Facebook pay-to-play should be a wake-up call to marketers

Eric Melin | April 17, 2014

Dear Facebook,

It’s tough being the largest social network, isn’t it?

With 1.3 billion active monthly users and smartphone users checking your site 14 times a day, you have created an amazingly effective social media addiction.

You’re also sitting on the richest set of targeting data for marketers since, well, ever. You’ve convinced people to give you all sorts of personal information—stuff that goes way beyond where they live and how old they are. You know who our friends are, the music/movies we like, what kind of events we attend, and what brands we want to interact with online.

How dare you make brands pay for the opportunity to reach millions of targeted users and build a rich community of advocates? Social media is supposed to be free, right?

If brands still believe that, then here’s the first of many wake-up calls: Social media was never free, even before your new “pay to play” model really kicked into high gear. Social media done right takes a lot of strategy, development, trial and error, constant effort, measurement, and customization. In short, social media takes time. And time is never free.

Eat24 FacebookBut now brands like Eat24 are fed up that they suddenly have to pay for their fans to see content in your coveted user News Feed, and they’re breaking up with you. I get it. It sucks that the “free” ride is over. Now brands will have to pay for smart people to produce engaging content on their behalf—and also pay you to amplify that reach.

Here’s what most people probably don’t understand: The quality of your users’ News Feeds is what keeps you in business. That’s why you’re constantly tinkering with the algorithm, with over 100,000 weight indicators being considered at any given time.

If brand Facebook Pages aren’t performing well, part of that can surely be attributed to the fact that “organic reach” has fallen to about two percent. If a brand’s reach has plummeted without recovery, then what that brand should really be angry about is that they haven’t figured out the new two-pronged approach to Facebook success, which is really the same old strategy with one new twist:

1.     Deliver engaging content to the right audience at the right time.

2.     Amplify that content with strategic spending.

You see, Facebook, with your new “pay to play” model, you’re still rewarding great content, because that’s what users want to see. Users liked the brand’s page once upon a time, but too many of the brand’s posts felt like ads and they stopped liking, commenting, and sharing them. So you stopped showing the brand’s posts to those users. Makes sense to me, but now the brand is angry that they have to pay you to get their crappy posts in the News Feeds of the fans they’ve let down!

Second wake-up call: A crappy post that a brand pays for is still crappy.

On the other hand, a great piece of engaging content that speaks to its audience can now be targeted from location to age group to interests to direct connections to friends of connections. Brands that boost dynamic content using your built-in demographic tools will reach way more of the right people and cost way less than other forms of advertising.

Brands will likely pay a six-figure sum for one full-page ad in the right magazine. That ad drives awareness, but does it build community? Does it nurture category enthusiasts over time, develop trust, and turn them into passionate brand advocates?

I understand there are a lot of people angry with you, Facebook. Growth takes time on both sides of the coin. Building a community on your social network is a long-term investment, and we will continue to make adjustments because I know we both want the same thing.

As long as you continue to use all the data you’ve gathered about your users to help them see the stuff that they and their connections find the most engaging, we will continue to try delivering content that matches their expectations.

Because even though it’s now also about spending strategically, it was always about delivering engaging content to the right people at the right time.


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