Is Facebook Failing Marketers?

Last October, Forrester’s Nate Elliott wrote an inflammatory blog post in the form of an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg. Open letters have been in vogue since Jay-Z released a track of the same name last April but I’m pretty sure (given the timing) that Mr Elliott’s post was more inspired by Sinéad O’Connor’s notorious open letter to Miley Cyrus.

Anyway, buoyed by the success of his last post, Mr. Elliott is back with a post entitled Is Facebook Still Failing Marketers? Let’s take a look at the three main issues he raises:

Declining organic reach

Marketers can now reach just 6% of their fans organically. When we published our research, some brands were surprised to find that Facebook only delivered posts to 16% of their fans. In December a leaked sales deck revealed that Facebook was telling marketers they should expect organic distribution of posts to decline further — but few could guess how far and how fast that distribution would fall. This month, Ogilvy released data showing that the brand pages they manage reach just 6% of fans. For pages with more than 500,000 fans, Ogilvy says reach stands at just 2%.

I talk about reach on a regular basis, and Facebook has addressed this thoroughly in their post What Increased Content Sharing Means for Businesses. Here’s the top line:

  • As more people share things, there’s more competition for space on the News Feed than ever before – not just for brands, but for all of us
  • Facebook was never about email marketing or CRM. Please stop thinking that’s what “social media” means.
  • Keeping your marketing lists on Facebook is really very silly
  • Organic reach is a privilege not a right
  • There are really good ways to target really large audiences on Facebook. Get over yourselves and learn to use Paid Media

Advertisers aren’t happy

Brands and agencies are now openly talking about their discontent. Every day I talk to brands that are disillusioned with Facebook and are now placing their bets on other social sites — but few of them want to go on the record. Lately, though, more brands and agencies have started speaking openly to the media about how Facebook is failing them. One former Facebook advertiser referred to Facebook as “one of the most lucrative grifts of all time.”

Anecdotal. Meaningless. This implies a trend, but gives no evidence for that trend, or it’s impact. Here’s another trend.

Facebook earnings

And another:

FB Performance

I’ve written before about this tendency for bloggers and journalists to blast Facebook in return for traffic (here and here.) At best it’s poorly researched, at worst a cynical attempt to get views.

What about the fake fans?

Marketers are worried many of their fans are “fake.” Many marketers and many publishers are reporting that huge percentages of their fans come from emerging markets where they didn’t expect to find an audience. The kicker? They’re saying many of those fans don’t seem to interact with people or with branded content — they seem to do little other than “like” thousands and thousands of brand pages. The conclusion some marketers are coming to: The paid ads Facebook encourages them to buy often lead to “fake” fans generated by “like farms.”

Again, I’ve written about this elsewhere in the dim and distant past. It’s a bit of a myth, really.

At its simplest, it comes down to this, No one’s going to put a fake like on your Page for free. Like farms aren’t some kind of well-meaning but misguided charitable institutions. If you’re buying shitty likes from them, that’s your fault. But you can’t buy them from Facebook.

The emerging markets issue is a thing, I’ll admit. Lots of people there do seem to be using Western brands to badge themselves as sophisticated consumers. We’ve not seen this on our Pages, but it’s not actually a huge problem (unless you’re mistakenly expecting them to “interact with people”).

Here’s the thing. Stop focusing on your damned fans. They aren’t the interesting audience. If anything they’re a sunk cost that’s stopping you thinking properly. If you’re a brand talking to your audience in a social space, that’s not social media marketing. It’s just a weird form of CRM.

One of the most instructive conversations I had in my recent career was with a client for whom we’d recently launched a Page (this was around four years ago.) We were cock-a-hoop that we’d managed to grow the Page to around 60K fans more or less organically. She said,

I’ve got 30 million customers. You’ve captured the 0.2% 1 who like my product so much they’ll follow our brand on Facebook. Even if we can persuade them to buy another [product unit] next week, that’s not going to move the needle for me.

Her put down set the challenge that I’ve spent the intervening years trying to meet. Now I’d tell her:

  • that we can use basket level analysis to identify people who bought her product or her competitors’ products
  • that we can further subdivide those people by any number of interesting data targeting points
  • that we can target them with marketing messages
  • that those messages are particularly well designed to reach mobile users
  • that we can attach social annotations to those messages showing the audience that their friends endorse the message or the brand
  • that we can select these people from among more than 30 million UK monthly active users
  • that if we craft the message properly, people will not only endorse it, they’ll share it for free with their friends

Perhaps Facebook isn’t failing marketers. Perhaps marketers are failing to use Facebook

I’d also tell her that Facebook competes with Google to be the biggest source of traffic to news sites.

