The Facebook Paradox, Part 2: No Free Lunch

In the previous post, we discussed the dominance of Facebook’s audience reach. No other social network can reach that many people on Earth. The flip side of this coin is Facebook’s continued reduction in what brands and companies can do for free on their service. Let’s look backwards for a bit of context.

May 2012: Facebook rolls out Promoted Posts for brand Pages.

August 2013: Facebook announces that it will feature more high-quality content, at the expense of content that isn’t as popular or well-liked.

January 2014: Pure text status updates from brand Pages will be seen less frequently in users’ News Feeds, in favor of more updates from friends.

April 2014: News Feed spam algorithms go into play, penalizing Page posts that are seen too frequently or are link bait/deceptive content.

June 2014: Facebook declares the continued decline in organic Page reach to be normal and expected, a consequence of more content being created than ever before.

August 2014: Facebook rolls out additional click-bait penalties to further stem brand Pages that engage in click-bait. This update doesn’t just hit deceptive headlines, it also impacts common formats of content that brands would use, such as having links in text status updates above photos.

September 2014: Facebook penalizes Pages that don’t post timely information.

January 2015: Facebook reduces post visibility for Pages with overly promotional content and for Page posts that are flagged as misleading or deceitful.

And now, the latest (accidental) penalty: ever notice when you share a friend’s post, they get attribution? Here’s an example of my sharing one of Tom Webster’s posts about Mark Schaefer’s new upcoming book:


This used to be the case with all posts shared on Facebook, be they personal friends or brand Pages. Yet now, when you share a brand’s Page post, all attribution from the brand is removed. Here’s an example of my sharing one of SHIFT Communications’ posts about yesterday’s blog post:


Attribution is important for finding Pages that shared content you liked. With it removed, you now have no idea where a shared resource came from.

Amended and updated 3/16/15: Facebook’s Corporate Communications team via Tim Rathschmidt reached out to SHIFT to let us know that this lack of attribution is in fact a bug that the company is working on fixing:

“The lack of attribution for some Page posts – that you experienced and wrote about – is a bug. We’re now working to restore it so a Page is always attributed when their post is shared.”

What does this mean for you?

Facebook has made it abundantly clear that for promotional content, brands need to move that content to advertising. While a bug, the missing brand Page attribution still hurts organic reach, until the bug is fixed.

Facebook wants traffic to brand Pages and posts to come from direct interactions with the brand Page, and in most cases, that means advertising. In work with client after client, we’ve seen non-paid traffic from Facebook on the decline over the last two years.

What should you do about it?

First, determine if Facebook’s audience is important to you. Even though over a billion people use Facebook, they may not be using it in a way that makes sense to integrate with your marketing plans. There are plenty of companies and brands that remain quite healthy without a robust Facebook strategy.

If Facebook’s audience and user context is important to your marketing strategy, then it needs to be important enough to have its own advertising budget. Budget for Facebook the same way you budget for any other form of digital advertising. Carefully track your ad spend, your performance, and your ROI. As long as you execute well and deliver positive ROI, you can create a virtuous circle of growing revenue that drives bigger and bigger ad spends.

We’re not saying that Facebook is unimportant. We’re simply saying that the free ride is truly over.

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology


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