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Is Facebook Still Worth it For Brands?

Contributor Joel Klettke explores whether you should jump ship or adapt your strategy.

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Facebook has tumbled into hot water as of late, especially with businesses trying to win audiences on the platform.

From small businesses to major brands, nobody seems to be entirely happy with the way Facebook has seemingly turned against them.

If you’re among them, rest assured you are in good company: More than 30 million small businesses (as of June) hang out on the platform, a 5 million increase over November of 2013. There have been several public breakups as of late, from Eat24’s hilarious breakup letter to the social platform and Rainn Wilson’s popular tweet to GM shutting down its $10 million advertising budget.

Rainn Wilson Tweet on Facebook

And then there’s the hugely popular anti-Facebook video put together by Veritasium alleging that the entire company is built on click fraud and that most of those profiles “liking” pages are bots or overseas spammers with no actual interest in the business.


Recent counts put the number of fake profiles at an astonishing 83 million.

things seem to be getting uglier.

The most recent development is November 5th’s ban on like-gating: The practice of forcing a customer to like your page in order to receive the content on the other side. This is only a drop in the puddle, and most marketers actually approve of the change, saying it’ll force businesses to engage in less “anti-social” behaviors and be more authentic.

But then, what’s their incentive to do so?

Reaching legitimate customers is only getting tougher and more expensive.

In March of this year, TIME Magazine reported that companies were now reaching just 6 percent of their fans on average, which is shocking enough on its own, but made even more startling by the fact that that is a 100 percent drop from just five months earlier in October of 2013.

Peek back to February of 2012, and numbers were still awful, but not quite as bad. In that year, a brand’s post still reached about 16 percent of their fan base. The future is equally grim—Valleywag predicts that reach will eventually be dialed down to as low as 1 or 2 percent.

That may not seem bad if you have millions of fans. but for the small business with just a few hundred, it’s devastating.

Keep in mind: These are people who went out of their way to like and express interest in receiving that brand’s content.

Even consultants are split on whether or not it’s time to call it a day on Facebook or soldier on undaunted.

WhY is Facebook Page Reach Falling so hard?

Well for starters, remember those 30 million businesses I mentioned? That means competition has gone through the roof, with more brands and advertisers vying for the limited attention span of a very finite audience.

This huge growth in business involvement has led to unprecedented levels of content being created and promoted every day, all trying to infiltrate a teeny, tiny newsfeed. Even before things got really hairy, Facebook announced that some 7.5 million promoted posts had been launched between June 2012 and May 2013.

Facebook is trying to do a good thing by limiting exposure: They’re trying to show customers what is MOST important, popular and engaging—or, what’s making them the most money. There’s a heavy dose of paid advertising sprinkled in along the way.

But for every one page they show, another must fall out of the feed. It’s a bit of a good cop/bad cop scenario for the social giant. According to a TechCrunch interview with Facebook:

“Facebook says that an average user might have 1500 posts eligible to appear in their feed each day, but if someone has lots of friends and Likes lots of Pages, that number could balloon to 15,000.”

To try and conquer this behemoth, facebook launched a big ol’ algorithm.

EdgeRank is gone—the company doesn’t use the phrase internally at all. Instead, Facebook’s nameless algorithm calculates some 100,000 factors to determine what users ought to be seeing.

That’s a mind-boggling amount of factors, but Will Cathcart, Facebook’s News Feed Director of Product Management, shared his list of the most important:

  • How popular (Liked, commented on, shared, clicked) are the post creator’s past posts with everyone?
  • How popular is this post with everyone who has already seen it?
  • How popular have the post creator’s past posts been with the viewer?
  • Does the type of post (status update, photo, video, link) match what types have been popular with the viewer in the past?
  • How recently was the post published?

Of course, it’s not so simple, but knowing where to start is a good foot forward for brands still wanting to make a go of things.

Facebook Ads still carry some clout. 

Given the huge upswing in advertisers, it should come as no surprise that Facebook advertising’s cost-per-thousand impressions was increased by more than 140 percent in 2013, while the average cost-per-click was bumped up just shy of 25 percent.

But despite all that, users still saw an increase of 40 percent in the number of ads they saw (great for advertisers) and the average global click-through rate increased by 160 percent in Q1 of 2014 as compared to 2013. Oh, and in 2013, mobile CTR was a hefty 1.56 percent—nearly 500 percent better than ads on the whole.

Maybe there’s still something to this whole advertising on Facebook thing.

Is it worth sticking around?

As an advertising platform? You bet.

No other platform allows you to get so granular with who you target, and an audience of over a billion is not one you want to ignore. If you look at Facebook like a paid channel, there’s still plenty of milk in the ol’ farm cow.

You can still make good use of Facebook’s precision targeting and relatively affordable ad rates to drive people to other channels where they’re easier to reach and retain—from email lists to rivals Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat and more.

Dan Levy, Facebook’s director of small business, has gone on the record to say that in today’s world, ads are truly the way for “brands to get the predictable reach that they want.”

It’s a tough pill to swallow and the free ride is certainly over, but it solves the problem.

But what about business pages?

With organic reach numbers dropping to almost zero, an algorithm weeding out your content and Facebook demanding you pay up to reach our fans, businesses are left with a tough decision to make: Should we pack our bags and leave?

Here’s the frustrating answer: It’s up to you to make that call based on whether or not you’re willing to play ball and what your returns look like.

