The Latest Facebook Tweak – A Marketing Reality Check

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image via Birger King

So is the party on Facebook over? That is the question.

If you’re not a communications professional and are therefore wondering what the question is about, here’s the short version: All those various businesses and stores and brands you’ve “liked” on Facebook over the years? You’re going to be seeing less of them in your feed. In fact, you already miss a lot. Which you probably haven’t noticed because good heavens is that feed cluttered to begin with already! And that’s the point.

You think you’re getting more information than you really are because who ever looks at their facebook page and thinks, “huh, I haven’t seen anything from XYZ company lately.” You either do see an update and read it, or you don’t and never notice it. And it’s probably just a matter of time before Facebook all but disappears your “liked” pages’ updates if they can’t pay to advertise.

I see both sides of the issue.

As a consumer and an individual, I’m fine with never seeing another spammy sponsored story from all those pages I have not liked, or better yet pages that want me to like them based on some thing I clicked. For that is how it works.

But, as you can imagine, the flip side is giving marketers and cause advocates all manner of heartache with one company, Eat24, writing Facebook a rather funny “Dear John” note – and a Facebook executive responding in snarky kind. Because as this report points out (and several bloggers and articles have mentioned in the 72 hours since I wrote the first draft of this post) – it’s not just big businesses that will see the dial turned down on their conversation.

It’s also your local mom-and-pop shop that you actively want to support – they won’t be able to cut through the clutter either. The small non-profit that does great work but is never going to have Pepsi’s ad budget, and may not be able to shout loud enough to fundraise? They’re in trouble. George Takei’s page and Humans Of New York, or for that matter my kid’s school district where news of school closures breaks well before it hits my email – the pages that make a slow day go faster, or help you be less clueless, they’ll have to fight harder too. It’s the likes you really, you know, liked that will also be harder to find. And that is a problem for everyone who has gotten used to using Facebook as a primary information source.

So what is an organization to do? Particularly one with a stretched budget? ‘Tis the question.

For starters, I wouldn’t bail on Facebook yet. A billion people is a big party to move. Even if a good many of them are holding up the wall. And no one really has any idea how this is all going to play out.

Yes, Google+ might finally get more traction – or rather, marketers may finally stop ignoring it and the public, purely annoyed with Facebook may finally get past the perception of G+ as a place for tech folk and try it. But what’s to say the exact same thing isn’t going to happen there in a few years? (Not to mention Google’s established that it doesn’t do social terribly well. Google Glasses, and wearable computing in general may be an inevitable next step the way cars once were. But that doesn’t mean they’re not a kludge.)

What marketers and businesses need to know, or rather, are being reminded of is of what Seth Godin said recently:

The Internet is the first medium invented in 100 years that wasn’t invented to make advertisers happy.

Facebook in particular, wasn’t originally intended to be a marketing device and has never been a substitute for a website. Or as I told someone the other day who is starting up a small side business, “No you don’t have a website, you have a Facebook page. That is not the same thing.” If you forgot about that, and put all your eggs in one Facebook basket, at the expense of all the other communications tools out there that isn’t Facebook’s problem.

Also, repeat after me, there is no one means of communication that works perfectly, all the time, forever. Case in point, email, which as of last year, still beat out everything and everyone else in getting out the word. But good luck if you didn’t actively reach out when Gmail changed how it delivers email.

So where does this leave us? Truthfully, no idea! Although I will say that this a market correction of sorts, and should push entrepreneurs, cause advocates, and small business owners to remember the basics:

  • If you aren’t paying for the product, you are the product. It’s one thing to fish where the fish are, and goodness knows Facebook made it easy. But it was always Zuckerberg’s sandbox until it went IPO and even then the company moved fast and broke things. It just happens to be marketers with the biggest ouch at the moment.
  • Get a website – it’s 2014, there is one out there for every budget. If nothing else, a simple page that answers FAQs and offers contact information will do.
  • Be really clear about what you do and how you do it.
  • There is no substitute for consistent, relevant, good content and regular communication with your core audience.
  • Start the conversation, don’t wait for it to happen.
  • Your core audience can and will advocate for you more than any advertisement. They’re why updates go viral.
  • Acknowledge and respond to your community right away.
  • Figure out your hook and be really good at what you do.

That’s right – there is no magic, and it is all easier said than done.

If it’s any consolation, you should know that I live this reality with my clients – which include a choir (there are se-heh-veral in the area) and a cleaning company (yep, tons of competition there, too). I know exactly what it’s like to have to build, maintain, and market to a community – in some cases from the ground up – with scant resources, and the ever present prospect of something like Facebook changing their algorithm. And because I entered the communications field in 2004 – when the social media disruption factor was in full swing – I have no idea what it’s like to function any other way. You simply cover your bases, pivot when necessary, and never stop having a conversation with your audience every which way you can.

This is also why I a) frequently eat far too much candy around 3 pm, daily, b) speak entirely too fast sometimes, and c) began running.