By Samuel Scott
Imagine that you are a marketing vice president living in the early 1950s, when television first became widely popular in the United States. The CEO of your company wants the millions of users of the new medium to know about your product – but he is not interested in taking the time and spending the money to produce any commercials.
You would laugh. (Well, as much as you could laugh in front of your boss.) The CEO clearly would not understand the nature of marketing via the new medium. Without television content, television marketing is impossible.
The same is true in Facebook marketing today. Without Facebook content, Facebook marketing is impossible.
At various points in my career, I have had bosses and clients obsess over gaining thousands of “likes” quickly – but they have often wanted to build such audiences for free and without producing any original, quality content to post on the network. All too often, they have not understood why their desires were as futile as my hypothetical example mentioned earlier of wanting to advertise on television without making any commercials and paying for the exposure.
Effective Facebook marketing takes time and money. It is not something a marketing director can just hand over to an intern and say, “Get me 50,000 ‘likes!’”
What it Really Takes to Build a Facebook Following
Companies that want to market on Facebook are likely going to have to pay to increase their audiences significantly. After the social-media giant’s lackluster IPO, the company is under enormous pressure to increase advertising revenue and maintain a quality user-experience. As a result, the “old” ways to build an audience are now less effective:
- Publish More to Get More “Likes.” As Brian Carter notes at AllFacebook, the typical post by a page now reaches only 17% of the people who have “liked” the company. According to Robin Grant at TechCrunch, the organic reach of the average post has declined 40%. Facebook now wants businesses with company pages to pay for “Promoted Posts” to reach their full audiences. Businesses will get “likes” here and there by posting often – but not thousands of them quickly. (In fact, noting Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm and its associated best-practices to build a company’s online Klout, posting too much low-quality content actually hurts one’s ability to get more “likes.”)
- Promoting Pages on Business Materials. Of course, companies want to advertise their Facebook pages on their websites and other marketing collateral. The issue is that if a business is either a start-up or a new company and not a Fortune 500 business with an existing customer base and website traffic that numbers in the hundreds of thousands, it will not be successful overnight. The company will get “likes” here and there via such promotion – but not thousands of them quickly.
- Posting as a Page on Other Pages. Before Facebook had made many changes to the way pages operate, a common practice had been for businesses to comment as their pages on similar and relevant pages and communities and “add to the conversation.” Now, however, comments by or mentioning other pages are often automatically moderated and put into a queue for approval. Page owners can (and often do) block the ability of others to post. Those that allow third-party messages usually restrict them to a small “Posts by Others” box, where they are rarely seen. People are increasingly cynical, and they know that all posts by pages are self-serving (if not outright spam) in some way or another. Companies will get “likes” here and there via such “engagement” – but not thousands of them quickly.
For better or worse, one quick way to build large, quality followings on Facebook today is to incorporate paid advertising into one’s overall strategy. Facebook has a specific type of campaign to build “likes,” but it is important to know how to use its targeting features to obtain quality followers who will be genuinely interested in a company and most likely to spread its online content. Typically, this involves knowing – at the minimum – the specific demographics, locations, and interests of the target audience, the messaging to which they will respond, and the method to create various campaigns and advertisements to reach each segment in the best way.
Engaging Facebook Fans With Content
Just as a company would need to produce commercials to reach a television audience, so do businesses need to create content to reach their newly-gained Facebook audiences. And what type of content will the company’s followers most likely share with their friends on the network? As Social Bakers notes:
In August 2012, we found out that 70% of the posts shared by businesses were photos, followed by links (14%), status updates (10%) and videos (6%). A few months later, in December, photos became even more dominant with a 77% share, followed by a drop in links and status updates… [In] August last year, 93% of the most shared brand posts across the social network were photos…
And what types of photos, for example, are most shared? Dayna Rothman of Marketo observes:
Shareability is all about what the post does to people — it has an effect on them that they want to share with others. Highly shareable posts do at least one of the following:
- GIVE: Offers, discounts, deals or contests that everyone can benefit from, not just one sub-group of your friends
- ADVISE: Tips, especially about problems that everyone encounters; for example, how to get a job or how to beat the flu
- WARN: Warnings about dangers that could affect anyone
- AMUSE: Funny pictures and quotes, as long as they’re not offensive to any group- sometimes the humor isn’t quite as strong or edgy- it has to appeal to a general audience
- INSPIRE: Inspirational quotes
- AMAZE: Amazing pictures or facts
- UNITE: A post that acts as a flag to carry and a way to brag to others about your membership in a group that’s doing pretty darned good, thank you very much.
People use Facebook to interact with friends and family, not to receive barrages of advertising and sales pitches. While companies do want to notify their fans of offers and discounts (as this is the primary reason that people “like” a business page in the first place), businesses should not “sell” to them too often. Instead, a company’s goal should be to create visual content for its Facebook page that “gives, advises, warns, amuses, inspires, amazes, or unites.”
Still, the content-creation process should not be oversimplified. A marketing director should not just hand the company’s Facebook page to a graphic designer and say, “Create attractive graphics and post them!” The business first needs an overall plan that incorporates:
- The company’s overall communications goals
- The desired branding, messaging, and positioning
- A brainstorming process for developing visual content that will help to achieve the goals and communicate the branding and positioning
- The specific tasks the social-media manager will perform
- A rapid-response plan to deal with any Facebook customer-service or public-relations issues that arise
- A social-media calendar that will determine what items will be posted and when (in line with Facebook best-practices and the times when the target audience is typically on the network)
- An ongoing data review to see what content at what times tends to deliver the best results
Effective Facebook marketing is not easy. If it were, then any company could create a page and earn $1 million in a week. Facebook is simply yet another medium to which to apply traditional communications theory and best-practices. From traditional advertising to search-engine optimization to social media, marketing for long-term success is a marathon, not a race.
To win this marathon in the context of Facebook, businesses need to spend the money to build an audience and take the time to create content that will spread among their followers and beyond. Just like how a commercial would need to be produced to reach television viewers and get them to spread the word about a company to their friends.
Samuel Scott is Director of Digital Marketing and Communications and SEO Team Leader for The Cline Group. You see more of his thoughts on Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Scott’s personal website is here, and he is a contributor to Moz.