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Facebook Timeline for the 99 percent

Facebook Timeline for the 99 percent Scott Meldrum
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Last week Facebook announced sweeping changes to the way brands interact with customers through their pages. Since then, a slew of articles and blog posts have been published that break down the changes into digestible bits. Some have even provided recommendations on how brands can maximize these changes to better promote their products and services.



This is not one of those articles.



For a complete breakdown of each of these changes and how to leverage them, check out this article. And for a better understanding of how these changes impact brands that advertise on the platform, Michael Lazerow of Buddy Media delivers a very eloquent point of view.


It dawned on me that 99 percent of the brands on Facebook are smaller in scale than some of the companies featured in the slew of articles we have seen. Coca-Cola, Starbucks, and Ford have armies of internal social media ninjas to tackle the challenges and opportunities that these changes bring. Additionally, they employ global social media agencies and use the most cutting edge technology to manage and constantly improve the results.


The big global brands are going to leverage these changes in new and exciting ways, ways we can't yet imagine, and I say "right on!" Clearly it makes sense to follow in the footsteps of giants here. But are the strategies and tactics soon to be deployed by the big global guys truly relevant for a $500 million brand? What about a $10 million brand? Or the guy with three burger joints in Texas?


What about the rest of us?


What follows is a series of observations, concerns, and recommendations specifically tailored to the other 99 percent. It doesn't encompass all of the changes to Facebook's pages, just those more relevant to how the rest of us are marketing on the platform.

Timeline


Clearly this is a big win for just about any brand. It's visually appealing, better organized, and allows any brand to spotlight (pinning and starring) its best content. For brands with a rich history, Timeline is especially valuable. It's good stuff.


The key to winning here is content, content, content. My agency turns just about anything into content. It's what we do. You don't necessarily need an agency to figure that out for you; however, it's now very clear: your Facebook page is a vessel. It's meant to be filled. Videos, images, history, posts, and other forms of content will drive everything now. It's all front and center. Your content has to keep up with the format and flow of how users will interact with pages. Serve it up, organize it, optimize it, and repeat.


Newsfeed


All of these changes lead to the central mechanism of how users engage on Facebook: the newsfeed. As content from your page is now more visible than ever, the likelihood of that content being shared is greater. At least that's the idea.


The whole promise for brands on this platform sits on the foundation of the newsfeed. Fan reach via the newsfeed has always been a challenge for brands. According to comScore, page posts only reach 16 percent of fans. While Facebook announced an exciting new ad product, Reach Generator, the challenge for brands remains unchanged. Your presence in the newsfeeds of your fans is not a given. While these changes help juice the odds, they don't come close to the kind of impact you can make by focusing your newsfeed content and communications, in ways that deliver relevancy to your fans and engagement for your brand.


Tabs


This is a big one. Every brand will pay some sort of a price to reimagine its tabs. Dimensionally, the shift is a real plus. Larger and more present within the page environment, the new tab format will deliver richer user experiences, which will deliver better engagement metrics for the brand. The positioning of the tab icons is much improved. Nice big icons deliver greater impression value.


The one serious drawback here is that Facebook will no longer allow landing tabs. Brands have relied on landing tabs to drive actions -- "likes," registrations, clicks, deals, email subscriptions, etc. -- ever since tabs were released into the ecosystem. Our ability to steer users to a central experience was crucial to the conversion process.


Since we don't have the ability to direct users to a specific place on our pages, we will have to use the larger icons and pinned posts to drive traffic to the priority tab(s). Facebook Ads should also be considered here. In this way, you are marketing your priority tab(s) so that users will click to them. Think of it from this perspective: Using pinned posts and icons, how can you drive a page user to click on a tab? If you aren't seeing results organically, how can you use ads to deliver fans to your tabs? We'll likely see some examples from the 1 percent. Test them out as well as your own. Optimize constantly.

Facebook Ads


Facebook refused to allow advertising. Facebook enabled advertising. Facebook reinvented advertising. Facebook requires advertising in order for brands to succeed. End of story.


That's not a rant, just a surrender to reality. But in the surrender, you start to look at paid ads as a pretty effective tool. Sponsored Stories was, and still is, a terrific way to advertise your page and its content. Now all of the advertising you do on the platform will be born from the content on your page. Ads will come from your posts. That's pretty cool when you consider the value of your posts in their ability to generate engagement.


As I mentioned above, Facebook is releasing a new ad product called Reach Generator. This ad is a monster. We've all had a love-hate relationship with EdgeRank, the algorithm that determines what posts make it into the newsfeeds of your fans. Okay, maybe a hate-hate relationship. Regardless, with a Reach Generator ad you can deliver any page post to 75 percent of your fan base. Balance that against the 16 percent average, and the benefit becomes obvious.


This is not a product to use on every post. Priority posts that need to drive some form of interaction are the best posts to use with this ad product. Whether the interaction is a share, a "like," a comment, or a click, the ability to reach 75 percent of the audience you've spent time and resources growing is a game changer. Whether this will improve your EdgeRank score for organic posts is unclear. Regardless it should have a priority place in your toolbox.


My only concern here is how the distribution of ads will impact the user experience within the newsfeed. If 20 percent of all posts are ads, will the user start to tune out the newsfeed? Brands are already struggling with the tune-out factor. Right now, this ad product is only available to premium advertisers who spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on the platform. Once it opens up to all advertisers, the newsfeed could become a Times Square environment and nullify the whole purpose of the newsfeed.



It's no surprise that every single change Facebook announced last week was strategically integrated. Taken as a whole, the changes are very positive. They represent a dynamic shift in the way users interact with brands and in how brands can better engage users and fans. But each change represents its own unique set of accelerators and obstacles. No matter how you look at it, when it comes to the changes coming, one thing is absolutely clear:


Facebook will drive content experiences first, brand experiences second.


Every single thing you do on this platform will begin and end with content. For the 99 percent, it's time to step back and look at your strategy to see if you are delivering great content. If not, learn from the 1 percent as well as your competitors to make the shift.


Scott Meldrum is chief pollin8or at Pollin8.


On Twitter? Follow Scott at @ScottMeldrum. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

As a veteran of Interactive Marketing and Social Media, Scott Meldrum provides digital strategy, creative and media solutions for leading brands. Leveraging 20 years of interactive experience, he has delivered award-wining digital advertising and...

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Comments

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Commenter: Colin Chase

2012, March 05

You're absolutely right, smaller brands really have to work at this. I manage a growing page for a small Brand that is at nearly 20,000 LIKEs right now. Our Brand is in the "healthy snacks" category.

There are many ways to utilize Facebook, but due to Social Media allowing consumers to target us (in essence by their "Liking" our company page) it is a very individualistic experience for the consumer. A one-size-fits-all approach for Facebook techniques for "smaller brands" is likely to fail.

However, nothing ventured, nothing gained. So I guess the important part is that the smaller brands try things, experiment, and learn what their "Fans" on Facebook want from them in regard to content, postings, images, polls, contests, etc.

It really boils down to basic marketing - Know Your Audience.

Colin