Category Archives: Content Publishing

What’s Left of Facebook’s Organic Reach Is About to Disappear

facebook_logo.pngFacebook dropped a bomb on the marketing industry last Friday when it published this post saying it would be reducing the number of “overly promotional” posts from brand pages that appear in people’s News Feed. According to Facebook these are the traits that people surveyed weren’t fond of:

Posts that solely push people to buy a product or install an app

Posts that push people to enter promotions and sweepstakes with no real context

Posts that reuse the exact same content from ads

That’s an incredibly broad definition that essentially eliminates everything but “News” as a possible topic for Facebook posts. Anything that sounds like a call to action to buy, watch, download or anything else would fall under the “overly promotional” definition and therefore sound too much like an ad, to use Facebook’s terms, to make it into the News Feed of the people who have Liked the page.

As many have pointed out, this threatens to drop organic reach on Facebook from the ~2% is currently hovers at (meaning if you have 2 million Facebook fans you’ll actually reach 20,000 of them with any given post) to effectively 0% (meaning if you have 2 million Facebook fans you’ll actually reach around five of them with any given post).

Facebook VP Brian Boland is quoted in the New York Times as saying this is not a move made out of the desire to increase ad revenue but considering the above three categories are all ones where Facebook has increasingly made serious ad dollars that claim is dubious at best.

So the question becomes, what can brand publishers do about it?

The answer, unfortunately, is not much. At least when it comes to Facebook itself. This is a stark reminder that not only are brands only renting space on Facebook in a relationship that is dramatically one-sided. There’s little to no recourse available than to agree to the new cruelty and either accept what’s given to them or pay for the privilege of getting more.

Nate Elliott at Forrester has a couple of thoughts, including making sure your owned site has a form of community built into it and doubling down on tools like email marketing, where you have more control over the delivery of the message than you do on a platform like Facebook or other social network.

Before any decisions are made, though, it’s important to take a moment and examine what role Facebook currently plays in the marketing ecosystem at your company. How big is it in terms of referring visits to your site? Are those “quality” visitors? Do you know if your Facebook fans also get your email marketing? These are just some of the questions to be asking at this moment.

One thing is clear: Unless they’re willing to pay to achieve any sort of reach, Facebook is no longer the place to sell or promote your brand or products. It would seem that this would even apply to the “sale or coupons” deals that people have stated over and over again that they prefer from the brands they follow and align themselves with on social media.

The timing of this actually works out well. Brands who are in the midst of setting their 2015 strategies and goals now know the roadblocks in front of them on Facebook and can plan and allocate accordingly. That may be small consolation for those who have built their social strategy with Facebook promotion and publishing at the core, but better to know how much trouble you’re in before you have the rug pulled out from under your feet.

Instagram finally allows for editing…Now Twitter needs to catch up

instagram-logo.jpgIt’s great that Instagram has added the ability to edit captions on their posts. It really is. As someone who’s made more than a few typos (including on client photos) because the “i” and “o” buttons are two close together on a QWERTY keyboard, I sing the praises of something like this.

Unfortunately there’s still a big missing piece here: Twitter editing.

See, if I make a typo in the Instagram caption now I can go back and fix it. But if I share that photo on Twitter it pulls over the caption as well. But when I fix the typo on Instagram that change isn’t then reflected on Twitter and right now Twitter does not let you edit Tweets after their published.

That increasingly seems like a slap in the face to users and publishers and less and less like Twitter working to maintain the sanctity of the stream, warts and all. Now don’t get me wrong, having made my bones in the Weblogs Inc “publish fast, correct later” system, the occasional type doesn’t seem like that big a deal to me. But when it comes to brands, it’s a whole other set of considerations and these sorts of things can have a negative impact on reputation.

Right now Twitter (and its Vine app) are officially the outliers, the only major social networks that don’t allow for after-the-fact editing. And Twitter’s statements that post-publish editing would corrupt the “right now”-ness of the stream and allow for abuse rings increasingly hollow as they continue to talk about tweaking the stream to accommodate some sort of algorithm-based display.

Earned media distribution isn’t hard, but it takes structure

According to The Holmes Report, which recaps a session from the Global Public Relations Summit, earned media has a distribution problem.

The issue, according to those on the panel, is that earned media – getting story on CNN, for instance – has a very short shelf life and it’s hard to draw people’s attention to them. So, if I’m understanding this right, the issue is that while the CNN story might help persuade those who see it, the right people aren’t always seeing it.

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Yes, that is a problem for PR. But that’s why so many PR practitioners have evolved into content marketing practitioners.

