Steve Sponder: what Facebook’s tough new brand post rules mean for content creators

There are some very impressive statistics underlining why more and more advertisers are looking to Facebook. As well as its reach, it offers some of the most remarkable targeting data available: Facebook knows how old its users are, where they live, what they do and who their friends are – and can create lookalike audiences that allow brands to target similar individuals precisely.

Perhaps most importantly, Facebook knows what people ‘Like’. It adds social amplification to advertising: if your friends like something, you can see it and that Like actually becomes a word-of-mouth (or click-of-mouse) recommendation.

With its explosive growth as an advertising platform, it’s no wonder that the news of its latest change hit the headlines recently: Facebook’s new rules on promotional posts say that if brand posts are seen as too promotional – reusing content from ads, purely trying to sell products or offering sales promotions with no context – the new algorithm will severely impact their organic reach. In essence, if you want to advertise, you’ll have to pay for it.

This may have worried some brands, but it should actually come as no surprise. As a commercial entity, of course Facebook is going to want advertisers to buy direct ads if they want total control over the content and messaging. Like other social platforms, it’s always been ‘borrowed media’: its page posts are not advertising space that brands can buy and use as they want; not fully owned and controlled, but only customisable.

However, although it’s now more explicitly a pay-to-play platform, brands will still need to produce quality content. Creating quality content to target your fan base and get some level of organic reach, or to reinforce a paid campaign, will lead to more interaction and engagement with that content: people commenting on, liking and ideally sharing your posts.

And when users share content, brands get additional word-of-mouth reach at no additional cost – they’re reaching the second generation and beyond.

There is even some anecdotal evidence that the amount of interaction brands get with their Facebook content has an impact in terms of how their ad is then pushed further or treated by the platform’s algorithms. Even though the advertiser is still paying, it might get preferential rates over brands whose content isn’t getting the same level of engagement.

The message hasn’t actually changed with these new rules: good Facebook content needs to be valuable, relevant and timely. Look at brands like MINI in the automotive space and accommodation business AirBNB – they offer useful titbits, great videos and content designed to spark a conversation. That turns the borrowed media into ‘Earned Media’ – shared with the second generation of users and beyond because it’s entertaining, or useful, or just plain interesting.

Yes, brands have got to pay to promote themselves on Facebook, but good quality content means more chance of earned media and extra exposure. And if they take that total exposure and divide it by what they actually paid, their cost per impression should lower and thus demonstrate greater efficiency. Facebook’s new rules are all about delivering great content to users; it’s time to give them what they want.

unnamed-10Steve Sponder is managing director of content marketing specialist Headstream.

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