By Robert Rose published April 17, 2014

For Brands, Facebook Is Now a Content Publisher — Not a Community

facebook-content-publisher-nt-communityIt’s time for marketers to treat Facebook as the publisher it has become.”

Earlier this month, at Content Marketing World Sydney, I made this exact statement in response to a question I received — and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since.

Much has been made of the decline in organic reach for Facebook brand pages. Most recently, EdgeRank Checker published research on April 1 (and it was no joke). Organic reach for most Facebook pages currently hovers around 6.5 percent — down from 17 percent a mere 24 months ago. Some have theorized that this is simply the middle of a longer process — where organic reach will ultimately decline to right around 1 percent. And some (namely Veritasium — a science education media organization) have even suggested that it’s a shell game, where Facebook is double dipping — getting brands to pay for “likes,” and then pay again to reach those fans.

Personally, I see no indication that Facebook’s organic reach decline will stop at 6 percent. And once it’s at (or near) 1 percent, it may as well be 0 percent — the point at which brands must pay for each and every view they get from the “community” they have built. The transformation will then be complete: Facebook will be a fully developed, ad-driven content publisher, with customers who have sunk so much money into building their leased platform that they have no choice but to pay the landlord.

How would this impact content marketing?

I wanted to share more than just my own perspective on the issue, so I reached out to a few experts — including someone who I think is truly at the top of his game when it comes to social and content marketing strategy for enterprises: Jay Baer.

I asked Jay to share what he’s advising his clients to do when it comes to Facebook, and we wound up having a fun and robust email exchange on this topic. Incidentally, Jay is simultaneously publishing our conversation on the Convince&Convert blog — with his own perspective and commentary. So, if you want another angle on this, you should check that out as well.

Our discussion

Our conversation started when I emailed Jay to ask how he was advising clients on the decline of organic reach on Facebook. I (admittedly) totally “led the witness” by coloring the conversation with much of what you read above. The following are highlights from our chat:

Jay Baer: So, the Reachpocalypse post I wrote represents most of my current thinking. But, essentially, yeah we’re getting screwed by Facebook. But, they have a right to screw us, and marketers should have seen it coming.

The way we talk about it with clients is similar to how I talked about it in my post — there are four options to address declining reach on Facebook:

  1. Get better at Facebook by publishing things that are more worthy of attention.
  2. Pay to play.
  3. Get customers and/or employees to carry more of your messaging burden on Facebook.
  4. Start building community elsewhere.

These are the things we are telling clients. Those that have existing, thriving Facebook communities don’t want to give them up and are paying (at least some of the time) for organic reach. Those that were never completely committed to Facebook, or those that are just starting (very often B2B organizations) are very much in the “bring on Google+” camp.

Robert Rose: Agreed, and we’re saying similar things to our CMI clients — perhaps with a bit more emphasis on your fourth strategy. But I’m actually not convinced that Facebook hasn’t backed itself into a corner here. Many of my Wall Street friends and clients really doubt future growth without acquisition. That feeds right into a quote from your excellent blog post where you say, “If you think they aren’t going to eventually pull the EXACT same move on Instagram you are naïve.”

Jay: Indeed, there is a difference between future growth and future usage. Future growth is going to be a problem, if for no other reason than Facebook is almost universally used now. Where does Facebook’s growth come from? Convincing Amish to give it a try? When you’re at 60 percent+ penetration and your average user logs on for 30 minutes a day, you don’t have a lot of room to grow organically, other than acquisition. So, what they have to do is better monetize their existing user base, and get financial growth (if not user base growth) from that. Thus, the Reachpocalypse. They are trying to dramatically boost revenue per active member, and so far it’s working. I’m not sure for how long it can last though.

Robert: Exactly right. The question is for how long? That really brings into play how much money we, as marketers, should chase down the Facebook rabbit hole.

