Will Brands Shift Focus Away From Facebook?

    November 21, 2012
    Chris Crum

Facebook is a public company. Perhaps you’ve heard. For years, the social network has been a tremendous way for businesses to promote themselves and their products and services to customers and prospects for free, by way of Facebook Pages. There has been quite a bit of controversy, especially in recent weeks, about how many of a Page’s updates are making it to their fans’ News Feeds, as Facebook pushes its monetization efforts (like promoted posts), which are essential for the company to make shareholders happy. The bottom line is that Facebook needs to have a substantial bottom line. That means getting paid by advertisers, even if they offer free advertising, in a sense.

Is Facebook the best way to get your messages to customers and fans? What channel do you find best suited to accomplish this goal? Let us know in the comments.

Meanwhile, some Page owners are finding that their messages are getting through to their fans less often. Maybe these two things are unrelated, but they’re both happening. It is a fact that these days, you have to pay Facebook if you want to ensure that your post is seen by a certain amount of users. While it’s highly unlikely that we’ll see many brands abandoning Facebook as a promotional tool, there is a possibility that more of brands’ efforts are spent elsewhere, where they have more control (without having to pay for it).

One of the more vocal opponents of Facebook’s handling of Page reach and the News Feed has been uber-preneur and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, and he makes that very point. He recently tweeted a screenshot of Facebook trying to charge him thousands of dollars to promote a post from the Mavericks’ Page, saying, “FB is blowing it? This is the first step. The Mavs are considering moving to Tumblr or to new Myspace as primary site.”

Dan Lyons at ReadWriteWeb reported that Cuban was moving 70 of the companies in which he has invested away from Facebook as the “primary site”. He shared the following quote from Cuban:

“We are moving far more aggressively into Twitter and reducing any and all emphasis on Facebook. We won’t abandon Facebook, we will still use it, but our priority is to add followers that our brands can reach on non-Facebook platforms first.”

Cuban has since come out with his own blog post on the subject. “In the past we put FB first, twitter second. FB has been moved to the bottom of a longer list,” he says in that. He points to a statement made by Facebook, which says it can keep the News Feed an “engading service where people come to get the information that is most interesting to them,” and goes on to make an interesting point about the nature of social networks:

This has to be a good thing, right ? What could possibly be wrong with wanting to improve engagement ? What could possibly be wrong with optimizing their news and information feeds ? IMHO, everything. Defining engagement by clicks, likes, shares, unlikes and reporting works for Google’s search engine, I don’t believe it works for a social network.

People go to Google Search with every intention of leaving it. They want to “engage, click and leave”. On the exact opposite side of the spectrum, people go to FB with the expectation that it is very likely they will stay on FB for an extended period of time. In fact we spend more than 26 minutes per day on FB. As this study said, FB is an alternative to boredom. FB is far more like TV than it is Google Search.

Don’t forget, Cuban is the chairman of a television network.

Later in the post, he says, “We should know better than an algorithm what those who like us actually like. It may well be that it’s a passive relationship. Maybe they just want to see the scores at the end of every quarter in a Mavs game ? Maybe they want to know what show is playing right now on AXS TV ? No one expects them to like, comment or share any of this. It’s just an information source. And can i just say that its really weird when Mavs end of quarter scores show up out of order. Thats how smart the algorithm is.”

This is really the crux of the whole discussion from the standpoint of the business who wants its messages to be seen by its fans, as well as the users who actually want to see the updates from the Pages they liked in the first place. Can an algorithm better determine what the user should see than the choices made by the user himself? Facebook used to provide all kinds of controls that enabled the user to adjust the frequency of posts they see from people and Pages, as well as if they even want to see any at all. That’s been dropped for a spam/complaint option and the will of the algorithm. Does there need to be another layer of News Feed control applied at the algorithmic level?

Facebook maintains it is trying to control spam, but couldn’t users easily decide whether or not they wanted to see less updates from any particular Page or friend. If anything, users likely feel they’re being spammed more than ever, with the increase in sponsored posts.

The main point Cuban is making, is that brands may decide, like he has decided, to invest more of their efforts in channels where they know their messages will reach their fans.

Facebook reportedly says that Page reach has not decreased overall, but that a News Feed algorithm change did start reducing reach for Pages that get complaints. Facebook’s News Feed product manager shared the “four main factors” that go into determining if a Page post shows up in the News Feed. These are (via Josh Constine at TechCrunch):

1. If you interacted with an author’s posts before: If you Like every post by a Page that Facebook shows you, it will show you more from that Page.

2. Other people’s reactions to a specific post: If everyone else on Facebook shown a post ignores it or complains, it’s less likely to show you that post.

3. Your interaction with posts of the same type in the past: If you always Like photos, there’s a better chance you’ll see a photo posted by a Page.

4. If that specific post has received complaints by other users who have seen it, or the Page who posted it has received lots complaints in the past, you’ll be less likely to see that post. This factor became a lot more prevalent starting in September 2012.

From one perspective, there do seem to be some flaws with this approach. In the case of number one, it goes back to what Cuban said about users simply looking for information. You don’t necessarily need to interact with a post to find it useful or valuable. Sometimes reading is enough. In fact, I would go so far as to say, often, reading is enough. As far as number two goes, how can Facebook determine if everyone else on Facebook is ignoring a post if so many people aren’t seeing it in the first place? Facebook is “less likely to show you that post,” but how can you ignore it if you never even saw it?

Facebook says it started penalizing things that have more complaints, but it’s the user that liked the Page in the first place isn’t it? Isn’t that ball still in the user’s court? Just because some people complain about a post from a Page that thousands of people “like,” does that mean that others that “like” the Page should see less posts from that Page too, when they went out of their way to “like” it in the first place?

Some are skeptical about Facebook’s intentions, given the expansion of Promoted Posts. If you’re not reaching enough of your fans, you can always pay Facebook to reach more of them (still not all of them in many cases).

Some think Facebook is becoming too monetization-friendly and not enough user-friendly. Today’s Facebook certainly doesn’t seem like what the Jesse Eisenberg version of Mark Zuckerberg envisioned. But again, Facebook is at the stage where making money means a lot now. It’s been a while since it was just a few guys in a dorm.

And it’s not as if Facebook has stopped thinking about users. In fact, they’ve even made some moves of late that are directly related to Page reach and the News Feed.

There’s a dedicated Pages feed. Of course that mobile share feature should be beneficial for Page posts too. There’s also a hidden URL where you can actually see “all” friend activity in your News Feed (if it’s that important to you, you can bookmark it).

Despite all the uproar (seemingly mostly in the press and Blogosphere and less in actual everyday conversation), Facebook probably doesn’t have to worry much about losing users over it. People are hooked, and at last count, there were 1.01 billion of them (active ones), with more using Facebook via mobile devices all the time (again, that mobile share feature should be helpful in getting posts seen more).

Facebook is also working on search, so that may be useful for businesses and Page owners when it’s all said and done.

Cuban does make the point that “Some of the best sources of current information are searches on Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram (the irony), and of course relevant websites.” Facebook could get better in this area with whatever it has up its sleeve in the search department, but the nature of the way most people use Facebook (more private and less public) could impede such an endeavor, when compared to these other sources of information.

If nothing else, despite all the features the Internet’s major social networks have borrowed from each other over the years, there may be enough room for them to continue to differentiate themselves in how people use them, so that they can continue to live along side one another for years to come. Still, it’s going to be interesting to see how brand use trends, and if Cuban is right about that.

Do you think it’s getting harder to reach people through Facebook? Would you (or do you) pay to promote posts? Let us know in the comments.