The End of the Facebook Like Bubble

There’s a new reality for brands in the digital space, and they’re finding out they’re not the ones holding the cards, especially when we’re talking about Facebook.

In September, Facebook tweaked its newsfeed algorithm, a move that raised concerns it was putting the hurt to brands by cutting the number of messages that go through to their fans. This would figure, critics said, since Facebook’s ad model is dependent on brands paying to get more of their messages in front of their audience. Perhaps more importantly, brands are starting to realize they don’t call the shots in the digital world, like they do with other media. Now, they have to adjust their expectations and even their approaches to play in the digital waters, and still it won’t be enough to get a free ride anymore, no matter what some social guru says about “creating engaging content.”

And it appears brands need to recalibrate their Facebook approach. According to a new study by GroupM, there’s been a 38 percent decline on the reach of brand pages. While 14 percent of users saw an organic post pre-algorithm change, it dropped down to 8 percent after the change. In short, Facebook cut the reach of brands that don’t pay up. And they’re not used to these types of ultimatums.

Now, the other way of looking at the data is that Facebook is simply ferreting out messages that wouldn’t hit home with some members of a brand’s audience. After all, Group M found an engagement has increased by 96 percent.

Reach matters because there’s an expectation that if someone likes your page they’re then going to interact, and you can only fulfill on that if you can reach them. Brands long ago woke up to the fact that their audience on Facebook is far smaller than it seems. After all, Facebook said in February only 10 percent see a post on average.

“The first, [if I’m a brand] I’m just, in sheer numbers, reaching fewer,” Chris Copeland, CEO of GroupM Next. “Secondly, I need to better understand the types of posts to get better engagement. If I can put those things together, I can support lesser numbers with paid media to amplify the message. It comes to, how do we start to sequence conversations for the brand better to people who have liked us.”

For smaller brands, the algorithm change won’t help tap into the vast Facebook audience and build a fanbase. The casual Facebook user will not see that post unless the brand pays money to get the post in front of that user — and this is the nut of Mark Cuban’s argument and what poses problems to those creating a brand Facebook strategy: Do you go after the person who already loves your brand and is willing to take the brand relationship offline, or do you go after the random user, who may or may not convert to a brand loyalist? Such have been the perennial questions for brands, but with Facebook dictating how brands should play in its playground, these questions become more pressure-filled for companies looking at some type of social ROI.

“[Facebook] made a move to cut out noise, which is a good thing for user experience,” Copeland said. “What’s interesting, we found that your content doesn’t have to be as good to get high engagement. That bears watching. You have to produce really compelling content to get engagement; if you’re talking to engaged fans, you don’t have to be as engaging with content — this is a long-term issue to watch.”