Is social media becoming less important for brands?

Posted by: CMA

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?

  1. Brands and agencies need to work out how integral Facebook is to their online marketing strategy
    From a content perspective Facebook has been very useful for both agencies and brands in giving them a place to share updates. However now might be the time to start asking difficult questions. Exactly how useful is Facebook? Does it offer genuine ROI?

    The answer to these questions may largely be determined by what exactly brands use their Facebook pages for. If they create dedicated content for the platform then it may make perfect sense to continue to develop their pages - after all the advertising is comparatively inexpensive. Also to not continue on Facebook is to write off a potentially large audience and a lot of time and money that has already been invested in the platform.  If however brands mainly use Facebook to syndicate content that is housed elsewhere now could be the time for some interesting discussions.

  2. There may be better ways of distributing content than Facebook - From a content marketing perspective, are there more efficient ways of connecting a brands stories to users. Might this money better spent on other social platforms? Are content distribution services like those offered by Outbrain and others a more cost-effective way of attracting appropriate readers to stories?

    Ultimately then can brands successfully promote their content without having to engage with the world’s largest social network? The answer to the above questions can only be supplied by the individual brands as what will work for some companies won’t necessarily work for others. Now though is the time to start asking these questions.

  3. Brands can never completely rely on someone else’s platform
    There are examples of publishers who built huge empires by second guessing Google and perfecting SEO techniques. However when the search engine changed its algorithms few years back, they saw a collapse in both traffic and revenue. The same is true of social media. To build a marketing strategy wholly based on social platforms has to be a dumb move. Savvy marketers have always maintained that quality content on an owned platform, like a website or blog, is the optimum way for brands and that social media platforms should be used to distribute content not to house it. Then at the very least the brand has total control over what it says and how its stories are distributed.

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

Posted in CMA blog
11thMar 2014

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