Facebook's New Design: Windows into our future
Influencers Are Bad Social Indicators

Did Facebook Devalue Fans and Likes?

Like Unlike Liking or as many still call it, fan-ing a brand is rarely an endorsement.  It's a relationship.  Much like the symmetrical nature of Facebook interpersonal relationships where both parties must agree to the relationship, Liking a page before commenting lends a degree of value and meaning to the relationship.

Unfortunately for marketers, Facebook has sent the message loud and clear: brand relationships are not as valued as human relationships.  This was the right move for Facebook as a platform and I believe this is a positive move for the platform overall.  But does it punish advertisers?  Consider the following changes:

  • Photos on brand walls do not display in the new large format.  
    • Implication: I'm fairly confident that this is a short-term inconsistency that will be updated as part of a broader brand page update.  Marketers invest quite a bit in their Facebook solutions and these solutions are often disrupted by platform updates.  Bundling updates and giving major brand and page management partners plenty of advanced notice has become the standard practice.
  • Likes of brand content in Facebook may not generate a wall post.  This one is a shocker.  I hope that this is another layer of relevancy filtering an not a full "off" switch as David implies.  A better filter solutions would go a step beyond the relevancy filtering Facebook added they introduced the Most Recent and Top News filters.  A full off-switch however, would serve to limit the value of the Like action.  The content Like button had historically (a) generated social visibility/virality among the Likers friends and (b) served as a relevancy indicator for Facebook's Top News filter.  A full off-switch solution would limit the value of a Like to serving only as a relevancy indicator.  It sounds like Facebook is going with a full off-switch solution.
    • Implication: While lower social visibility is not a good thing for brand marketers, this doesn't change the way we manage and message to our communities.  Community managers still need to write content that drives fans to Like and comment.  As I noted before, historical social engagement helps Facebook determine the relevancy of the message to the fan and impacts the primacy it is given on the user's wall.  As Facebook only shows your brand page updates to people who engage and interact with your messaging, driving that interaction is as essential as ever.

      As Craig Daitch points out, this also puts increased  importance on an outside-in content strategy.  Content shared into Facebook from third party sites using Facebook's social plug-ins will continue to post to the wall.  Which begs the question - should brands cross-post their blog content into Notes on Facebook or embed social plug-ins on their blogs?  
    • Analysis: Three years ago a full "off switch" measure would have seriously hurt marketer interest in Facebook.  Social visibility and the network effect were key components to the pitch I and countless others made to justify large investments in platforms like Facebook.  At this point however, virtually every major marketer and countless smaller marketers are already on Facebook and actively investing in Facebook's virtuous circle by creating content and experiences fans will hopefully value.

      As the number of marketers on the platform grew, Facebook noted the obvious trend - marketers created more noise than signal.  This is disruptive to the user experience.  This situation is quite similar to a couple of years back when Facebook had to minimize the social visibility of in-app actions (remember FarmVille?) in order to preserve the value of their platform to their users.  

      A full off-switch solution will open a greater sales avenue for the Sponsored Stories ad unit.  Brands who want the inherent endorsement that is a socially visible action can buy an ad unit that highlights this action.  I do not believe that ad-sales drove this change.

      What is good for Facebook and their users is generally good for marketers looking to engage with those users.  Even with a core marketering tool removed, a better user experience is good for marketers in the long run.
  • Brand page visitors can comment on a page without liking it.
    • Implications and Analysis below

By allowing non-Likes to comment on a brand page, Facebook just changed the community management dynamic.  And the impact to marketers is going to be significant.

The Crises Scenario

I have worked with many major corporate brands as they went through crises or suffered from repeated poor customer service mini-disasters.  In a truly unique social anomoly, brands experiencing a crisis generally see their subscription numbers rise (this is true of both Facebook and Twitter but rarely blogs).  This forces the brand into the spotlight, placing increased importance on not only their participation but their response to the crisis.  The more that people Liked the brand in order to berate them, the larger the platform the brand had to respond.  Savvy crises managers used this platform appropriately, sharing public and scaled responses that addressed the overall issues while maintaining a strategic level of participation (over-communications fuels the fire).

By removing the Like barrier to commenting, Facebook removed a powerful tool that brands used to engage their communities in times of crises - the wall post.  In the new dynamic, brands can no longer broadcast their responses to the many interested parties - those who have Liked and therefor subscribed to the brand updates.  

This encourages pile-on behavior.  In one recent crisis, a client had dozens of people repeating a negative story that turned out not to be true.  The brand posted to their Facebook page and blog, clarifying that this story was not true.  Whereas prior to this post about 90% of the posts maintained that this story was true, following this post about 90% of the community self policed by sharing the brand response with negative commenters.  Without the broader reach that the Like-gated commenting dynamic provided to the brand, the brand response would not have been as effective.

Overall Impact

Moving beyond the crises scenario, these change suggests that brands are going to have to earn their attention rather than buying fans through media and promotions.  Brands will begin to operate like "everyone's friend" where anyone can comment on their wall.  This pushes brands to enhance their organic growth through strong community management and conversational participation.  Change is never easy, but this is a change smart marketers will learn to appreciate.

Implications for Marketers

  • Brands must continue to invest in creating content that is relevant to their community AND builds interest in the brand lifestyle.  Brands must think beyond advertorial and easy community response posts (what is your favorite movie?) and create lifestyle content that is likely to resonate with the interests of the community lifestyle.  This should increase the post's organic visibility even with the new updates.
  • Crises management strategy hasn't really changed.  That said:
    • It is essential that brands cultivate an active and positive community before a crisis occurs.  These advocates will likely assist in community self-policing as well as sharing your broadcast responses with new complainers.
    • Crises may last longer than they have in the past.  The efficacy of the brand response has been limited, so it is reasonable to expect that the crisis may take longer to whither and die.
  • Brand marketers must demonstrate value-oriented analytics beyond the fan count.  New metrics such as "first time commenters" will help demonstrate the value generated by the brand investment in Facebook.

Conlusions

With all due respect to David and the team at All Facebook, Facebook is not punishing advertisers.  They are changing the rules of the game in the interest of advancing their own platform.  What's good for Facebook and their users is generally good for marketers investing in the success of this platform.  We've long known that this was a dynamic and changing environment.  Complain all you want, but as a social marketer your success will be driven by your ability go with the flow.  

If you want stability, go into radio.  

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