Facebook is a Pay-to-Play Marketing Channel, So Play Wisely


FACEBOOK CHANGED ITS ALGORITHM... WHAT ELSE IS NEW?

I've been placing ads on Facebook - with all kinds of budgets and diverse objectives - since 2006.

Over the years, I've seen Facebook's UI, sales organization and ad units evolve. Some changes have been good; others, not so much. The only thing consistent about Facebook is that it is always changing.

With approximately 1.2 billion monthly active users and a plethora of activity happening on News Feeds all over the world, Facebook is a powerful marketing channel that has become a key strategic element for most mass brands.

Unlike other popular social media sites offering advertising, Facebook has both the scale and the technology necessary to properly serve its two symbiotic customers: advertisers and end users.

Facebook may have two "masters," but one thing is for sure: If end users aren't happy, Facebook cannot offer much to advertisers. Facebook has been able to strike a balance that keeps both parties relatively happy by creating an algorithm that prevents customers from being overwhelmed, while offering unique ad units that feel less like traditional digital ads (i.e. native in-feed ads).

In order for the primary experience to be a fantastic one, we (all end users) cannot be forced to experience more advertising than we can handle.
 

FACEBOOK DOESN'T HAVE A CHOICE

Facebook is not a charity; it never was and it never will be. 

Beyond the fact that Facebook makes money from advertising (at least until it finds another business model through crazy bet like the Metaverse), Facebook does not want us all to see Facebook Page posts (or ads) 24/7 on our feeds. 

If Facebook just unpersonalized the News Feed and abandon the whole idea of EdgeRank, we would stop seeing posts by our friends and we'd be bombarded by a plethora of posts by Marc CubanEat24 (which ironically uses Facebook comments on the blog post in whichthey allegedly break up with Facebook), and five thousand other Facebook pages we somehow "Liked" at some point. If that happened, well, we'd probably all hate Facebook. We'd hate its guts and we'd take our clicks and "likes" elsewhere.

And if we all fled, then what advertiser in their right mind would want to spend a nickel in there? Just ask MySpace. 

So what is a mass brand to do as 1.2 billion people further connect to more people on Facebook, and more and more companies and organizations compete for attention on News Feeds?

Assuming a brand has the right strategy and the right infrastructure (i.e. team, processes, technology), a brand must also have an evergreen approach to social spending.
 

OWNED + PAID + EARNED

Big brands have established themselves on Facebook for several years now, and many of them are now committed to their presence on Facebook. These brands are now well accustomed to investing time and resources into Facebook - from technology and strategy, to in-house teams and agency support.

Everyone in the marketing and advertising industries now acknowledges the importance of leveraging owned, paid and earned media.

However, there is still some discomfort with the fact that Facebook is a walled gardened platform in which brands are increasingly required to invest ad dollars not only to target potential customers, but also to reach those existing "fans" that brands have been amassing over time. The discomfort, based on gut feelings instead of actual historical data, is misguided. While a brand may strategically opt to avoid the "paid" aspect of Facebook (and there is a case for that), it makes little sense to have an issue with Facebook's business model and approach to serving both end users and advertisers.

It is not hard to find mass brand posts with a few dozen / hundred / thousand "likes" and "comments" - despite having millions of fans on their pages. It is much harder to find truly viral content on Facebook - and that is a good thing, for the user, for the brand (what doesn't kill you makes you stronger), and the ecosystem. Marketers will complain, but the fact is that most content going viral on Facebook at any given time probably didn't even originate on a Facebook post. Most brand content is not very good, and that means the really good content suffers for it - the algorithm simply tries to ensure end users don't realize just how bad some of the bad content can be.

If it were up to brands, all media would be "earned," all value would be "owned," and absolutely nothing would be "paid."

But that's just crazy talk. You can't reach 1.2 billion people on Earth without paying for it. Instead of fighting the complexity, marketers at mass brands should be focused on leveraging Facebook better than competitors - not only in terms of the customer experience, the message and the creative, but also in terms of on-going optimization, and on-going evergreen spending.
 

TO GET SCALE, YOU NEED TO PAY TO PLAY

On a marketing channel with huge scale (like Facebook), brands should be OK to pay to play, regardless of where they fall in the content value spectrum:

1) If your message / content is poor (aka, "crappy"), then you should certainly pay to reach an audience. Nobody wants to see or engage with crappy content, and therefore Facebook doesn't want to show it to anyone. Yes, it would be nice for everyone in California to organically learn about that promotion you have available there over the weekend, but if nobody cares then nobody will share and that means almost nobody will end up seeing it.

2) If your message / content is fantastic, then you should also pay to reach an audience because your competitors (including direct competitors, indirect competitors, publishers like BuzzFeed and UpWorthy, and the next Justin Bieber) will surely be paying as well. Remember radio, magazines, and television? You pay to reach an audience. Amplifying the best content means it will go further than it would've otherwise, and in some cases, that may be difference between achieving an objective (whether that is creating awareness, increasing preference or driving a specific conversion like app installs).

Brands don't have a choice either and if there is no choice, then brands might as well be wise about how they spend on Facebook. At a high level, an evergreen approach is a more complicated approach, but it is also a wiser one as it requires understanding about the past, the present and the potential future.

Now, having an evergreen approach doesn't necessarily mean you are blindly consistent (i.e. advertising $10,000 a week for 6 months). It also doesn't mean that you have an on-this-week, off-next-week flighting schedule that is planned months in advance as it it were a set-in-stone upfront. You're on the Internet, and that means the limitations of old media no longer apply.

An evergreen approach means that you consider Facebook an on-going, always-on, pulsing advertising medium in which there is spending throughout the year, with some periods of notably higher spending - based not only on milestones like product launches, but also on historical data and a real-time context.

It means those spending decisions are optimized based on the performance of "owned" and "earned" within a moment's notice. An evergreen approach means being ready to take advantage of opportunities while also ensuring that the brand is consistently top of mind.
 

NOW WHAT?

Relevant content and meaningful engagement are more powerful with wise spending. Large brands who have been spending widely on Facebook from its early days have benefitted greatly, not only in building audiences but also in keeping them. 

Sometimes you will pay a premium to get traction, and other times you will pay less than others by creating unique, memorable, shareable experiences. Over time, optimizations should balance the effects of changes in the algorithm and pricing structures. Knowing what works and when on Facebook is up to each brand to determine. Being able to leverage available spending during important periods or ad-hoc opportunities, while also consistently spending even low amounts throughout the year, can prove to be fruitful. 

Instead of blindly buying social ads because everyone's doing it, test your beliefs. Instead of being biased against all things Facebook, validate your hypothesis.

Facebook is one of the most powerful marketing channels on Earth now, and its algorithm will continue to evolve to try to keep everyone happy; a task that is easier said than done.

Being such an important marketing platform means that Facebook is most definitely a Pay-To-Play marketing channel. There is no doubt about that.

The question is... How well will you play the game?

 

ps. For a few more thoughts on this and other similar topics, check out this week's "The BeanCast" podcast, "Episode #297: Gone Catfishing."

Copyright © Esteban Contreras. All rights reserved.