Jay: It all depends on whether there is eventually a backlash against promoted posts/native advertising. The integration of advertising and content works for Google search because on Google search you are actively seeking information/resources so the ads are almost inherently useful. It’s a different psychology on Facebook. People aren’t using Facebook at all times to find products or services. Sometimes, sure; but not all the time. That’s why I think they are actually smart to make it harder to succeed with inferior content on their platform, with moves like increasing ad prices, the 20 percent text rule, and Reachpocalypse. These moves favor bigger/smarter companies that might more often actually create ads that people like/want to see.

It’s counter-intuitive, and perhaps not infinitely scalable, but it’s the online version of the cheesy infomercial vs. savvy product placement juxtaposition you see on cable TV. Hyundai inserts its brand into The Walking Dead and it’s smart and tolerated. ShamWow less so, and it’s relegated to the insomnia time block.

Robert: I think you’ve got the key there: It’s now an ad play, not a social play. [Facebook has] backed itself into the content publisher corner — where the idea is to get ads in front of eyeballs (native or otherwise). That puts it squarely in competition with other publishers doing the same — and with no better (in fact in some cases worse) qualitative reach. Ultimately, it’s a race to the bottom from a margin standpoint (not to mention a quality standpoint). And, meanwhile, it is disenfranchising the very smart brand content providers it is trying to leverage. So, Hyundai now moves money to The Walking Dead, and ShamWow then moves money (temporarily) to Facebook.

So, in the short term, Facebook is a great place for me to put ads to pull people back into my owned media properties (promoting content or otherwise). Over the long term, Facebook becomes like regional TV — where local car dealers fight it out with Devry Institute in covering hyper-local DMAs.

To me, the whole thing could have been avoided if Facebook had only made the “like” really worth something. You know, limited it in some way (e.g., gave a quota of “likes” for brand pages). By doing that, it could have made “likes” a currency — and sold that to brands. Instead, the only way for it to make money now is to extract higher revenue per-subscriber.

Jay: Yes, the Facebook-as-a-content-publisher concept is very interesting. It’s a known business model leap. Look at YouTube going hard into the original content game. Or Amazon, for that matter. However, I’m not sure Facebook sees its competition as other publishers, especially online. I think it sees its competition as broadcast and spot TV: Nothing but TV has Facebook’s reach. That’s why the video ads on Facebook will be so critical, and aren’t getting talked about enough.

A continuing saga

Ultimately, there are no doubts that Facebook wants to be the default of where users go online: Zuckerberg himself has said as much, asserting that he wants to create “a dial tone for the internet.” As Jay, himself, very appropriately pointed out on his blog, this is one of the drivers of the WhatsApp acquisition. Facebook, as he says, is really more like a telco provider than a social platform.

From my perspective, it may also very well be what Facebook has in mind for the Occulus VR acquisition. Basically the company wants any interface that connects people online to be behind a Facebook-branded door.

The immediate question for any brand starting a Facebook page is, “How will it help you build an audience you can reach?” I suspect the answer may now lie only in advertising.  And, for any brand that already has a Facebook page, I believe the question over the next year or two will be, “What’s the switching cost?” Yup, it’s getting more and more like a telephone company every day.

TrainingCTA2B

Cover image via Bigstock

Author: Robert Rose

As the Chief Strategist at the Content Marketing Institute, Robert Rose leads the client advisory, education and technology practices for the organization. As a recognized expert in content marketing strategy, digital media and the social Web, Robert has helped large companies such as AT&T, KPMG, PTC, Petco and Nissan tell their story more effectively through the Web. Robert's book with Joe Pulizzi Managing Content Marketing is recognized as the "owner's manual" for deploying a content marketing process. In addition to CMI, Robert is also a Senior Contributing Analyst with the Digital Clarity Group, and the Chief Troublemaker for Big Blue Moose. In addition, Robert is an instructor for the Content Marketing Institute Online Training and Certification program. Follow him on Twitter at @Robert_Rose.

Other posts by Robert Rose

  • http://tresnicmedia.com/ Tresnic Media

    Great conversation here, gentlemen.