Any good content publishing program should include two major elements: Original and curated content. And those media stories the PR team works so hard to pitch and secure fit snuggly into the “curated” section. So they can be shared on a brand’s Twitter, Facebook and other social profiles to bring them to the awareness of people who aren’t regularly checking the media sites they originated on.

(For the record, “original” content then refers to material that, for instance, is published on-domain.)

So while on-domain content may be 75% original and 25% curated (there’s still room for sharing some of those stories on your blog or other site) a social profile may be the exact opposite, favoring curated content as opposed to own. Ratios and percentages are going to vary from program to program of course, but that’s the general idea.

The point is, distribution of earned media is only a problem if you’re not trying hard enough. And the nice part of having owned channels you’re distributing curated earned media hits through is that, if desired, you can hit that beat more than once. If the article hits on Wednesday and you want to make sure the people on Saturday have seen it? You can post it again! And no one can stop you MWAHAHAHA.

Obviously there’s also a paid element here, and it’s telling that some of the people quoted in the story go immediately from earned to paid, without considering owned.

Maybe this is why native advertising is usually the first thing that some comms people turn to when they feel earned media isn’t getting it done. Those deals, to my understanding, almost always include distribution of those stories on the publication’s owned channels, which sometimes have larger reach than the brand’s own.

Again, if distribution of earned media is a problem, it’s one with a multitude of fixes available. This doesn’t need to be something where hands are thrown up. But it takes realigning resources behind making sure the infrastructure is in place to fix that problem in an effective way.

*Image via Flicker

Brand journalism can be a good thing but requires transparency

News broke yesterday that Verizon was starting up its own tech-news site, a venture meant to compete (theoretically) with the likes of Wired and others that would also position Verizon as a thought-leader in the space. After all, that’s the end goal of all such brand content programs where the scope expands beyond that of company-specific news: To be an influential voice in the industry conversation.

But there was a hitch. As repotted by The Daily Dot, the online magazine, StringSearch.com, would be actively avoiding the topics of U.S. government surveillance of its citizens and net neutrality, two topics Verizon has an active interest in, or at least stories that Verizon is often the subject of.

As the story points out, Verizon is hardly the first to get into the brand journalism game and certainly won’t be the last. Companies are producing media (beyond just a corporate blog and social media program) right and left that rivals trade publications in some regards. And they’re not the first to turn an intentional blind eye to issues that paint them in less than a stellar light.

(later update: Verizon has tried to walk this back, but not very successfully)

As this story in the Columbia Journalism Review points out, “brand journalism” is the result of internal comms people and other consultants smelling an opportunity in the wake of so many *actual* media newsrooms experiencing severe cutbacks. But this isn’t just a void being filled, it’s a beachhead being secured by the brands who get to cut out that whole “objectivity” thing.

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This sort of media production by brands is usually labeled as a bad thing that’s harmful to the common interest. Indeed you can even see my bias toward that point of view here, though I realize it’s not always a black and white issue. at least it doesn’t need to be, but that would require the brands doing the production of these outlets to be proactive in their approach.

The biggest hurdle to get over is that of transparency and the realization that they can’t just ignore the uncomfortable topics. The media world is rife with examples of an outlet having to report on itself. The example that comes to mind first is the protracted drama within the Chicago Tribune having to do with debt negotiations that resulted from the miserable era of Sam Zell’s ownership. The coverage exposed all the gritty details of how talks with shareholders were going and contained a disclosure that, of course, this was all very naval-gazing for the paper. ]

With corporate ownership of “legitimate” media now a common thing, the audience is more used to the disclaimers that “X is owned by/owns Y” than they were even 20 years ago, when this started to get seriously out of hand. So a story about, say, net neutrality can be accompanied if necessary by a statement on the company’s position on the issue and a link to read more. Ideally this should be inserted *after* the story has been reported, edited and approved free of corporate interference.

Is this all a little naive? Sure, I’ll admit that. But I think there can absolutely be a place for this sort of brand-owned media outlet to exist peacefully alongside the ones that aren’t, or which at least aren’t produced explicitly by the brand even if the chain or corporate ownership ties them together in some manner. After all, the influence of brand publishers (again, I’m referring here to those programs that go above and beyond an external-facing blog to something that’ more full like a industry zine) is just going to grow, likely at the continued expense of traditional outlets who are hampered by not just the need to cut expenses but by an arguably outdated model not just of editorial distance but also distribution and other logistics.

There’s lots brand journalism can offer to the audience. But as it gets more and more mainstream it will need to adjust in its own way, just as the more traditional media outlets will need to make their own adjustments in order to survive.

Blog usage declines among Fortune 500 companies

The University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research has release its annual report on social media usage among the Fortune 500 companies.

