The Unspoken Truth about marketing your brand on Facebook

Facebook has made many changes to related to managing brands online that are designed to push businesses to use its paid products by reducing the effectiveness of current tools like Fan Pages. This has lead to a reduced ROI for brands that invested heavily in Facebook communities and this trend is expected to continue slowly but surely. Our recommendation is that new Facebook centric brand investments either become short term investment or become centered around the brand's web site or media it controls directly rather than a platform that it has no control of, thus facebook should be used to move your community to your turf.


As the owner of a El Motaheda Web, a web development company that manages every aspect of our clients online presence, during the past year we have seen a trend where companies are willing to have their Facebook presence as their main online marketing activity. We do offer comprehensive Facebook centric services including custom application development and have many success stories with clients like Cinnabon and Concrete and derive a sizable percentage of our revenues from such services. But as it is our policy that we care more about giving the client the best ROI from any money they spend with us and thus have to clarify some of the problems with heavily investing in Facebook as a marketing and branding platform.


At the crux of the issue is a deep misunderstanding or underestimation of the conflict of interest between these companies and Facebook. Facebook needs to derive revenue from their user base and you the marketer also need to derive revenue from any branding or marketing activity and often if you use Facebook for long term marketing based on Fan Pages these two needs collide and you end up with an investment in facebook that is getting you less and less revenue, but since the ecosystem of digital media agencies derive a significant part of their revenue from Facebook centric marketing such issues are usually downplayed by the “experts”.


Lets start with the facts. Over the past few years Facebook had made many changes, a lot of them are targeted towards reducing what they would call the user's information over load and thus the effectiveness of viral and social media marketing of businesses using Facebook as a platform to reach and engage clients and audiences.


One of the first such artificial changes was when they stopped Facebook groups with a user base of 5,000 from being able to send messages to their subscribers. In a way Facebook was punishing the successful groups. One of my clients at the time was a major soccer team in Egypt, and overnight they lost the one thing that was appealing to them in the first place in investing in Facebook groups. In essence they used their heavily trafficked web site to entice people to join the Facebook group thus increasing the value of facebook to their millions of soccer fans. Without the ability to send messages to fans the group became mostly a forum, which they already had one their site. Mind you this was before the creation of Fan Pages in Facebook.


The symbiotic relationship between Facebook and the organizations that promote their presence online through Facebook is fragile and trust is a key here. Here we have huge real world brands that have loyalty of people, push these people to interact with them online through facebook, thus adding value to Facebook and making it harder for any competing social platform to compete with it, and at the same time Facebook is reducing the ROI of these partners methodically over time.


Take for example when Facebook changed the rules of what shows on people's walls in such a way that you only see updates of people, Fan Pages and Groups you interacted with. Many fan page owners saw their posts getting half as much and even a third as much views. Even when users shared content from such Facebook Fan Pages, only a percentage of their friends would see this shared content. This reduced the viral ability of content by a great deal. Lets look at the math of it. Imagine that you share a video about your company that is funny and informative, in the old system lets say for the sake of argument and simplicity, that in every time this content is shared four people will share it. Thus 3 shares away you will get 4X4X4=64 views. Under the new system you would be lucky if 2 people share the content at any stage since less people actually see what their friends share, if we calculate this also 3 shares away you get 2X2X2=8 total views of your content, 8 times less! Of coarse there is a natural decay and the above example is extreme in our experience the viewer ship was reduced by a factor of 3 or 4. So a company small company that was willing to spend 20,000$ on producing and promoting such a video now is getting a third of its intended audience. The logical result is that most companies should reduce their spending on engaging content to post on Facebook.


To top it off, Facebook announced on September 30th 2011, Facebook totally removed the ability for owners of Facebook Fan Pages to send messages to fans of the page. Many of my clients had used this feature to inform users of new products or promotions. Let me be clear, the difference between a direct message and a post is huge to say the least, and also when you factor in that posts have lost some of their power as above then you should start to realize that brands that invested in their Facebook fan page before this saw a huge drop in actual communication power with their fans. This was a killer feature for most Fan Page owners and was lost. Facebook did not post a reason for this change but on their blog they wrote telling people about alternatives to this feature as show below.

(Copied verbatim from facebook post )

As of September 30th you'll no longer be able to send an update to fans using Facebook Messages. We want you to connect with your audience in the most effective ways possible, and updates that go to Facebook Messages may end up unseen in the "Other" folder.