Authority report

Everyone who doesn’t have their head up their fundament has noticed that publishers are doing well out of Facebook. That the way to beat the News Feed algorithms is to stop trying to do CRM in Facebook, but instead to recruit an army of readers to share your content. Publishers (and some retailers) are doing this well. Perhaps Facebook isn’t failing marketers. Perhaps marketers are failing to use Facebook properly.

  1. Thank you to John Grant for correcting my arithmetic. 60,000/30,000,000 = 0.2% not 2% as I had mistakenly written.


  1. says

    Mr. Morrison does it again.

    Brands biggest frustration with Facebook is the constant bar raising. Some brands aren't strongly built for social media marketing. These brands have been squeezing by on Facebook, but now are feeling the wrath of truly engaging brands.

    I tend to use the Super Bowl ad space as an analogy to people. The Super Bowl is a hyper competitive ad space. Only the most engaging brands, with the largest budgets, can succeed advertising during the game. Facebook isn't quite at this level, but this is the type of transition that it's occurring. We're moving from local TV ad competition to Super Bowl ad competition.

    Guess what? Bob & Sally's North Lake Shore Home Gardening Service can't keep up on the Super Bowl's stage, and they're sure as hell going to struggle on Facebook.

  2. Barney Mauleverer says

    I am one such brand owner baffled by FB. I enjoyed this article but are you and Chad saying you have to invest a lot behind it to make it work?

  3. says

    Barney – I think you have to invest a lot of resource, yes. That resource need not necessarily be cash; I think that SMBs can punch above their weight by investing the time to get to know the platform better than the big TV-led brands do. I think Chad would echo this — and I know Dennis would. You're already taking big steps in Content Marketing which puts you ahead of the game.

    The big conceptual error with Facebook is to see your Page as the medium and your Fans as the audience. This is such an ingrained behaviour — and there are so many businesses out there designed to take advantage of this — that it's almost impossible to see beyond it.

    Here are the things to consider:

    1) Your fans are not your audience. If anything they're your content (you can use them to tell stories about your brand) or your channel (you can use them to tell stories about you to their friends). But they're just ONE way of reaching your audience. Your audience is the sum total of your prospective customers. Don't just focus on the ones who want to talk to you.

    2) Your Page is not the medium. The News Feed is your medium. There are lots of ways to get into the News Feed; your Page is only one.

    3) Your posts are not your content. We're trying to move our clients away from a mindset where they "post" in social channels towards one where they "signpost" — i.e. they use their social channels and audiences to drive traffic towards posts that live on sites they own. I'll write more about that here another time.

    Hope this finds you well! The Full English Smoothie was a stroke of genius.

  4. says

    Sorry to nitpick Isn't 60k follows out of 30m customers 0.2%? It makes your client's point much more forcefully.

    I did some work with the UK"s most followed brand on Facebook last year and the problem there as I saw it wasn't a lack of social engagement (lots of people liking another funny bit of branded content), but a lack of social marketing (like offers you can gift to friends, endorsements all the clients customers can see).

    For a great case study check out Zaggora's case study They built a global business selling 550,000 units of $100 fitness wear through social recommendations with near zero marketing budget. It helps that they have an amazing product that users love and want to recommend, but they could not remotely have got this off the ground up against brands with $500m ad budgets without Facebook.

  5. says

    Thank you John. Quite literally a schoolboy error. Amended.

    As I've said elsewhere, fans should never be the goal of social media marketing. Social recommendations, endorsement and proof, as you point out, _are_.

    Fans are one way of achieving this end, but we mustn't be tricked into believing:

    – That fans are our only advocates
    – That our Facebook followers are our only advocates
    – That our Facebook followers are even a good proxy for our fans or advocates

    I don't know the Zaggora case study but note immediately that they've got beautifully implemented social login, social reviews and social sharing on their site. They're using their Facebook presence to signpost content on their store (and it seems to be delivering earned traffic.) It's the perfect owned/earned infrastructure that people like me would like to see in place before paid media activity begins in earnest.

    Facebook ads aren't rocket science, any more than paid search is. But like paid search, it's worth understanding the audience and technology ecosystem before rushing in too fast.

Please tell me what you think.