Will Facebook's News Feed restrictions shackle brands?

(Courtesy Jason Ilagan via Flickr)
(Courtesy Jason Ilagan via Flickr)

Industry roundtable: What does Facebook's plan to throttle back promotional Pages searches mean to the advertising industry? Campaign asked four industry insiders -- Rob Norman, Cristin Jordan, Joe McCaffrey and Irfan Kamal -- for their views of the new social landscape

It is no secret that Facebook's organic reach has been declining. In its younger years, the 10-year-old social network encouraged marketers to make their marketing social, enlisting likes and followers. But over the past couple of years Facebook has shifted its communications to focus on the value it delivers through targeted reach.

Despite this gradual shift and plenty of reports showing the decline in organic reach along the way Facebook's news that it plans to change its algorithm to remove the number of overly promotional Pages posts seen in users’ News Feeds, has still caused quite a stir in the industry.

Facebook, which maintain a careful balancing act to keep its users, advertisers and (more recently) shareholders happy, claims the move will help it ensure the News Feed is relevant, personal and useful for its users.

Carolyn Everson, VP global marketing solutions, Facebook, told Campaign that while organic reach is declining due to the sheer volume of people and content on the site, brands can still "break out" when their creative resonates, naming Burberry and John Lewis as two recent examples.

"Our job is to give marketers the tools and the confidence that when they create content people love, the platform will take that signal from people and surface their content to a much greater audience," she said.

"And we don’t want marketers spending a dollar with us unless it drives real business results for them," she said. 

Since marketers have been getting used to the idea that they have to pay up for their content to reach users, is last week's announcement really all that discouraging? Or does it spell the end of organic search on the social networking site?

Rob Norman, chief digital officer global, GroupM

Rob Norman

So now we know. It's never been truer that the media you earn is a function of the media you own or a dividend, large or small, on the media you pay for. Facebook has made that clear. Pay the freight or create.

The question the latest algorithmic throttling asks is this: "What is creative?" On one dimension anything that the consumer finds useful enough to use or share is creative and in my view – and I suspect it’s a view that's shared by brand owners – is that there are promotional activities that people who have self-identified as your fans or friends do want to use or share.

In those cases, I believe that Facebook is doing its users and clients a disservice by taxing the advertiser for creating value for Facebook's own users.

What makes the tale more curious is that Facebook knows what its users respond to and what they ignore.

They could have sent a message to their one and only source of revenue that they had to raise the bar of organic posts if they had expectations of their own camel passing through the eye of the algorithmic needle.

As a consequence no "friend" of GroupM will know we have a 50 percent off sale on Super Bowl spots. ... unless we pay to tell them.

Cristin Jordan, vice president, social content, DigitasLBi

Cristin Jordan

I'm not surprised at all that Facebook made this algorithm change, but I'm certain that it isn't to punish brands for bad content. Rather as these channels mature, they need to support their business model. Just like any other digital channel with advertising, brands who want to be a part of the conversation are going to have to foot the bill.

That said, this is a good way of pushing brands to consider content that goes beyond promotional in the social space. Too many brands have moved into social with the same mindset that they bring to other channels – as just another medium to broadcast their message instead of having a true dialogue with consumers. Facebook is remaining true to the original intent of their platform – if you want to reach fans in the news feed for free, you need compelling content.

Does this mean that brands need to stop creating promotional content on Facebook? No. But should they stop to be more successful? Yes. Either way, all brands should plan and budget for paid, not just organic, content on Facebook in order to get the reach that they want.

Joe McCaffrey, planning director and head of social, Huge

Joe McCaffery

"Admitting" the continued decline of organic potential on the platform is probably a stretch, but as long as there are shareholders, there will be a growing emphasis on ad revenue. With that said, we are shifting our strategies for how we use Facebook to best align with the most current set of strengths and weaknesses of the channel.

In the past, many brands have made significant investments in amassing large followings on Facebook, treating it as an owned channel. With the organic reach of the larger communities down in the single digits, it has been made very clear that brands need to pay rent to the landlord if they want their content to reach users.

With Facebook being at the center of many brands' social marketing strategies, a lot of time and effort can be wasted attempting to stir up organic engagement, now a losing battle.

As Facebook increasingly resembles a more traditional media channel, marketers need to start treating it as such if we are going to play there. We need to take advantage of the targeting opportunities and the scale provided by the world's largest social network.

We should be smarter about how we use data to identify the most appropriate audience and reach them with the most effective message at the right times. We need to test these efforts and optimize in realtime. And, we need to reevaluate KPI's and what success looks like on the channel today.

Irfan Kamal, SVP and global head, analytics, products and partners, Social@Ogilvy

Look, word of mouth has been around for as long as we’ve been around as a civilization ("Just got back from Andy’s cave. You have to see his crazy sticks of warmth and light!").

People still love to share what’s relevant and interesting, and they will continue to find ways to do so regardless of changes in a specific platform. We must work harder to create and enable conversations and content that people want to share everywhere.

We’ll do this by improving our audience understanding through social listening, web and mobile data. We’ll keep tabs, identifying opportunities to co-create amazing content and experiences with people around unchanging passions and in-the-now moments.

And we’ll reduce clutter by amplifying this content to the right people, using data-informed targeted paid social/display and CRM.

It may be the end of organic reach on Facebook, but it’s just the beginning for smarter marketing.

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