If you aren’t getting any engagement and if your ad spend is drying up without converting while other channels are thriving, you’d be a fool to continue. If you can’t justify your investment based on your returns and you’ve implemented an evolved strategy without any success, then it’s time to move on.

No matter what, businesses who want to succeed on Facebook must now  grapple with two unchanging realities:

1. You will need to pony up to reach your fans, just like any other marketing channel, and
2. You will need to continue to adapt in order to survive.

How Can Brands Adapt?

There are four key things I think brands can do to keep their success on Facebook coming:

Incentivize engagement

If you want Facebook to be where your fans come to find you, make it worth their while. Consider offering Facebook-only deals that invite people to check in on their own, unprompted. You could also consider exclusive coupons, a referral program, or recurring and predictable contests that your audience will know to look for and take part in.

Cross-Promote

Mix your marketing channels together for optimal success. For example, promote Facebook contests and events on your home page, tweet out Facebook URLs on Twitter and even make your Facebook known through Snapchat or email lists, if you use those things.

Keep in mind that many of your fans are cross-platform, too! That empowers you to use Facebook for what it is best at instead of forcing it to be your one-and-only solution.

Feed the community 

Combined with cross-promotion, this can be powerful. Treat Facebook like an open forum for discussion, and show you will respond and seek out customer opinions there, not just post your latest blog.

If you want community involvement, ask for it, and make it possible. Community-facing content like discussions, feedback forms or even “featured customer of the month” to keep people coming back. Celebrate the community and make them feel as though they are a part of something special.

cut down your content

We know that Google looks at your posting history and engagement history to determine your visibility, so posting everything and anything to your page is likely to wind you up in no man’s land. Spread out your posts (maybe one to three times per day) and only share your best stuff to avoid diluting your metrics.

Optimize posts for Facebook

Give your content the best chance for success by leveraging the lessons others have learned about what works on the platform. Posts with photos get an average 39 percent higher interaction, short posts tend to do better than long ones, emoticons increase comments and there are a myriad of compelling headline formulas you can borrow from to pique people’s interest (don’t bait and switch, and start with your audience first, not the headline).

Just make sure it’s all on brand.

Pay, Measure, Evaluate

Don’t pay to promote just anything. Test promoting different types of content, gauge which performed the best and then follow the same pattern over, and over, and over. Reinventing the wheel and getting cute with your marketing will only end up costing you more money.

It Ain’t Dead—but it ain’t what it used to be.

The free ride has been over for a long time now. It ain’t coming back.

If you want to compete on Facebook, there’s no getting around the fact that you’re going to need to pay some cash to promote or buy ads. But, if the returns are there and the community is tuned in, what’s a few bucks spent for a few more earned?

I guess that’s just marketing, and there’s no such thing as free lunch.

4 responses to “Is Facebook Still Worth it For Brands?”

  1. Joe Pack says:

    Hi Joel,

    I really enjoyed your post.

    I am on the side of Facebook paid ads to be honest. I think if you’re smart with them and use them to drive action then you’re going to do very well.

    The problem I see happening is that a lot of small businesses may jump on the bandwagon of paid ads without any real consideration of the dangers (as with any paid channel) and end up causing themselves real problems.

    Yes, I am annoyed that organic reach (can be, but not always) has become very very low but in my opinion Facebook redeems itself by creating one of the best ad platforms of the digital era.

    • Joel K says:

      Thanks, Joe!
      I think the paid ads platform has a ton of opportunity and leverage when it’s used right, and I think it’s well worth the investment for brands who want really, really targeted advertising.

    • Zach Etten says:

      Thanks for sharing. I think a lot of this comes back to being diligent about measuring the ROI you get from every marketing channel. While there isn’t a direct cost to posting organically on Facebook, there is a large time commitment (cost). ROI is not a set-it-and-forget-it type of calculation and since Facebook’s organic returns have diminished dramatically, it may be time to re-evaluate the ROI you’re seeing from that channel.

      As for Facebook Ads, I agree with Joe that Facebook is one of the greatest ad platforms available and agree with you that it’s “worth the investment for brands who want really, really targeted advertising.” I don’t know of any brands that don’t want that.

  2. ronellsmith says:

    As a platform for paid media, yes, I can see it. Otherwise, I’d be very reluctant to tell any business they should be on Facebook, especially when you consider the limited resources of small and midsize businesses. Their efforts are likely better spent elsewhere.

    What gets me is even SMBs who do a good job of interacting, engaging and sharing content on Facebook aren’t going to see an ROI commensurate with the time and energy devoted to the platform. Are there exceptions? Yes. But they serve to prove the rule, in my opinion.

    As you assert, however, Facebook can be an amazing tool for social listening and learning what products/services a target audience is likely to respond to and pay for. The groups on Facebook are a treasure trove of information, a fact I use to me advantage during audience assessments.

    I find it interesting that some of Facebook’s formerly staunchest supporters are now cool to the brand, owing mainly to the changes related to brand reach. But if you look at what experts like Brian Solis and others have said for years, none of this is all that surprising, given that customers don’t visit Facebook for interacting with brands. They visit Facebook to see baby pictures and catch up with family and friends.

    That more of us aren’t telling businesses to begin looking elsewhere is disheartening.

    Great post, as usual, my friend.

    RS