Facebook newsfeed for businesses is dead. Long live Facebook.

The clarion call of social media service providers has finally come out in the wash.

The notion that Facebookers love to engage with your brand has been squashed – by Facebook itself

Will your Facebook page become a ghost town?
Will your page be a ghost town?

The social network’s decision to further reduce the visibility of posts from business pages is a clear message that people don’t actually like being bombarded with your ‘brand conversations’ after all, (See Bringing People Closer Together – Facebook) especially if they’re all one-way.

So if you’ve been posting updates to Facebook in the hope you’re getting free advertising, what are you supposed to do now?

Don’t cast Facebook off as a lost cause, it will still be a useful tool to businesses for reaching customers through an evolved advertising offering and messaging through many people’s preferred way to communicate, Messenger.

I am hoping this will focus business minds on proper marketing initiated outside of Facebook. rather than tying yourself to a platform then wondering what to put on it.

Facebook has said it will ‘prioritize posts that spark conversations and meaningful interactions between people’. That’s what we all want to see. Relevant, meaningful stuff. Brands have got stuck in a rut of doing the exact opposite and this is the result.

Stop talking, start listening

There are two types of conversation happening on Facebook, those initiated by businesses (page posts), which is where the changes will hit, and those initiated by consumers (generally messages).

This is one reason why I say ‘don’t dump Facebook’. Consumers will still turn to Facebook to contact your business, whether as a replacement for email or because it’s the easiest touch point. But that’s a customer service conversation, not a marketing one. And this is where you should embrace Messenger, yes it’s only one-to-one,  but that’s one more person you might be reaching than with the newsfeed. If Facebook becomes nothing more than a mini-comms hub for your business, then so be it.

And of course there’s targeted behavioural advertising, which is a far better platform to sell your wares than page posts, but it does come at a cost. It’s a rare business that can survive without advertising, and this platform offers a superb array of tools you can use to reach the right people.

Zuckerberg has spoken – Facebook newsfeed is for friends and family, Facebook advertising is for businesses. If you want to reach your target audience, get out your chequebook.

If you are a business owner, ask yourself how often you interact with brands as a potential spender?

The refrigerator test

I take little notice of organic brand messages, yet I frequently respond to ads. I like Bob Hoffman’s gritty analogy he calls the refrigerator test.

He says: ‘Go to your fridge, and call out all the brands in there that you have meaningful conversations with on social networks, then go to your larder, your lounge, your garage. Do the same test everywhere you go, and ask yourself the same question. If social media allows you to have a conversation with your customers, how many of the brands you buy are you talking to right now, or have ever talked to on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, et al.’

Bob bets the answer is zero. And I can tell you it is zero for me too.

If I look in my cupboard I see Marmite, McVitie’s, Heinz. Do I converse with them? Nope. Warburton’s, Highland Spring, Sainsbury’s. Nada. Hotpoint, Samsung, George Forman. Still nope. Vauxhall, LG, Apple, Canon, Sony. No way José.

Yet these big household brands have thousands of followers, maybe tens of thousands, what hope has the small business got or ever had, other than the promise of a social media advocate that says social media WILL change the fortune of your business.

No-one is watching

As a test, I visited one of these pages randomly, Vauxhall. The top post was pinned from December. It has 19 comments from a following of 175,000. That’s a month gone by and it’s elicited a response of 0.01%. This is one of, if not THE, top motor brands in the UK and the launch of a new vehicle gets a beyond-pathetic response. But that’s not the full story. Most (and I mean MOST!) of the comments are knocking the brand, the dealers and the service, yet no-one from Vauxhall has even responded. And no defence from the Vauxhall fanboys and girls.

There are exceptions, but when averaged out, organic Facebook as a viable marketing channel is not happening, and it hasn’t been for a long time. And Twitter’s even worse.

I rarely do workshops because the nuances of social networks mean that one size doesn’t fit all, and I really need to work with a business closely to know how best to use it, but the last workshop I was asked to do was more than a year ago and I said back then that businesses should be cultivating their social networks to focus on customer service and not as free advertising.

Ads are ads not social memes

Advertising is a separate thing. It requires an advertising skill, not a social skill. And the changes make that division so much clearer.

The delegates at my workshop had come with the expectation that I would give them a cheat sheet of things to do that would ‘work’ without cost, but it’s not as simple as that. I showed them how rubbish organic reach was and pointed out that social media service providers are not even using it to sell their own services. And then I showed them advertising, and how it trumped everything.

When you come to me for ‘social media’ that’s what you get, even if it’s not what you want to hear.

Let’s be clear, Facebook won’t go away. Business and brands will still have to maintain a business page in the same way they have a phone, letterbox, email address and customer service desk. It will become a customer service medium, rather than a social medium, and there will less reason to be frivolous. You can’t show an unhappy customer an athletic slo-mo dog video and hope it appeases them.

I expect there will be an ‘exodus’ of sorts, but if people can’t contact you through Facebook, you could indeed lose potential customers, you still have to be where your customers are, so don’t delete your account in anger.

Cleaning up

Facebook knows this latest move will turn off businesses that refuse to advertise, but you could argue the move will clean things up.

One thing I haven’t mentioned is adverts in the news feed. I have no doubt they will still continue to appear, but with payment behind them, there will be more focus on creating better performing relevant messages. People will need to learn what makes advertising work or employ ad professionals to make full use of the targeting and behavioural aspects of Facebook advertising.

The mistake marketers have made up till now is to think Facebook first. You can see it everywhere, posts going up to meet a quota, providers offering to post on your behalf, software that makes ready-made posts. It’s all wrong and has contributed to the situation we now find ourselves in.

Use the basic principles of marketing to create a plan, then choose your tools. If Facebook is part of that, and nine times out of ten it should be, then use it.

As a marketer, I can honestly say, I am excited that this change will make Facebook a better platform to promote businesses, but businesses need to look at creating of a wider campaign model, and make Facebook a part of that, not the other way around.