Facebook’s moves to throttle organic reach is buzzing in online marketing circuits. As you might expect the overall reaction is negative, but I think there might be opportunity in these changes.
Having observed lots of radical shifts in social network platforms, one thing I’ve learned is there is always opportunity in change. I’m of the same mind in this situation.
Before I dive into where I think the opportunities are, let’s look at what’s changing.
What’s Changing in Facebook
Full disclosure: I ripped this list off from Andrew Chen in his article about developers leaving Facebook. As a quick aside to our primary discussion, this is a lesson within itself. When you’re trying to spot trends and look for opportunities survey the entire ecosystem not just marketing rants to gain understanding of the dynamics at work.
In this case, the following list reflects a social platform coming of age; changes that necessarily occur when a social network has to start paying back their investors. Let’s talk about it.
Controlling Virality – In the early days of social networks it’s often the Wild Wild West. No one, including the founders, know what will cause users to pile into the platform. These technology platforms thrive when the community, developers and users, are allowed to be as creative and unencumbered as possible.
This is what Facebook did with its developer network. In the past, clever developers could do all kinds of wild things with the Facebook API to market directly (sometimes a bit sneakily) in users’ social networks.
Obviously, giving developers the unbridled ability to cause you to inadvertently spam your Facebook fans every time you play a Facebook game or login with Facebook Connect isn’t in the best interest of Facebook.
Ad Rates Climbing – Any ad platform worth its salt is going to see a healthy inflation of their ad rates as that advertising inventory becomes more valuable–high quality, targeted, converting traffic. This doesn’t mean that there’s no money to be made. It just means that only the smartest paid media marketers can make it.
More Competition – Again, a strong indicator that the Facebook platform is getting stronger as a quality marketing channel. This fact is validated as you see more legitimate brands using the Facebook ad network and over funded startups, hucksters, and charlatans being priced out of your Facebook news feed.
Finite Feed – This shift is a little bit of a mixed bag–a little about competition and probably a lot about online consumer behaviors. As Facebook grows in user and advertiser popularity that news feed gets crammed full and users won’t scroll through all of the new stuff.
Like Google search results, Facebook has to wrestle with the right mix of paid and organic results in the feed. There is sure to be lots of innovation on the horizon in optimizing this finite feed for users and advertisers.
Mobile is King – Yes, mobile is becoming the platform of choice for consumers engaging the Web, but I think Facebook has been thinking and pivoting on this front for several years.
Unlike many other advertising platforms, Google included, Facebook’s advertising mechanisms are much more mobile and consumer friendly. I think there is big opportunity here.
Now that you have a firm understanding of what everyone is complaining about, let’s figure out how to arbitrage these shift to advantage your marketing strategy.
Arbitraging Facebook Changes
1. Use Facebook Login and Open Graph – These are the mechanisms that many developers and startups abused over the last few years to go viral and build enormous user basis. Yes, Facebook is clamping down on many of the sneaky, spam-like practices that developers were using to game explosive growth, but that doesn’t mean that the opportunity is gone. It just means you have to leverage these API hooks in a more authentically value-based way. Ultimately, that’s going to create a high-quality user base anyway.
2. Build Target Groups for Facebook Ads – One of the little talked about secrets of kicking butt with Google AdWords is using highly targeted, very keyword narrow Ad Groups. This principle essentially hyper-personalizes the marketing and offers that you serve, by narrowing the audience. You can apply this same principle of marketing to Facebook Ads by mining rich demographic data available when you use Facebook Connect. The tactic is more complex than can be accommodated in this list, but Gagan Biyani reveals it, in all its glory, here.
3. Mine for Profitable Veins in the Ad Marketplace – All markets assume the wisdom of the crowds. All rich marketers know that crowds miss lots of highly lucrative niche opportunities and we test and arbitrage those for big profitable runs.
Unlike Google AdWords, Facebook is a passive advertising environment. Generally, people don’t go into Facebook with the intent to engage with businesses. This means that you have to be a little smarter about how you target the audiences you want to engage. You have to attract their attention versus servicing their current intent, like search marketing does.
However, our experience proves that because these people are engaging with friends and sharing preferences they are very responsive when you present highly relevant and valuable content and offers.
4. Relish the Competition – Take a quick look at the Facebook ads on the edge and within your newsfeed and you’ll still see a lot of junk advertisers. In the near-term this means easy opportunity to stand out and in the long-term as more reputable advertisers move into the platform consumers will increasingly come to Facebook for recommendations–serving advertisers traffic with higher intent.
In the meantime, your experience on the Facebook ad platform will be rewarded handsomely as competition intensifies.
5. Understand the Finite Feed – Consumers are busy and distracted and the Facebook newsfeed will only become increasingly crowded, making it tougher to make it above the breakpoint.
Competing within this constraint isn’t a new challenge for marketers, it just requires creativity.
Staying above the fold requires an integrated campaign of interesting content and induced engagement (i.e., likes and comments). Creating these kinds of campaigns requires you to observe and think about what gets a response in user newsfeeds. Here are a few we have used successfully:
Clever quips and questions as status update
Images that are meme-like or unusual
Super short videos of most any type
Most importantly, once you have a piece of content that you want to stay above the finite feed cutline–boost it. This will gain not only the positioning but also the engagement that will sustain the campaign.
6. Aggressively Build Your Network – Reach on Facebook is simply a function of the size of your network and how engaged they are with your brand. Ironically, Facebook isn’t taking either of these factors away from marketers, they’re just raising the bar.
Of the two, network size and engagement, network size is much easier to consistently drive. Much like email marketing, getting the initial opt-in (in Facebook the Like) is much easier than getting your subscribers to consistently be responsive. Therefore, if you want to hang on to and expand reach use Facebook Ads and promoted posts to capture that initial Like–giving you access to more reach.
7. Emphasize Permission Marketing – In the not so distant past Facebook marketers and developers were famous for tricking users into promoting their brands and apps–essentially accidentally spamming their own friends. You can imagine how mad that made Facebook’s customers. It is this scenario that has really been the motivation for most of Facebook’s changes related to organic reach.
The dirty little secret is that most of the “organic reach” that marketers are complaining about losing was actually reach induced by borderline spam or deceptive marketing practices.
Understanding this can give you a leg up on taking advantage of Facebook’s more restrictive environment. The solution is as simple as using best practices in permission marketing. Simply making sure that consumers know that they are Liking and promoting your brand is only polite, builds trust, and enhances the value of the endorsement.
8. Reward Your Loyal Followers – Finally, make it worthwhile to be a follower. Not too many people follow brands out of a sense of altruism. Market research is loud and clear on why consumers subscribe to email lists[PDF] and follow brands on social media–it’s for deals and offers. Facebook is no different. Reward your followers on Facebook with special offers, deals, and information. Make it special and valuable to Like your brand on Facebook.
There are many more opportunities now and as Facebook continues to mature as an advertising platform. Facebook marketing, particularly Facebook Ads and promoted posts, should definitely be in your marketing strategy.
Do you have questions about Facebook marketing? Ask in the comments below or contact us directly.