What strategy should be adopted in light of ever-shrinking post reach rates? Is this reduction the result of a sinister plan? How should it be interpreted? How is marketing to be done on Facebook today?
It must first be said that a shrinking reach is not the result of a Machiavellian strategy, but merely the result of Facebook’s success. Users are connected to more and more friends and groups who post more and more content, while the time available to view it all increases at a much slower rate, or has plateaued.
Nowadays, approximately 1500 pieces of content are likely to appear on our newsfeeds each day, so Facebook needs to make a choice and focus on the ones from friends and businesses closest to us. As a result, many brands' post reaches are progressively diminishing, and the anomaly is not so much the decreasing reach, but that we could “freely” touch a lot of our fans before for this long.
Actually, a brand shouldn't focus as much on the post reach as on the monthly page reach. While post reach is gradually shrinking, the fact that you can always post as many times as you like means that a substantial percentage of fans can still be reached by month-end without ever needing to purchase advertising. It could even be argued that any story should be published several times since, for example, the second time it's published for instance, 70 per cent of those fans who see it wouldn't have seen it the first place.
There's a lot of Facebook bashing out there, but what is important for a brand at the end of the day is how to get the best ROI on its marketing investment. Coca-Cola, which knows this subject well, has understood it and proved it concretely once again recently. As quoted in AdAge the brand reported that every Euro it spent on Facebook in France returned €2.74 in additional sales, 3.6 times better than the ROI attributed to TV ads.
If some bloggers still question this, the fact is that in the US it is no longer a debate among those concerned—the advertisers who do Facebook marketing, whether it is for an e-merchant, a mobile game editor, or a bricks-and-mortar advertiser. Facebook still works. In fact it significantly impacts a brand’s key metrics: brand awareness, brand image, purchase intent, and sales.
If engagement is important, it is not an end in itself. Brands should actually stop doing "social media marketing". Better to do "marketing in a social world", and escape from the "social jail", as someone at Facebook put it.
While keeping overall marketing untouched and faced with a diminishing organic post reach, the best analysis is not to stop doing community management on Facebook, but to increase it while diverting a portion of the marketing budget spent elsewhere (TV, print, radio, etc.) toward Facebook advertising, like more and more pragmatic advertisers are doing. Community management without buying Facebook advertising is a missed opportunity, as is buying Facebook advertising without any community management expertise.
Purchasing advertising and having community management expertise are therefore inseparable. As it happens, fans must not be valued solely as a group that can be touched “freely” since this privilege is effectively slightly eroding. The fan base is also a “free” laboratory upon which to test stories and to identify which ones result in more organic engagement before potentially boosting them with media. This is the same truth on Twitter and actually the reason why Oreo's Dunk in the Dark is considered a failure of sorts internally because they didn't buy enough media at the time to further boost the buzz.
The fan base is also a group of Facebook users who have already interacted with the brand at least once, and because of this, they will be more receptive to its messages than other Facebook users, all things being equal. They also provide reliable targeting criteria for advertising purchasing campaigns. We have seen that Facebook advertising provides a positive ROI when done well. The more fans a brand has, the more advantageous it is - because targeting fans becomes less expensive.
Fans are an easy and cheap target to engage, making it possible for brands then to reach fans' friends using fans as ambassadors in the process. Nielsen has proved that a brand message with social context carries a 1.6X lift in brand recall, 2X lift in message awareness, and 4X lift in purchase intent.
Finally, we cannot close the loop without a final word about Facebook applications and Facebook-connected websites: They are the best way to identify internet users, to obtain additional opt-in personal information, and to make something go viral on the internet. Facebook-connected websites are THE way to do "social CRM", that is to establish a bridge between engaged internet users and a customer database. The challenge of digital CRM is to discern which customers were engaged online, and which engaged online users are customers.
Facebook-connected websites, whether on Facebook.com or not, can simply be perceived as minisites where registration and sharing is made more frictionless than ever thanks to Facebook APIs. Expertise thereof is more crucial than ever for all digital marketers.
Thomas Jestin is co-founder at social-media agency KRDS.