For several years now the accepted wisdom from marketers across the globe has been that brands need to create pages and accounts on social media platforms to reach as wide an online audience as possible. So millions of pounds have been invested in Facebook pages and Twitter accounts and in the specialist teams that run them.
There is always a danger though that if a brand concentrates most of its marketing energy not on a website that it owns, but a platform that belongs to someone else they are at the mercy of the owner of that supplier.
And now that seems to be the case for brands who have focused their marketing outreach on Facebook. For it appears that the days of brands publishing posts and stories on the platform and organically attracting users and engagement may be coming to an end. Unless they are prepared to support those pages with some advertising.
So, as Mashable put it rather memorably earlier this week, the free lunch for brands on Facebook is over.
This is not something that has happened overnight either. The first clues that Facebook might be tweaking its policy toward brands came at the end of 2013. An article published in influential US website AdAge referenced a sales deck that was sent out to Facebook partners in November 2013. In it the company states plainly: ‘We expect organic distribution of an individual page's posts to gradually decline over time as we continually work to make sure people have a meaningful experience on the site.’
Organic distribution, or organic reach as it is more commonly known is defined by Facebook as ‘the number of unique people who saw your post in News Feed or on your Page, including people who saw it from a story shared by a friend when they liked, commented on or shared your post, answered a question or responded to an event.’
The ongoing decline was confirmed this week by the agency Ogilvy. It suggested that the average reach that brands get for posts on Facebook without putting money behind them has crashed by just shy of 50% since October. This information comes from study this week and is based on 106 Facebook pages it has admin access to for brands around the world.
So what exactly is happening? Facebook has altered its algorithm to ensure that other content, like stories from news organisations, have taken priority in reader’s feeds, ahead of posts from brands.
The cynical view is that Facebook wanted brands on board to help grow its business. Now that business is maturing it doesn't need them as much. Rather it wants their cash. So the bottom line is that if brands want to maintain a strong presence on Facebook they need to cough up for advertising to promote what they are doing.
What then should content marketing agencies and brands need to take from this?
It is interesting to see how many commenters on the articles in Ad Age and Mashable have advocated focusing on other platforms like Pinterest. Yet what is to stop Pinterest from introducing a paid for service for brands at some point in the future?
So is social media becoming less important for brands? Well much depends on the brand, but the growth of content marketing and innovations as the way brands may soon be able to own their own domains suggest that things are slowly changing.
Posted by: CMA