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news feed algorithm changes not a problem for brands with an engagement focused strategy

By on Nov 20, 2014 in fleishmanhillard, online community, public relations, social business |

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[Note: A slightly reworked version of this post now appears on LinkedIn]

A new research report by a Forrester analyst, suggesting that brands are wasting their money on Facebook and Twitter, has generated lots of interest this week. The report itself is behind a pay wall, but has been covered on the Wall Street Journal CMO blog.

“You don’t really have a social relationship with your customers,” analyst Nate Elliott wrote in a new report titled “Social relationship Strategies That Work.”

According to Mr. Elliott, top brands’ Facebook and Twitter posts only reach around 2% of their fans and followers, and less than 0.1% of fans and followers actually interact with each post on average. What’s more, Facebook announced last week that another tweak to its news feed algorithm will soon make it even less likely brands’ unpaid posts will actually be seen by users.

As a result, marketers hoping to interact with consumers online  might be better off investing in social features that exist on their own websites, or in smaller, more niche social networks, Mr. Elliott said.

I couldn’t agree more with the view that many brands are indeed throwing their money at social media programmes that don’t generate measurable progress towards strategic outcomes, but it’s the lack of strategy, rather than the platforms themselves, that’s primarily to blame for this. It doesn’t matter if .01%, 2% or 80% of a brand’s fans and followers see a post if having done so doesn’t boost awareness, improve perception, give the consideration process a nudge, drive a lead, generate a purpose, or tighten the embrace of an advocate.

The shift that Elliott speaks of, from the larger social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter towards more niche platforms and functionality provided by a brand’s owned web properties isn’t just about seeking refuge from news feed algorithms. It’s about ownership and control over users and their data and also enhances the ability of brands to establish and nurture smaller, better, more focused communities connected to business outcomes.

A collection of fans and followers on a branded Facebook page is not a community because there is little shared sense of belonging or intention of those fans and followers to work together with the brand towards a common goal. This can only happen within a smaller community where stakeholders can be brought closer together, and closer to a brand, through the creation of meaningful participatory frameworks.

It’s not the fault of changing algorithms that brands find it difficult or impossible to build genuinely meaningful “social relationships” with customers. The approach of most large brands on social media has been to apply a broadcast model on a medium that demands something more direct, personal and engaging. If the strategy is broadcast, then changes to news feed algorithms will diminish the potential for brands to succeed in social, but if the strategy is to engage in ways that are meaningful for customers, and generate outcomes important for the business, the algorithms are much less likely to impact whether brands succeed or fail.