using their platform is integral to their business model. Customers use the service because it is useful and will stop doing so if it ceases being so.

This is the reason why Facebook will do its best to help tune out what is irrelevant to its users and turn up what is relevant. Unfortunately for businesses, brand messages are often considered the irrelevant ones.

Why it’s good for users

It’s win-win for users – some brands may argue that loyal and interested customers will not hear their voice when they want to but there are plenty of other channels to engage with existing customers – least of all customers coming to your page and consuming your content directly (if they like it so much).

The main benefit for the user comes from the most significant factor in why Facebook took this step. We mentioned that the user experience is the most important factor. In a recent post on the Facebook blog, the social network’s VP of Ads Product Marketing, Brian Boland, explained that due to the vast volume of content being produced by everyone (users and brands) it had become necessary to filter users’ newsfeeds.

Brian explains that showing everything in real time (as it used to be, back in the day) is hugely impractical.

He said: “On average, there are 1,500 stories that could appear in a person’s News Feed each time they log onto Facebook. For people with lots of friends and Page likes, as many as 15,000 potential stories could appear any time they log on.”

So reducing the amount of content distributed by brands for marketing purposes is an obvious step for Facebook as it attempts to refine what’s appearing in its users’ newsfeeds. Remember, the drastic increase in content

Secondly, now that Facebook ads are the most important tool for brands to get into Facebook the quality of ads will improve. Competition for keywords, positions and segments will increase and brands will do more and more work on specifying their target audiences – thereby delivering relevant ads to relevant users. The cost of bidding for certain impressions will increase but due to accurate targeting this will be outweighed by the massively increased conversion rates – relevant ads to relevant users.  We’re talking about adverts so relevant they are useful to the people seeing them.

In addition,Facebook’s advertising guidelines limit the amount of text on any individual advert (20% can be text). This means good advertising look less spammy and more visual than some of the organic posts which have no limit to the amount of text.

Of course, this level of sophistication requires some significant data analysis and customer insight from the brands. Brands that don’t know their customers and can’t define and find them on Facebook will struggle.

Why it’s good for brands

Like TV, search, newspapers, radio and virtually every other marketing channel, Facebook is far more effective when businesses use paid media to help meet their goals. Yes there was a moment there when it was possible to get some significant reach for free. Well, it wasn’t really free was it? It took a lot of time and effort to produce that content and to drive organic campaigns. So while there may not have been an invoice there was always an associated cost.

With Facebook advertising as the substitute, businesses can far more accurately target specific user groups according to their likes, activity and demographics.  Something that was simply not possible through organic campaigns.

With Facebook advertising brands have a much greater handle on activity and what’s going to work and what isn’t. You can select who you are going to target, how much you are going to spend and implement your specific goals. Compare that to producing content and pushing it out organically with no idea as to how successful it will be (the spray and pray technique as some call it) and you can see how Facebook advertising may be a more attractive prospect to marketers.

This is why Facebook is now a paid channel and why that’s a good thing for both users and marketers.

As a marketer you won’t always appear on the first page of Google unless you’re paying to be there through PPC. Similarly, paid media on Facebook allows businesses to reach audiences more predictably, and with much greater accuracy than organic content. You can measure it, attribute sales and establish an ROI.

Yes, organic campaigns were great and it was fun to get creative and rely on good quality content to engage with people – but it was always difficult to attribute. With social media advertising it’s much more straightforward.

What are your thoughts on the demise of organic reach? Do you disagree with the above? Let me know in the comments section. I’m always happy to discuss.

Experian Marketing Services helps bring brands and customers closer together. The Experian Alchemy Social platform helps customers quickly and efficiently organise their Facebook campaigns while the managed service option has our in house experts making sure your social media advertising is a success.