For the first time in seven years, since 2008, the number of companies in this group with a public facing corporate blog has dropped, down to 31% from 2013’s peak level of 34%. That could be the beginning of a trend, it could just signal a momentary dip…it’s unclear based on the data in the story. But it does hint that fewer companies (3% translates to 15 brands) are adopting a hub and spoke content marketing strategy since, if they don’t have a blog then the odds of them having the necessary hub is much lower.

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Of the most-used social networks, LinkedIn has the highest adoption rate, with 97% of the companies in this group operating pages there. The fact that it’s higher than Facebook (80%) or Twitter (83%), which may be slightly surprising until you consider that other studies consistently show the B2B industry is much more likely to find value on LinkedIn than they would on other networks that are more attuned to a general consumer audience.

Growth on Pinterest in the last year has been significant, jumping from 9% last year to 36% in 2014 as brands gravitate toward that network. While the report doesn’t spell it out exactly like this, it’s easy to assume that’s largely because Pinterest does not require connection to a larger publishing. By that I mean a retailer can actively post to and participate on Pinterest without having a blog or other outpost, they can just populate their boards with products from their online shop and so on. Even Instagram, for all its hype, didn’t see that kind of growth. And neither did Foursquare, which in 2014 has five times the corporate usage it did last year.

Meanwhile Google+ stands out for, as the study says, having a large number of open but inactive accounts, likely the result of Google+ being (until recently) a requirement when creating other Google accounts. This may also be brands claiming names/URLs without a clear strategy or reason to be on Google+, something that’s been a reality for quite a while.

Two Tragedies, Two Opportunities to Reconsider Social Media Publishing

People were stunned Tuesday afternoon when news broke that Robin Williams had, by his own hand, passed away. That includes myself. Williams was a huge talent and an incredibly loved and influential comedian, actor and person.

As the afternoon more and more people in the “Social Media Marketing” wing of Twitter particularly came out with their opinion that, in the wake of the tragedy, brands should pause their social publishing programs. While I certainly see their point, I disagreed. Williams’ death was certainly sudden and Twitter was filled with an outpouring of emotion over it, but in my opinion it didn’t rise to the level where brands appear incredibly insensitive and tone-deaf with their scheduled updates. There was nothing inappropriate about continuing to publish at that time like there is when there’s a shooting at a school, a bomb goes off somewhere in the U.S. or something similarly massive happens. It’s hard calculus, and I certainly respected differing opinions, but this didn’t meet the necessary criteria to make that recommendation.

(Note that if we paused every time a bomb goes off elsewhere in the world no brands would ever tweet again until the second coming of Christ himself. We also differentiate between shootings. 12 people could be killed in Chicago over this weekend and every brand in America would continue to publish without a second thought.)

After watching on Twitter as events unfolded in Ferguson, MO last night, though, I’m increasingly of the opinion that the situation *there* does cross that threshold.

Think about it: Right now in an American city – one just 275 miles from my front door – there are police confronting unarmed citizens with riot gear, including long-range rifles, tear gas and more. That’s really happening. Journalists are being taken to prison, peaceful protestors are being tear-gassed and more.

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(image via @chicagotribune)

Imagine if brands took a stand and said, “In light of the actions happening in Ferguson, MO we are taking a break from our social media marketing. When we feel the situation has been resolved, or there’s a clear path that’s being taken to that resolution, we will resume regular posts. Until then, our thoughts are with the people of Ferguson.”

Now that might sound like crazy talk. Take a stand on a public issue that has little to nothing to do with a company’s business? That’s nuts and this shouldn’t impact marketing one way or the other, right? But that’s exactly what brands and companies are doing everyday with issues like birth control, same-sex marriage and a host of other social issues.

Just like taking a stand on same-sex marriage shows companies attempting to convey human emotions and take a stand against what is the status quo, doing so around the events of Ferguson would be a showing that they’re not blind to the events around them, events that are, on many levels, hard to believe.

I’ll admit I’m not ready to make this call myself just yet. It’s so outside the norm that I’m still hesitant to recommend what I’ve outlined above. But it’s something that’s growing and growing in the back of my mind and, if things aren’t resolved there soon, I may work up the nerve to at least try to lead by example.

Facebook Reach (Or You Can’t Have the Glengarry Leads)

facebook_logo.pngBrian Boland, who leads the Ads Product Marketing team at Facebook, has published a very interesting and much discussed piece on the Facebook Business Blog about the decrease in organic reach most brand publishers have been, are and will be seeing for their posts.

Boland lays the fault for that dropping reach at the feet of two things: First, there’s more content being produced than ever before and Second, this is actually how the News Feed is supposed to work, pulling out what it deems to be important – or of value – and showing it off while hiding other posts. He specifically denies that reach is being throttled in an effort to encourage companies to buy ads to boost that reach.

