Why Strategists Sometimes Deliver Mediocre Facebook Marketing Results

Posted on Posted in Social Media Strategy, Strategy

Recently I saw that some digital marketing strategists were surprised by Facebook’s recent announcement about posts of a promotional nature.

According to people we surveyed, there are some consistent traits that make organic posts feel too promotional:
  1. Posts that solely push people to buy a product or install an app
  2. Posts that push people to enter promotions and sweepstakes with no real context
  3. Posts that reuse the exact same content from ads

Beginning in January 2015, people will see less of this type of content in their News Feeds. As we’ve said before, News Feed is already a competitive place — as more people and Pages are posting content, competition to appear in News Feed has increased. All of this means that Pages that post promotional creative should expect their organic distribution to fall significantly over time.

For us, that announcement is no big deal, because it doesn’t affect our basic strategy, which hasn’t had to change much since 2010. The biggest change for us in Facebook strategy was to devalue fan growth in 2012 and make email acquisition a critical component. We never had to worry about how tabs were devalued, because we always saw them as outside the main flow of Facebook (the newsfeed). We never worried about organic visibility declining because we have always recommended advertising. Generally speaking, we’ve used durable strategies all along. Part of that is because we have always embraced advertising as a fundamental investment. Resistance to advertising is a curious and unwise attitude in digital marketing.

I would question whether you should get your Facebook marketing strategy from people (generalists, strategists) who don’t implement tactics day-to-day. Why? Because to be surprised or thrown off by the announcement above means that that their knowledge of Facebook as a marketing platform is shallow and inadequate.

What’s Your Source For Marketing Best Practices?

I’ve always wondered where social media generalists get their strategy ideas from. New articles? Blog posts? Rumors? I’ve seen repeatedly in the last decade situations where the most insightful case studies were not published because a company didn’t want to give away the competitive advantage they had discovered. Not all the best tactics and strategies will be in the public domain.

That means that strategists who don’t implement anything will only know about the most average and common approaches- not the most powerful or cutting edge ones.

And in the case of the Facebook promotional posts announcement, being a non-implementing company clearly can lead to misconceptions about basic Facebook strategy. The fact is, no wise Facebook strategy has excluded Facebook advertising since 2012, if I’m being nice, and really 2010, because the huge opportunity of Facebook ads (because of its specific targeting and low prices) was clear way back then.

None of this is a surprise, because Google’s money always came from ads, so one would expect Facebook to follow that model. I didn’t know exactly what would happen or when, but I suspected that the newsfeed and ads would be the core of their marketing opportunity for a long, long time.

I remember when writing one of my books, an editor questioned something I called “a social media best practice.” As an editor with an academic writing background, she wanted an academic reference for it.

In other words, she was asking, “What other book or blog post corroborates your claimed best practices?”

I had to reply, “Well, it comes from my experience,” and that seemed like a lame response at the time, but in light of this, I now see that my day-to-day experience, usually working with 8-12 clients, and doing so over the last 10 years, is at times richer and more useful for answering specific strategy questions than the blogosphere is.

Marketing must seem like a weird industry to academics. In medicine, research is done independently with government grants, or is funded by huge companies. Practicing doctors based their clinical approach on that research and other doctors’ clinical experience. But in marketing, we don’t have nearly the research industry, so we rely much more on very small case studies and opinion. And the marketing ecosystem changes much more rapidly than the human body could ever evolve. It’s a moving target. So, the more of research you can do and experience you can gain in-house, the more effective marketer you will be.

Working with clients forces you to be oriented toward what really works (because you’ll lose the client if you’re wrong) and to keep secrets (because clients don’t like you to give away their competitive advantages).

When people hire us, they’re paying us to implement what we’ve found that works, and to avoid what we’ve found to be dead ends.

The Upshot

If you’re not working with people who implement digital marketing tactics daily, you won’t have access to the most powerful strategies- you’ll fall behind and miss opportunities. If you want to be a market leader, you need to find the smart people who are working on the gnitty gritty of digital marketing every day.