    I think if we can wipe our memories that Facebook had a free reach at one point, and look at it as a paid platform to target your ads so specifically to your audience (whether for content amplification, customer acquisition, etc.), then it’s still a very useful tool for businesses.

    • http://www.adaptivemarketer.com Robert Rose

      Totally agree… and thanks for that…. This is the real key. I’ve heard quite a few success stories on FB Ads and driving engagement to other owned properties. Paid embedded posts may be another method too. The difference is where you’re pointing them to.

  • http://clarkkentslunchbox.com/ Clark_Kents_Lunchbox

    And now Google+ has +Post ads… I think brands need to really need to plan for budget their future ad dollars to get their message visible on the social networks, Facebook or otherwise. Brands will have to do this if they want to be seen where the eyeballs are at. Social media is, well, media and it’s beginning to come full circle just as radio and TV once did.

    • http://www.adaptivemarketer.com Robert Rose

      Great point…. It’s definitely time to walk into social platforms with our eyes open… As Jay said we *should have* seen this coming. Having said that, I think FB changed the rules a little bit – but once bitten….

  • carrie

    Good point! At Social Media Link we’re activating consumer influencers on behalf of brands – they’re carrying the message to FB!

    • http://www.adaptivemarketer.com Robert Rose

      I’ve heard this as well Carrie…. I’ve also seen (personally) and heard some conversations the larger Madison avenue agencies are having with FB… There are, assuredly, larger conversations happening. But in the mean time, marketers have to move forward….

  • Lou Covey

    Excellent points. What marketers don’t seem to understand is that is is very easy for FB users to block their content when they fail to be relevant. That’s the primary reason organic reach dies. Footwasher Media has never paid for reach, yet our organic reach continues to rise by an average of 6 percent each quarter. We have built a very small but directed community.

  • Joy White

    So, where do we go? With Google now sponsoring advertisements how far behind will it be from Facebook?

    • http://www.adaptivemarketer.com Robert Rose

      Joy….

      I’m not sure to be honest. What I do know – is where the brand owns the relationship with the audience I’ve seen the most success… I think with Google+ there will be a different, but related, challenge. Some of the things I hear about with G+ – including some of the models for shared content they are considering are VERY interesting. But I think the key is now we go in with eyes open. FWIW – I hear very good things about FB advertising….

      • michael weiss

        FB advertising in the end costs a lot if you want to get any kind of reach. At least that what we are seeing.

  • michael weiss

    Nice piece by two nice guys! Zero Organic is already happening for us. We pulled a lot of FB ads. Using Criteo for most of our FB impressions. Thoughts?

    • http://www.adaptivemarketer.com Robert Rose

      Awww aren’t you sweet…. Hey – are your ads pointing people back to an “owned platform” (e.g. the website) or are they paid ads to get people to like the brand page or promoted posts?

      • michael weiss

        All retargeting ads point to a PDP (product detail page) on the website. If we ran a FB ad or sponsored post it would point to either a category page (Guitars), brand page (Fender) or a PDP. Sometimes, very rarely, we would push them to our blog.

  • http://magentoexpert.info Magento Expert

    Great topic to discuss, Now a day people use Facebook as a part of life, for publish or share anything new and whatever they want to publish. Its become one of the best market place in compare of other way.

  • http://www.ericwilbanks.com Eric Wilbanks

    Good article! I’ve been telling people that Facebook IS the new TV (for “viewers” & “advertisers” alike): “This is the line-up. If you don’t like what we’re airing, tough.” Just another reminder that everything old is new again.

    • http://www.adaptivemarketer.com Robert Rose

      Thanks Eric…. I appreciate that…. Yup – that’s a good analogy…. And it will be interesting to me to see if FB actually does start to invest in some original (and exclusive) programming to “complete” and keep those eyeballs coming back…

  • Sara Lee

    Great Post! I have found another related article too in the link below:

    http://technology-vibe.com/blog/popular-contents-shared-facebook/

    Thanks