Here are other ways you can expand your reach:

  • Post content on your page Wall so people see your updates in their news feed. You can target your posts by location or language by choosing Customize from the audience selector dropdown before you post.
  • Consider using targeted Facebook Ads or Sponsored Stories to help grow and highlight your message within the Facebook experience.

Alternative 1 as we showed earlier had already been massacred by Facebook in a previous change. The interesting bit is alternative 2. This is where you start to understand why Facebook has been doing this. They are asking you to use paid ads as a replacement for a feature that you had for free when you committed to Facebook as a social media marketing platform and based your budget with the existance of such a feature n mind. This only means that they want to monetize your Facebook fans that you spend time, effort and money to bring and engage online on their platform. Now you not only need to spend money to advertise your fan page, but you also need to spend money to communicate effectively to your entire fan base.


What is more, is that when the above quotes where said in a post on facebook help in this page, created an uproar in many respected social media blogs that talked about the conflict of interest in question of removing a valueable feature from existing pages and suggesting advertising instead, facebook removed the above post from their web site so the link above does not take you to the original post.


But the issue is deeper still, the constant changes to Facebook API and the format of their pages forces you to redo your applications whenever Facebook has a change of heart. This is good news to developers like El Motaheda Web because any facebook application we sell to clients has to come with a maintenance contract for such changes thus more revenue for us. Sometime entire applications become no possible due to changes of privacy policy or the site usage terms. For example it is no longer admissible to create promotions or incentives based on user likes. Some clients still request such and we explain the risks that you may get your fan page closed for such breaches if you are caught. Some clients sill do it or we create turn-arounds by making the likes out site of the applications but still it is very risky.


What also adds insult to injury is that many brands actually advertise facebook for free in the process of advertising their facebook fan pages offline. We are surprised at brands that will not allow us to put “Developed by El Motaheda Web” in small writing at the bottom of web sites we create for them but are eager to put the facebook logo with their print and offline advertisements next to the url of their Facebook fan page. Well the last sentence was really me venting, but the fact remains that facebook has benefited greatly from the loyalty of such companies and has not reciprocated.


What is even less evident but is very true is the question of ownership. Who owns the data of your fans that you invested money in accumulating. If you read the Facebook site terms and conditions which they can change at any time and you have to accept such changes, it is clear that Facebook owns your fans. In the first place you do not have access to the data, and even if you create a facebook application and it gives access to this data like user email, you are severely limited in what you can contractually do with it. There are many cases of applications being banned and loosing all what they invested in creating the application and growing its user base due to such issues.


The bottom line is that you do not own your user base on Facebook, the strongest proof of that is what happened to Facebook groups when it changed the format of the groups and did not allow you to migrate your users to the new group format and closed the old group format.


With time more and more marketing professionals will understand this as they measure reduced ROI on their Facebook social media campaigns. For myself I just remind my customers of the Egyptian proverb that says, “يا مربي بغير ولدك ياباني في غير ملكك”. As long as you do not own the platform that your social media campaigns are built upon you will not be able to reap the full benefits of your efforts.


Does this mean that we as El Motaheda Web are against the usage of Facebook Fan pages and applications as a marketing medium? No, I would like to remind you of the beginning of the article said, “thus have to clarify some of the problems with heavily investing in Facebook as a marketing and branding platform”. The keyword here is “heavily”. Facebook is a fact of life these days, but putting the largest chunk of your online marketing budget in Facebook is not the best thing to do. Facebook should be used as a gateway to get people into your own branded areas that you own, like your Web site and your own user registration and incentive schemes that allow you direct access and owership of user data. This can be done in many ways some of which we have experimented and have proven successful with our clients these methods we share with our existing clients who value our dedication to giving them the best ROI for their online expenditure with us. Although I will not share directly our methods I will give the following recommendations.

  • Its all about about branding always try to move users from areas of where your brand is diluted to areas where your brand is more prominent like your own web site, applications, games, blogs that are under domains you own. That means always put your web site in your Facebook posts if possible.
  • Direct users to Facebook on your web site, when ever possible rather than your fan page. It is easy to integrate the Facebook interactivity into your web site including authenticating via Facebook and more.
  • Direct some of your budget to twitter which has a much better history of keeping value by having more stable policies. Google plus could also be an alternative if it matures.
  • And most of all remember you own your web site, you fully control it, it is your best friend. Its continual evolution is guided by you for you there are no conflicts of interest.

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