As a digital marketing consultant it's my job to recommend to clients what channels they should be investing their time and money online to generate returns. Over time, some digital channels rise, some fall, some adapt and some die. Clients and budgets react accordingly. It’s the natural life cycle of the web.
When it comes to Facebook though there's a pause.
Here you'll find why after a lot of thinking, anecdotal evidence, official announcements and real world results with clients I'd say this to anyone who asks about if they should use Facebook for marketing...
Facebook is still an effective marketing channel – for now
It’s not nearly as effective as it once was
I’d be seriously looking elsewhere for alternative channels
The latest news surrounding Facebook deals with such macro issues. Mind numbing numbers that impact over 1 billion people worldwide. Using it as a barometer for where to place your marketing well, isn’t that useful. So, what's my current thinking about Facebook when you look at it from the ‘micro’ level of UK business marketing?
We’ll split this into 2 – a review of the different elements which affect the ability to reach people organically using Facebook and the ability to target with Ads.
Organic Performance on Facebook
Building & Growing a Facebook Audience –
The screws on the Edgerank algorithm only seem to be becoming tighter and the ability to reach new people and turn them into fans is harder than it ever was. Hubspot have provided a pretty comprehensive history of the Edgerank's impact here. Among clients we've seen a significant decline in overall reach, particularly on competitions after the early 2018 engagement bait update.
It's meant the ability to grow your numbers and subsequently any organic reach, traffic or engagement is going to be made all the harder.
The alternatives? More investment - think video, chatbots and advertising – all effective but all more expensive.
User Decline –
Short and sweet. People are using Facebook less, and fewer people are on Facebook. The latest headline - a further 3 million people across the EU have abandoned the channel after the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
The lower the users, the fewer the interactions, which leaves fewer people to share your posts with - but your content production costs stay the same. Not critical in the short term but gut feel is that these numbers, in the UK at least aren't going to be recovering.
The question you have to ask yourself if you could be putting that effort and creativity into something which delivers long term results, say via YouTube, SEO and Content Marketing?
Facebook Lifecycles –
I wrote, back in 2013 about the lifecycles of Facebook users, and we’re starting to see those generational differences come into play. Those on the right side of 20 never used Facebook and apparently never will. Meanwhile teens are leaving in their droves. While anecdotally baby boomers and older are becoming firmly established. That’s not good or bad, but what is done is blur the lines for marketers and for clients. Instead of saying – Snapchat = Millenials, who is Facebook really for?
You can find out at the click of a button with audience insights but the mishmash of different ages all using the site for different reasons leaves a business scratching it’s head over how to reach their intended audience, without attracting those it doesn’t want to reach.
with its ambitions to become the next YouTube, almost every video we’ve published has had a greater reach and levels of engagement than our image based posts. Good on the one hand. However, businesses are reluctant to invest even if the results are there. Why?
Investment in the kit and technology to film content is perceived to be difficult and expensive
The time and resource required to plan, film, edit and upload a video is much greater than 'traditional' posts
Locating the right staff to feature in the films is seen as an one demand too many on team members already long job descriptions.
It's also because the expectation was originally that back when Facebook was easy you could just whack up a stock photo and get the same results. Yet the shift for marketing departments and social media staff to also become mobile production units is one thing to many.
Video is being increasingly adopted for sure, but as a result through general lack of enthusiasm and effort we’re going to see a glut of mediocre video content in the year ahead. It’s another new frontier which is already being consumed by the very average.
Organic Performance on Facebook - In Summary
It's hard. It's only going to get harder. You need to be incorporating other Facebook features to generate returns. You need to be experimenting with other channels elsewhere.
Advertising Performance on Facebook
Targeting Options –
The brilliant selection of targeting options are slowly becoming more narrowed. The changes in regulations meaning once well-used options are funnelling advertisers onto fewer options who subsequently start bidding on the same audiences. All this does it elevate the Cost Per Click. This may be changing with the latest announcement of the return of much loved targeting options such 'Field of Study' and 'Job Title' back into the mix - we'll have to wait and see.
Facebook Users –
With fewer people on Facebook - combined with a drop in Facebook ad interaction means its getting harder to reach not just the right people but seemingly anyone on the channel. Our saved audiences have all dropped by a few thousand in the last month - a a small percentage but enough to mean that the laws of supply and demand mean it’s going to be more expensive to get in front of fewer people.
Cost per clicks (CPC's)
While not outrageous CPC's are increasingly becoming higher as a result of increased advertisers, fewer targeting options and fewer people to advertise to. The workaround has to consistently test and iterate new versions of ads running over months at a time to refine messages and creative to deliver returns for a lower price. Facebook’s dynamic creative option does a great job at this but it means more up front investment from a business to provide the same level of returns it previously experienced.
Ad creative is becoming harder to create. The rules regulating what constitutes a good or bad ad are increasingly complex. Image text limits were one thing, but with the rise of video, those sweet edits now need to be 15 seconds or fewer, which makes the creativity needed to even run an ad so much greater than it once was. While not the deciding factor it all makes the digital marketers job that much harder in trying to keep both the user, the client and Facebook all happy.
Last but not least GDPR compliance in the EU has meant the loss of most remarketing email lists which were once a mainstay of Facebook advertising. The reasoning of the laws makes complete sense but most businesses have been bewildered by if they can event use their email data on Facebook and through a combination of fear and GDPR fatigue. Many have simply taken a different road instead of starting a fresh opt in email lists for future remarketing.
Advertising Performance on Facebook - In Summary
All said this isn’t to say Facebook should be abandoned. Your paid social strategy re-written. But it is harder to market to people on the channel – and much harder than it was a few years ago for a business to accomplish anything on there.
Creativity needs to be more creative, your ad targeting more sophisticated and your ad testing more intense. You should always be experimenting with small scale campaigns to understand the CPC, quality and quantity of traffic from other channels and seeing what these can do to drive your business.
The Trouble With Rented Land -
All credit to Simon Swan on this one. Him and I have discussed at length the concept of rented land. In that long term, it's far better to grow and own your own digital assets (i.e your own website) rather than being at the mercy of another channel like Facebook.
Even without the changes of late, Facebook has also remained an incredibly volatile channel. The spirit of moving fast and breaking things still seems to hold true. What Facebook demands from a page or Ad account can change overnight leaving some winners but often even more losers.
Now, this isn't as problematic if Facebook is just one part of your multi-channel marketing flywheel. The other areas can pick up the slack or replace it altogether. But I've seen an increasing number of businesses put so much effort (by effort I mean research, training, strategy and content creation) into Facebook that if their page goes down it would seriously affect them.
Facebook is never going to go the way of Vine - seemingly switched off overnight. But if you can see that things aren't going well on a channel as important, or significant as Facebook and your results are declining even with more invested effort then you better make damn sure you've got somewhere else to turn to digitally to ensure your business can continue.