Menlo Park, We’ve Got A Problem
Facebook’s got a problem. One that I saw coming last year (Ed. note: I certainly wasn’t the only one). I was at a Facebook event in
New York as they explained to marketers how their system worked and how marketers could best leverage the platform. I remember sitting there and thinking, “So, this EdgeRank system is going to let Facebook determine what people see and don’t see in their feeds? Facebook is going to manipulate that so brands will have to pay to be in people’s feeds.” Again, I wasn’t the only one who came to that conclusion.
Fast forward to December 2013 and what do we see? Headlines like this:
Facebook Wants to Be a Newspaper. Facebook Users Have Their Own Ideas. – All Things D (WSJ)
Facebook Brand Pages Suffer 44% Decline in Reach Since December 1 – Ignite Social Media
Facebook Finally Admits That You Do Have To Pay For Ads To Reach Your Fans – J Campbell Social Marketing
That sounds problematic. While this is certainly an issue of Facebook’s own doing, there is a fundamental misunderstanding of the platform behind this.
People Are From Mars, Brands Are From Venus
What we’re seeing is a mismatch of purposes. What people want to do on Facebook and what brands want to do on Facebook are, depending on your outlook, either simply different or fundamentally opposed. I have over 1,000 connections on Facebook and the amount of times I’ve seen those connections talk about brands, unaided and with positive sentiment, is something I could count on one hand. Complain about a brand? Sure, all the time. Make fun of a brand? Frequently. Most people just aren’t on Facebook to have a “relationship” with a brand. They want to wish a cousin happy birthday; talk about the big game on Saturday; post a photo of their daughter going to her first day of 5th grade; or share a video of an adorable dog trying to catch its own tail. These are all personal, intimate expressions of people connecting with other people.
By contrast, most brands are posting stock photos of their products or trying to solicit engagement with entreaties like, “share this post if you think Fall is the best season!” That is when they can find time between bouts of self-immolation with posts that range from insensitive to downright insulting.
So, at its core we have a purpose problem, not a technical one, and brands are caught between Scylla and Charybdis. On one side they are being squeezed by Facebook, asked to invest money if they want to be seen by more than a small percentage of the people who have self-selected as being interested in the brand. On the other hand, be careful what you wish for because a lot of people would try to figure out how to turn off updates from brands if they were exposed to the pablum most brands turn out on a regular basis.
So, Should Brands Even Be On Facebook?
As exposure rates continue to decline (without paying to play), should brands even bother with Facebook? The answer, as with most cases in Social Media, comes back to this fundamental question: What do you want to do?
If driving sales is the primary business objective right now, and you need volume, I’m not sure Facebook is the best platform. Especially if you don’t have an established community of millions of people. But having some presence on Facebook certainly makes sense. People are there, they want to know that you are there. But maybe your Facebook presence should be less about your products and more about the story of your brand. Or what if it was completely focused on your employees? Or your customers?
The Problem Isn’t Facebook, It’s You.
Remember in Ferris Bueller when a stoned out of his mind Charlie Sheen is talking to Ferris’ sister in the police precinct. She’s telling him about the cosmic injustice she faces daily as Ferris lives a charmed life. He tells her the problem isn’t Ferris, it’s her. She should stop worrying about Ferris and just deal with her own issues. Very Zen. Similarly, brands should stop worrying about Facebook and its constant tinkering with its own system and start worrying about the time of content they create – whether on Facebook or any other platform, from Twitter to YouTube to a website or mobile experience.
If you create content that contains value, that entertains, informs or educates, people will find it (and share it). If your content contains a human truth, if it speaks to people’s emotions, you’ll build a community that will want to engage with you.