This story was written because I’ve been really annoyed by some posts on certain mainstream business and tech sites. This isn’t just a rant; there is value to be had in this story.
Facebook recently published a post about how it’s going to reduce the number of organic (non-paid) promotional posts that show up in users’ timelines. Here’s the post.
I learned about this Facebook news story through a chain of other blogs:
- A post in Fast Company,
- which was based on a post in the Wall Street Journal,
- which was based on a blog post on Forrester Research’s website,
- which is an ad for a $500 research report.
The Forrester blog post referred to the post on Facebook to bolster their case for why you ought to buy the Forrester report on using social media for marketing.
This is not what I’d call good journalism. Nothing original, nothing creative, just overblown clickbait headlines that imply the Social Sky Is Falling! Marketers Beware! The End is Near!
Fear is a powerful motivator. Doomsday headlines are designed to make you take an action you might not take if you were in a thoughtful state of mind.
Look a bit deeper. What did Facebook say to inspire such claims of impending doom for companies that try to reach customers on Facebook?
If these writers actually read what Facebook posted, they’d see that Facebook said it was going to do some housecleaning, and that bad practices would be penalized.
Facebook has been saying this for some time now. And what they are saying sounds an awful lot like what Google has been saying and doing for several years, to eliminate black-hat SEO practices and even some white-hat habits that had gotten out of control. In Google’s case the goal has been to improve search results. Facebooks’ goal is improved experiences for users of Facebook. Sure, Facebook’s changes help Facebook’s ad business. At least that’s honest commerce. Brands or social media agencies that misuse social media are attempting to get something for nothing — at the expense of the consumer.
Actually, the parallels between Google and Facebook are rather deep. Businesses have taken advantage of both platforms for personal gain without considering the impact on user experience, requiring both Google and Facebook to establish more rules and penalize those disobeying the rules.
Facebook is making changes because people don’t want to see ads in Facebook. That’s big news… NOT.
Those bloggers mentioned above (Fast Company, WSJ, Forrester) are painting this announcement by Facebook with a hysterical, apocalyptic brush — that Facebook is washed up as an organic medium, and it’s all about paying for eyeballs now. If you actually read what Facebook is saying, it is that Facebook is going to downscale the reach of specific types of blatant (unpaid) ads.
- Posts that push to an item for sale,
- Posts that re-use advertising content, and
- Posts that push promotions and sweepstakes.
Those all sound like ads to me. It is true, that if these changes are implemented using algorithms it’s likely that some posts may be demoted by companies and nonprofits that are playing by the rules.
This may mean that some organizations will need to ramp up other methods of promoting posts, such as asking friends, volunteers, and employees to share posts with their personal networks. And that companies should be using email marketing and other ways to get posts seen and shared.
There is no catastrophe in store for companies and organizations who play by the rules, who are ethical and driven by the Golden Rule. Treat customers with respect, they will respect you in return. All of these are recommendations that firms like this one and many others have given for many years.
Don’t do any of the three categories of things that Facebook doesn’t want you to do to its members. Use other methods to boost the visibility of your messages, especially by using your website as the primary platform for information. If you have loyal followers, make it easy for them to share your posts with their networks and make it easy to follow your posts using RSS, and news readers.
My first point: if you publish useful, interesting, and relevant content, it will be found, read, and shared.
Create that type of content, post that content on your website, and promote it using social platforms and other online and offline channels. Use email to connect with your customers, and encourage THEM to share it on Facebook and Twitter. Your content will spread widely via your audience’s social networks, with a huge multiplying effect. Facebook isn’t stomping on that type of sharing. That’s a big part of what makes Facebook worth the time. It’s the stuff your friends and family have discovered and have shared, which is a strong endorsement of your content’s worth.
This follows advice we’ve been preaching: don’t fall into digital sharecropping. Don’t depend on someone else to control your future. Buy don’t rent.
Chopping up ads and spraying them into users’ news feeds as an organic Facebook post is rude behavior. Just (don’t) do it.
My second point: consider the source when you look for advice on marketing strategies.
The Interwebs is a rich resource of both information and disinformation. If you’re looking for useful information about how to market your business, it’s clear the blog chain mentioned above isn’t always a reliable source. You can see clear motivations to sell research reports, grow eyeball counts, and sell advertising.
My advice: read with a healthy dose of skepticism, and take the time to read the sources if you are looking for input on decisions as important as how to run your business.
P.S. There actually was balanced coverage of the Facebook news announcement. Ars Technica managed to do it without much hyperbole. And Rose and Pulizzi, as usual, covered it thoughtfully at the Content Marketing Institute.
P.P.S. – Another balanced take on the subject, that mirrors the suggestions we make above, on PR Daily. I like the blunt, but largely accurate headline, which puts the responsibility squarely where it belongs, inferior content.