A misguided do-gooder called Facebook

One can smell the misguidance in some of Facebook's latest efforts to bring together people and brands to the social platform. There, I said it. I've been thinking a lot about what does it mean for us, as community managers or strategists or marketers in general, to work with a platform made for friends but where brands might also have a place. And some actually do to some extent. Except...

... in practical terms we're talking about impacting a minority, according to this report from Ad Age:

Back in January, we told you about research findings that engagement rates on Facebook brand pages were at about 1%. A lot has changed since then, chiefly the controversial tweaking of an algorithm that determines how many people see brand posts and a change to how engagement is counted. So what's that engagement rate now?

Still 1%. Or, to be precise, 1.4%.

Ouch. Nasty. The reason: ever since the IPO, Facebook now more than ever has to make money, which means there's a way to increase this engagement rate: through advertising. So this represents the delicate shift in balance towards those who are willing to give them that money: advertisers, persuaded by "a potential audience of one billion" (which never is, unless you're focusing on EVERYONE in the world — which kind of messes the whole extreme audience segmentation argument).

Here's another interesting excerpt from that same article. Quoting Graham Mudd, head of vertical measurement at Facebook:

Broadly speaking we would agree with that sentiment, that focusing on core marketing metrics, like reach and frequency is what drives effectiveness. Engagement is an interesting and important metric for some marketers and campaigns. But it shouldn't be standard by which Facebook as a marketing platform is evaluated.

So basically since many social strategies go through also having a Facebook presence (if not exclusively, but more on that later), all that "engagement is king" argument just went to the trash. Sure, reach and frequency are important, but one must ask... to what extent? Should they be seen as isolated data? And most importantly, how do we measure the true effect of, say, a sponsored post which was seen a million times but rarely clicked on or engaged with? Everyone talks about how big data is going to increasingly help us integrate and measure marketing efforts, but all of a sudden it's an untraceable metric that actually counts? Based on this, it seems like metrics just trumped the all-mighty Return On Investment (yes, they are different).

A simple example: how to know which (sponsored or not) posts drove traffic to a website if no one clicks on them? Well but at least the target audience saw those same posts 20 times in a day. Or maybe this is a half step to later justify why there's no real point in leaving Facebook; just build that website right on your timeline! But this last one is just me speculating.

Then there's this: not only do regular users have to endure a content stream they do not fully control (your audience, like it or not, doesn't understand the concept of EdgeRank as you do, and even if they did, the damn thing is constantly changing its algorithm), and manage interest lists they don't really use, now they have a second stream of content just for pages. Here's The Next Web on this new feature:

Facebook recognizes this and explains it this way: your News Feed is the place where you’re going to be able to find the most engaging content. The Pages Feed is for all the other interesting content you might want to read from Pages that you like or subscribe to.

There are two ways to see this:

  1. This is Facebook's latest effort to sell the platform to marketers and advertisers. "See? Now you have a tab just for pages, which greatly reduces the noise you have to put up with, increasing the frequency of your posts' visibility". Or as I read it, "shit the News Feed is so cluttered we had to create a new feed just for pages so that people could see your content";
  2. Some magic insight led to this decision where regular people would just like to hear from pages, disregarding a feed where uh, their friends are posting and talking to each other? Really, has Facebook forgotten why it exists in the first place? To make the world more open and connected... well, with advertisers' pages at least. Friends can come along too, whatever. Oh, and connected should mean engaging too, but that doesn't really matter anymore, ok?

I know these are hard business decisions and that Facebook has to make (more) money while balancing users and businesses' interests. I also don't have a solution for the monetization issue if that's what you're looking for (if I had, I would have already emailed the Z-man asking for a job, anyway). But seeing news like these make me wonder if the pressures of Wall Street have dimmed a truly great vision for how we interact with each other, regardless of space and time constraints. Focusing on those who can meet monetary expectations might be the key to success, but never forget that for every seller there's a ton of buyers which actually need to buy (and not just see) something.

This might just be business as usual, and we as users shouldn't complain because after all, the service is free and always will be. Or is it? Attention also carries a cost and in case you haven't noticed, we don't have much of it these days (see attention economy), specially if we get annoyed. Neglect the money of advertisers and you surely won't pay the bills. But neglect the needs and specific expectations of those who have the attention and you won't have none of it to sell to advertisers anymore. It's a choice that requires intense focus on a delicate balance, which means looking to both sides and consistently executing a vision that transparently works for both ends. Something Facebook, a do-gooder but apparently a misguided one at that, doesn't seem to be doing quite well these days.

But I hope I'm wrong.