Why Facebook is Ruining its own Marketing Capabilities

Since the controversial release of its IPO, Facebook has made news headlines weekly. Questions of its ability to make revenue, the release of additional shares, and the call for Mark Zuckerberg to leave as CEO are just a few of the headlines the social network has endured since May. Through it all, Facebook’s stock price continues to drop.

Investors and the media continuously criticize the social network for its revenue model. Some say its mobile offerings aren’t there, that its advertising isn’t effective, and that it’s simply an online trend. In response, Facebook has increased its advertising offerings. Earlier this year, it released the “Reach Generator”, which raises the frequency of a brand’s Page posts to increase the likelihood users will see the posts. The Reach Generator was developed because a study showed an average Facebook post only reaches 15% of users who like that Page on Facebook. Facebook has also introduced the ability for brands to place a Page post into the newsfeed of user’s who don’t yet Like their Page. The post displays as a normal Page post with the word “Sponsored” at the end. Facebook ad unit sizes were also decreased in the Spring, allowing for more ad units to fit on a page.

Perhaps the largest change from Facebook has been its mobile app advertising. To ease investors’ concerns that Facebook traffic was increasing on mobile phone and decreasing on desktops, Facebook finally released ad products on its mobile app. Several ad products now display is users’ mobile newsfeeds. Sponsored Stories display just a few scrolls down the screen. Sponsored page posts are intertwined with organic newsfeed posts. Posts showing what pages a friend on Facebook has recently liked are mixed within organic posts as well. The change has been swift, and the frequency of these posts has been high.

 

From an investor and brand standpoint, the changes are great. There are now many more ways to reach Facebook users. From a marketer standpoint, the changes are not so pleasant.

The products and strategies that Facebook has released lose sight of what Facebook is and what it truly can do for brands. We know that advertising is effective. It makes consumers recognize brands, it gets consumers out to retailers, and it makes consumers do what brands what consumers to do- buy their product or service. Social media, however, can be even more effective than traditional advertising. Social media is about content. It is about talking with consumers in real time. It is about breaking the corporate barrier between company and consumer. It is about involving consumers in decisions, product releases, promotions, and sales. It is about becoming a conversion with consumers.

Facebook’s new advertising offers take away everything that is social media. Sure, they’re tied into posts. They’re intertwined with organic content. They help brands receive Likes for their Pages. What they don’t do is create conversational content. They create the barrier traditional advertising creates. They speak to the consumer rather than speak with the consumer.

Another key problem with the new offerings is their placement. Facebook’s new ad products make users recognize the ads as ads.  Their placement in specific places helps create viewer blindness. For example, users know that if they scroll down a few posts on their phone, they’ll see Sponsored Stories. Knowing this area is dedicated to ads, users might skip the area altogether even if it is a brand they might be interested in. Ad location should be sporadic and mixed in with organic content to help ease this blindness.

The main problem with Facebook’s new advertising offers is frequency. Users’ newsfeeds are becoming full of advertising, taking over organic content and posts by users’ friends and families. It has almost become overwhelming. What Facebook (and brands) need to understand is that consumers can only engage with so many items at once. If there are ten brands clamoring for a user’s attention at one time, do you think the user is going to engage with all of them? No. This is especially true on mobile phones. The screen is only so large, and if there are five sponsored ads out of ten stories a user is willing to scroll through, do you think the consumer is happy? No.

Some of these frequency problems aren’t just from paid advertising. It’s also organic content by brands. Some brands post multiple times per day, hoping to increase the chances a user will see their content. They do this because they are unable or willing to use Facebook’s “Reach Generator”. Some brands even use both tactics. A warning to brands here: users are seeing your content. In fact, they’re seeing it so much that they’re either ignoring it or removing you from their newsfeed. The end result means consumers no longer see your content in their newsfeeds at all.

What can Facebook do to make their marketing capabilities more effective?

To be truly effective, Facebook needs to rethink advertising. They must focus on organic posts by brands. These organic posts are what social media is all about- removing the corporate barrier between the company and the consumer. Current offerings try to do this, but they are too predictable, especially when placed in the same areas on the site.

To ease the likelihood that users are becoming fatigued from a specific brand, Facebook also needs to provide brands the ability to cap the frequency of their posts to each user. This would decrease the likelihood that users become immune to and aggravated at brands posting too often.

A very liberal idea would be to shake up the entire core of Facebook. Facebook needs revenues. That’s without a question. To truly make posts “organic” Facebook could completely revamp the way we think of social media advertising. For one, it could require brand pages to pay for a brand page. The monthly cost could depend on the number of features and capabilities the brand wanted. Alternatively, they could offer brand pages for free, but require brands to pay for posting over a certain number of times per week. For those going over this number, different pricing models could be made based on how many times per week a brand wished to post. This would help ease the amount of posts users see in their newsfeeds and hopefully increase engagement with consumers. Since all brand postings would be paid for, they wouldn’t require a “Sponsored” logo at the end of the post, making them seem more organic. It would also protect small businesses who only use Facebook Pages a few times a week to advertise, versus large brands who use them extensively. For brands that want to grow their fan base, Facebook could still offer the ability to target content to non-followers.

The idea would likely receive sour feelings from brands, but lets look at the big picture. Facebook is a way for brands to reach millions of users. Why aren’t brands that spend millions of dollars a year on advertising not already paying to post on this platform? Even for the smallest of businesses, simple marketing items like posters, mailings, and event sponsorships cost money. It’s a general problem of the internet, where everyone expects everything free because that’s just how it’s always been, but we need to be honest. That’s not logical, it’s not possible, and in the end, it’s costing everyone and we’re running on a very ineffective system.

The idea will likely never be implemented, but I think it’s interesting nonetheless. Something needs to change with Facebook advertising, and if it’s not Facebook going back to the roots of social media, it will be another young entrepreneur who is thinking ahead.

– Bryan Nagy

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