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The Facebook Reach Affair: Who Will Be in Control of the Audience?
Posted on March 12th 2014
It's not an urban legend: the organic reach that a brand gets through a fan-page is collapsing.
Facebook has answered with diverse new features: for instance, the possibility for a Page to tag another page and create a sort of cross-impact through various newsfeeds. But these add-ons do not calm our fears. Brand editors and publishers are starting to become pretty angry at Facebook.
The Kingdom of Pay-to-Earn
In a paper called "Generating business results on Facebook," there's a crystal clear statement from Facebook:
"Recognize that adding fans can provide value to your business up to the point when you’re reaching nearly 100% of your target audience with ads featuring social context."
In other words, you create a fan-base not to "engage" consumers but to generate shared value (bringing informative contents, nice experiences, discounts to relevant people to get their attention) and make your social ads more efficient. Create cattle and feed the cattle, as one might say.
The thing is that even if you have a great strategy, your content is just an asset that needs to be empowered by ads. A lot of businesses were already pretty skeptical with the impact of Facebook, mostly because the custom target audiences are still pretty poor--at least in Europe. It showcases a denial of the investments they've already made; because they considered Facebook as a main channel, for good and bad reasons.
Good, because there were potential critical masses of users on Facebook, which could be crossed with direct marketing databases (Facebook ID matching with email addresses). And bad, because a lot of them followed the hype and considered Facebook as a "solid" vertical publishing platform when actually it's first and foremost a social network.
Rethinking Editorial Strategy and Social Design
The editorial framework now needs to be revamped and my former colleagues at Social@Ogilvy talks about Facebook Zero, which means reassessing a platform-neutral approach. It's a principle which is often right - if we're too dependent on one digital channel, there's a big risk that most of our strategies fail if the digital channel decides to pivot, even slightly.
But it's utterly risky too. As we've explained many times before, what's interesting with Facebook is not using it as a broadcast channel only, but using the social logins out of Facebook to capture data, personalize websites, improve experience. So with this pay-to-earn switch, it also impacts the overall digital ecosystem of brands. What's the point of trying to socialize digital interfaces of brands with Facebook if we then need to pay again Facebook?
A Confusion Between Media Publishers and Brands Promoting Publications
Another strange attitude from Facebook is to fuse brands and media territories. In a pretty cynical approach, Facebook imposes the same rules to an online newspaper and to Coca Cola. So there's a sort of non-discriminative approach between at least the two environments - and it's alarming.
We can have two attitudes about that:
1- Media are brands, so they should act like any brand. I'm not a 100% convinced as most of the objectives of media are first to inform people. Furthermore, as people are going to be informed, they're going to spend more times on the media properties, therefore the media will sell ads to brands because they've created qualified audiences (perfect world, right?). I don't think that imposing Buzzfeed state of the art viral marketing is good for media - most of the reports and coverage are made to give sense to a more complicated world. A good example is when The Guardian starts posting contents about porn or cat. Commentators, then readers start to complain. The readers of specific mass media don't expect the same recipes as on traffic engines.
2- Diversify the levels and pricing depending on which type of organization you are. At the moment, there's a sort of unique value chain for every advertiser. It's not really right; publishers like the New-York Times are highly dependent on the quality of contents they provide to readers. It costs a lot of money to produce a great coverage - you can't compare a stand-up comedian and a Greek tragedy in terms of business models, even if they sometimes share the same social space. It should be the same with Facebook.
The Risk: A Facebook-Advertising Free Content Strategy
A lot of front-page editors are starting to work on Facebook advertising-free strategy - re-creating Facebook "professional" profiles can be an answer if the Page no longer works. If the limit is still up to 4000 friends, for many countries like France or the UK, it's far more than the average amount of "likes" or shares. Other editors could also develop a "boycott" of Facebook features. Even if some might say it's a non-sense, some editors in specific countries already pushed a pressure on another big machine - Google.
Some other medias could try to get rid of Facebook as a way to "log" to a contributors-area, preferring to ask their readers to use a LinkedIn or Google + profile.
The war has just begun...