The Future of Facebook - Retail Social Media?

Lately I’ve been hearing more and more people vent frustration about Facebook’s algorithms. There have been complaints around the lack of transparency behind them, the seemingly always changing formula and, of course, the content that gets published on your wall but may not be seen by all those liking your page. All are issues that give marketers headaches and make many constantly question what they’re doing on the social network. Brands are seeing declining value from Facebook unless they invest budget into advertising on the platform. Simply publishing content doesn’t seem to be enough for most any longer.

A lot of brands, especially startups, don’t have enough budget to consistently pay to sponsor content on Facebook. Some may have the resources to occasionally do so with content tied to major campaigns or announcements, but even then, budgets can be scarce. If a marketer thinks they’re going to see better returns directing that money toward another platform or activity, they won’t use it on Facebook.

The perception many brands are getting from Facebook is almost a pay for play scenario. The more you pay, the more visibility for your content. The less you pay, the more it can get buried. This is the assumption we’re left to make without any explanation of the algorithm the social networking giant uses to surface content into user’s news feeds.

Some brands have taken a stand against this business model, the most notable being Eat24 with its break-up letter to Facebook.

The food delivery service’s letter certainly received cheers from many in the industry and was very inspiring; however, I can’t say I have the guts to urge a client to leave the biggest social network in the world and an already established audience.

Though Fast Company reported that Eat24 saw significant increases in a number of other marketing metrics the week after the break-up letter, I’m not sure I believe all brands would see similar positive effects in the long term if they left Facebook. The publicity Eat24 received in the immediate aftermath of the letter probably caused many of those increases. I’d love to see if the positive returns on other communication channels sustained themselves over time. By the same token, it would be nice to see a report about the losses they experienced from abandoning the fans they had on Facebook.

For the other brands who fall into the group that doesn’t want to leave Facebook but also can’t afford to put more money into it, I have a feeling Facebook has become a checkbox. “We have to use it, but since we aren’t getting optimal value out of it, we’ll put minimal effort into it.”

But is that the right approach?

Is throwing money into great exposure for your content even the right approach? (tweet this)

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We created this monster...

When brands first started using Facebook, many gave fans a very personal experience. It wasn’t about pushing content toward your followers. It was about talking with your followers. Brands used the platform similarly to how people used it.

Then other business interests started emerging.

  • Our Facebook page needs to have X number of followers.
  • Our Facebook page needs to drive X% of the visitors to our website.
  • Our Facebook page needs to drive $X in revenue.

Those are all valuable, but I saw a lot of brands go overboard, totally neglecting any personal experience in the pursuit of metrics. There was no balance.

Marketers got away from the personal experiences and began to rely on Facebook as a mass communication tool with predominantly one-way dialogue.

Now we’ve reached the point where Facebook has taken away the “mass” part of communication from its platform and we don’t know what to do. We want to remain operating in the new Facebook world we created, but Facebook has made it difficult to do so. We’re upset. We’re confused. We’re searching for answers and workarounds.

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What if the answer in how to use Facebook is to go back to the basics? The way we approached it when it first became a platform for us to use as marketers? What if we went back to creating a personal experience for our followers, interacting with them, and having genuine conversations? What if we threw out those metrics that were forced upon us like followers, website visits and revenue, and instead focused on brand reputation?

You may say, “that’s now how it works anymore.”

And I’d counter that with, “why not?”

In the current world of big data, where marketing leaders love data but typically struggle to make sense of it all, we’ve really lost touch with building and maintaining a brand. We jump straight to measuring sales funnel metrics. In doing so, we lose sight of everything in the funnel besides leads and conversions. This type of marketing can result in brands that don’t have any personality or identity.

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Retail politics is a political term that’s often used when describing campaigning in a few key states (often smaller) that have early primaries, such as New Hampshire. Though it originally was used in the early 20th century to insinuate paying for votes, it has evolved to represent a more localized, grassroots style of campaigning where candidates target votes on an individual or small group level.

Given the ongoing changes and adaptations of Facebook’s news stream algorithm, maybe we should consider approaching marketing and communications via Facebook in a fashion similar to retail politics. Why not utilize a strategy called retail social media?

Retail social media would rely very heavily on individualized and small-group engagement. (tweet this)

This approach could be used by brands on Facebook, evolving the approach taken to the social network to now become a source for building your brand, talking with prospects and customers, and showing your brand’s identity. Don’t you think people want a place where they can really talk with brands? Not pre-written, sterile automated responses positioned as “engagement,” but actual conversation showing a personality, sense of humor and perspective.

The idea seems great for startups. It saves financial resources that were previously allocated to sponsored content and replaces it with shared human resources. With tight coordination, a team of people could manage Facebook using a retail social media approach.

This concept isn’t just for startups though. Medium-sized businesses or even large businesses could also deploy a retail social media strategy. A company like Nike, which receives tons of comments, can’t scale to reply to every single one. That would become a huge financial burden. But what if every single day instead of pushing content at followers, they chose to converse with them? They could choose a few conversations to engage in and comments to reply to. Isn’t that still personalized? Even if I’m a follower who doesn’t receive a response to my comment, I can see other responses. I can join into conversations started by Nike. I can see the personality coming through from the brand. Seeing its engagement would increase my sentiment toward the brand more than any piece of sponsored content from Nike that shows up in my news stream.

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Instead of using all all your social media channels in exactly the same way to support the same phases of the sales cycle, why not mix in something different?

Facebook’s algorithm can’t affect your strategy if you shift to a retail social media model. You’re no longer going for mass communication. You’re being personal, talking to individuals and getting back to the two-way dialogue with your followers that people initially liked seeing from brands on Facebook.

Retail social media. Could it be the future of Facebook? (tweet this)

This post is syndicated from its original publishing on LinkedIn.