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Facebook Marketing in 2015 – How to Succeed without Free Distribution

Published: February 9, 2015

Author: Mark Osborne

On January 15, 2015 Facebook went live with a series of changes to the News Feed algorithm specifically designed to restrict free distribution of “promotional” posts from businesses.  Brands that were able to reach nearly 100% of their audience with every post in the previous year now reach less than 10% in many cases!
What are these changes?  What do they mean for marketers? How can you find success with Facebook in 2015?
Facebook Newsfeed changes 2015

What are the latest changes to Facebook’s News Feed?

As the timeline shows, Facebook made a number of changes to the News Feed since it launched in 2006.  The latest change specifically targets promotional posts and expands the definition of “promotional” to include any post that asks for engagement (a click, like or share), posts that refer users to offsite content (like a blog) or posts that resemble ads, etc.  Some publishers have even seen impact on distribution for posts that use words like “tomorrow” that are hinting at some call to action.
Throughout its history and including the most recent adjustment, Facebook’s News Feed changes are largely intended to accomplish two things: 1) improve the user experience; 2) improve business results for advertisers. These are both good things for marketers!

Improving the User Experience

Last year Facebook invited a group of users to the Menlo Park campus to talk about their experiences using Facebook.  When asked in their opinion what percentage of the News Feed consisted of advertising, these users overwhelmingly agreed, “At least half.”  Yet Facebook knew definitively that less than 10% of their News Feed posts were actually paid. So many brands use Facebook to distribute thinly-veiled sales pitches, disguised as content, that users were sensing a glut of commercial messages. Facebook’s latest changes are a response to this.

Improving Results for Marketers

When brands are cramming promotional content into users’ News Feeds without paying for advertising, it’s hard for Facebook to regulate the quantity and quality of these posts.  By forcing brands to use the paid distribution model, Facebook can keep better control on the ratio of content from friends, family, etc. vs. promotional messages from brands. This means fewer ads, which generates a better response. What’s more, this makes it easier for Facebook to reward advertisers with compelling, well-targeted ads by lowering costs.

What do these changes mean for Marketers?

These changes suggest a dramatic change in the way marketers should approach and use the Facebook channel.  These changes center largely on what is shared and how posts are measured for success.

What Brands should Post

Historically, brands saw good results from sharing content that was linked with a call-to-action. For example a concert venue might share a video of an artist interview with a link to buy tickets to an upcoming show. An engaging video would get shared and free distribution to page fans, and the purchase link would generate measurable results.  This type of strategy will no longer work.  
Instead, the same marketer should share the video to the fans of the page publicly to cement their brand position and the emotional connection with their audience. Separately, this marketer should use the advertising interface to segment page fans and other Facebook users. Then this advertiser would use a dark post as an ad unit supported with a budget to reach the audience mostly likely to buy tickets to the show.
Facebook can still be a valuable channel for brand building and market shaping. Sharing content to strengthen emotional connections and support brand promises is still important, but any company looking to achieve near-term actions should now plan to use dark posts supported with a budget as targeted advertising. By separating content in this way, brands will see better engagement and organic reach with their brand-building content and better results with their ad-budget supported promotional messaging.

How to Measure Success

These two categories of content should be measured with different Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Promotional posts should be seen as ads, measured by efficient CPMs, strong engagement and ultimately conversions. Brand-building posts can be measured via traditional engagement metrics including, likes, shares, video views, etc.  It’s important to remember that brand-building content should no longer overtly ask for these actions, or it will impact reach.
Additionally, referral site traffic from users clicking through from Facebook to content on a company’s blog should no longer be an objective for brand-building content.  Facebook has made significant strides in building out its content hosting capabilities; moving forward, Facebook is hoping brands will see it as a publishing platform for hosting unique original content (like YouTube), not merely as a promotional channel for sharing links to content hosted elsewhere.

Success with Facebook Marketing in 2015

Despite the latest changes, Facebook remains a uniquely powerful channel for audience targeting and media optimization. Smart marketers will learn adjust, making the most of the opportunity.
The Keys to Success in 2015 are simple:

-Brands must completely separate brand-building and promotional posts.
-Brand-building posts must have no call to action, but instead focus on new long-term objectives and relevant KPIs.
-Promotional Posts must be seen as ads supported with budgets, and they should align near-term objectives with revenue-driving KPIs.

Understanding the recent changes and adapting will deliver better results for marketers on Facebook in 2015 and beyond!  For a more detailed discussion of these topics, see CitizenNet’s latest whitepaper: “Facebook Marketing in 2015.”

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