We’ve no choice but to take Boland at his word. But there are several points at which it’s easy to contest what he says here:

First, for most brands (at least in my experience) the falloff wasn’t a gradual thing; It was sudden. One month everything was running at a certain level and the next the bottom fell all the way out. That’s not because 300% more people were posting and fighting for New Feed position than they were the month before. That’s because *something* about the algorithm changed and it directly impacted how brands were doing business.

Second, it’s a bit hard to take his initial statements about organic reach *not* being tied to a desire for ad revenue when the entire second half of the post is filled with examples and stories about how buying ads is the smart play for brands who actually want to reach people. It’s a bit like being told “No, you won’t die unless I amputate your leg. But let me tell you the 17 reasons amputating your leg is the only way you’ll live.”

But the part that sticks out for me most is that this is business as usual for Facebook, that they’re just doing what they should be doing. Which is fine, right up to the point where you realize the following:

They’re telling you what should or shouldn’t be important to you.

Put all the social media strategy concerns aside for a moment and think of how monumental that is. We’ve not only ceded control of what we see to Facebook (and others) but we’ve given up the ability to, on any level, make value designations for ourselves. And we’ve done this out of a sense of it being more convenient this way.

Facebook has often tried to compare itself to a newspaper, which often makes that same sort of decision-making. This or that story does make it into the paper (you can also use the analogy of a TV or radio broadcast if you life) and some don’t. Those decisions are out of the control of the reader and in the hands of someone else – a gatekeeper to use the vernacular – whose job it is to rank stories in order of importance. After a certain point there’s no more room for them.

But that analogy falls apart for me when you realize that Facebook is not the one producing the news, a term that’s loose enough to include everything from your aunt’s picture of her flowers to updates from your favorite retailer to a story from CNN about the federal budget. It’s the platform on which many news producers – again, using a fairly broad definition of the word – distribute their material.

So it’s not a newspaper, simply doing what it does. It’s more like a television set – the actual physical appliance – deciding what shows you can and can’t watch based on some unseen algorithm that allows for no override when you, the viewer, realize it’s not doing what you want it to.

It’s in that sense that Facebook, I think, needs to stop acting like a newspaper and we all stop thinking that “well that’s just how it works” is a legitimate rationale.

Instead it needs to act more like a newspaper stand, allowing for indiscriminate access to whatever material the audience would like and allowing each member of that audience to set their own priorities. X person wants this, Y person wants that and it’s up to them decide. And if they want everything – the proverbial firehose – that’s their choice as well.

To do that Facebook would need to stop basing an individual’s News Feed on each individual piece of content or the activity of others in someone’s network and start giving each user more control at the Page level. Let me mark This Page as a Tier 1, where I see everything they publish, this one as Tier 2 where I only see some of what’s published and so on.

*This* would be Facebook acting more like a neutral delivery platform than anything they’ve done before. Which of course means it likely won’t happen.

For brand publishers there’s some serious debating that needs to happen about what’s more valuable for them: Encouraging fans to consume content in the News Feed, where exposure is a dicey proposition or encouraging them to visit the Facebook Page directly to check for recent updates. And no, you’re not imagining things: That sounds like exactly how the web worked before there was such as thing as real-time streams, social networks or anything else. It was the static web and it was inconvenient. But right now there may be more value in making a Facebook page a destination site than something that’s about the stream.

That reality calls into question, though, the very value proposition of Facebook itself. If you’re pushing people to visit a Page directly as opposed to waiting until (or if) something crosses the News Feed, then what’s the value of doing *anything* on the rented land of Facebook where you’re constrained by a set of T&C that’s outside your control as opposed to building a site – or microsite – for a particular kind of content and owning the entire user experience, as well as capturing all the data that comes with that scenario?

It also reminds me of the existence of a technology that allows you to *not* have to bookmark all your favorite websites to see what’s new but still allows you to have absolute control over what you consume and what you do with it: RSS. That simple, neglected and much-derided format lets you see everything that’s new from a site, all within a “reader” that is completely neutral, treating content from one site in the same way it does all the others, with publishers themselves in charge of most of the user experience.

I’m not saying everyone needs to stop using Facebook for brand publishing tomorrow. Far from it, there’s still a lot to be said for the “fish where the fish are” philosophy. But right now we’re in an environment where the fisherman’s lines are being shortened by the people who own the lake and they’re being told they can reach more fish if they just buy this longer line, though making money off the longer line is totally not the reason the lines were cut in the first place.

Or, to put it another way. These leads are not for you.

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That, to me, is making increasingly less sense.