Here’s what a Facebook VP recently told me and group of my colleagues:
“The free ride for brands is over.”
He said it with a tinge of annoyance as we quizzed him on the organic ways to increase audience reach. Facebook doesn’t want to talk about the organic success of brands on Facebook because they need to sell advertising. Facebook sees content as a mix of paid and owned. They see the future of brand content on Facebook as creative content created on the owned channel and then amplified by Facebook’s paid products.
The days when a brand could amass millions of fans without any advertising have gone the way of fax machines and dodo birds.
As many brands have already noticed, Facebook has altered its News Feed algorithm so that posts no longer reach the majority of fans. The average post – without promotion – reaches an average of 16 percent of a brand’s potential audience. The high can be 20 percent and the low one percent. In fact, Facebook admits that the occasional post might even reach nobody.
It all depends on the algorithm. So what does this mysterious algorithm like? How can brands boost their organic distribution?
Well, to be honest, Facebook doesn’t really know. The algorithm has been designed with artificial intelligence so that it learns and adjust for each individual’s News Feed. The goal of the algorithm is to serve up content that each user will interact with – click, comment on, and share. So the News Feed serves up the content that the individual has interacted with in the past.
But Facebook thinks trying to game the algorithm is a fruitless activity. Instead they are urging brands to think about Facebook as a storytelling platform. Use Facebook to create compelling and interesting stories and the algorithm will take care of itself. Stories, especially those that strike an emotional chord, get more interaction. Because that’s how human beings work.
In other words, the days of using Facebook as a bulletin board are over. Or should be over. The mishmash of content – from links to press releases to like baiting “Press like if you love Halloween!” – doesn’t work for storytelling. Instead brands should be focused on longer, richer story narratives with beginnings, middles and endings. Mixing posts with photographs, videos, and applications. Using the rich dynamic opportunities available on Facebook to its fullest.
And then amplify these creative stories with Facebook’s paid products. Otherwise you might be shouting in an empty auditorium.
That’s the winning formula that Facebook is advocating. I’d add that its ever more important to publish brand content on every owned channel: website, email newsletter, Twitter, Google+, blogs, YouTube, etc… Syndicating and amplifying through the media, bloggers, social news communities like Reddit and other paid opportunities such as Outbrain and Twitter.
If you tell stories. Good things will happen.
And that’s why Facebook’s executives are pushing storytelling like never before. Because that is what is going to work.