Facebook’s rollout of the new brand pages (“Timeline for Pages) came packaged with new limits on how a brand communicates with visitors to their page. For example, those creative, highly effective welcome screens are no longer, er, welcome. The new brand page format pushes fan-gated content one level down, forces the page visitor to click to a tab in order to see apps and even prohibits display of the brand’s main web site url in the display image.
These changes are worrisome to marketers, but let’s be honest: Even before last week’s announcement about brand pages, Facebook was becoming an inhospitable place for marketers looking to build organic reach. (Definition: “Organic reach” represents the unique number of people who saw your content in their news feed or ticker as a direct result of you posting content on your brand page).
The difficulties in achieving organic reach on Facebook seem to have started last fall, with the roll out of Edgerank (Facebook’s formula that determines whether your content is visible to people who have liked your brand). Edgerank effectively acts as a dam to a brand’s content stream on Facebook. According to Facebook, the way to get brand content past that dam is to get fans more engaged with brand posts (ie., get them to like, comment and share your posts, answer questions, etc.).
Yet, a few sharp folks who track Facebook Insights data closely noticed that Facebook’s advice on how to get more organic reach didn’t actually work. For example, Tim Wilson’s informal analysis of 20 brands found that even for marketers with consistently good engagement, organic reach tanked dramatically after Edgerank took effect. By the time Allfacebook.com announced in January of 2012 that the average Facebook page reaches only about 17% of its fans, it wasn’t much of a surprise to marketers who pay attention to the reach data available in Insights.
So where are brand pages today, following the one-two punch of Edgerank + Timeline for Pages? Let’s review:
1.) Organic reach is very, very difficult to achieve on Facebook, which means that the brand page is less useful as a mechanism for brand exposure than it has been in the past.
2.) The new Timeline for Pages format renders brand pages inappropriate for the landing page strategy that has been commonly used by marketers up until now. Driving Facebook users to a landing page that requires visitors to drill down into interior pages to access your cool new app or fan-gated content, or even to find your web site url isn’t likely to work.
The bottom line here is that Facebook has drawn a line in the sand. On one side of the line is the brand page, which has been rendered ineffective for marketing (and arguably, even for branding if you consider the difficulties in getting significant organic exposure for the page). On the other side is paid ads, which have been enhanced with some interesting new wrinkles (real time Page Insights data, Reach Generator, and Premium).
While this line in the sand might force brands to be more sociable on Facebook (at least in the context of what they do on the brand page), it could have the opposite effect. Some companies just might do less engaging, not more, if they see little to be gained in terms of marketing opportunities (this is not to suggest that engaging doesn’t support marketing, but companies are bound to question the value). Particularly for small businesses, who can’t afford a significant ad budget, there may be less willingness to invest time and resources into engaging through the brand page.
Good or bad, these changes represent a significant game change in Facebook marketing. More information on all the new changes can be found here in Facebook’s Guides.