Getting Smarter about Facebook


Brains on Fire has always issued a cautionary warning about putting all your brand eggs in any one social media basket. The reason is simple: When you don’t control the space, you don’t make the rules. It’s much like renting a house, if the landlord says no dogs… no dogs. If Facebook says you have to pay for views… you’re paying for views. As a landlord, Facebook makes the rules and you’re at their mercy with zero bargaining power.

Late last year Facebook flexed its landlord muscles by tweaking its hallowed newsfeed algorithm. The results have been devastating to brands because far fewer people are seeing brand posts show up organically in their news feed. Fewer people seeing fewer posts means lower engagement with fans and that’s not good for us in the marketing game.

A recent report details only 6% of a brand’s Facebook following will see a brand post. For a brand with 10k followers, its updates will only be visible to about 600 of its fans. (Ouch.) For brands with over 500k followers, the news is worse, with only 2% of its fan base seeing the update. (Double ouch.)

These Facebook newsfeed algorithm changes were never a matter of IF, they were also a matter of WHEN. We knew it was coming and these changes only amplify our stance that it’s important for brands to diversify their efforts by balancing social engagement and conversation on third-party platforms as well as a “brand-owned” spaces.

At Brains on Fire we get our hands really dirty helping clients connect with their customers. Seeing lower Facebook engagement numbers has caused us to think more strategically about our social media approach, especially as it relates to paying for views by boosting posts.

One way brands are attempting to circumvent the demise of organic reach with Facebook is by paying to boost posts. When a post is boosted, a variable in the algorithm triggers Facebook to assign a higher value to the post, increasing the frequency with which the content shows up in newsfeeds. In many ways, Facebook is now telling brands that in order to play, they gotta pay.

I sat in on a roundtable strategy discussion the other day with Shannon Kohn, Moe Megan and Amy Taylor, our in-house all-star trio of savvy social pros. Synapses were firing on all cylinders with smart takes on what brands should do given the demise of organic reach on Facebook. Here’s some of what was said:

“It takes a lot of hard work for Community Managers and Social Media Managers at brands to build legitimate, authentic audiences on Facebook. Our hard work is made even more difficult when the rules of the game are always changing.” — SHANNON KOHN

“So many brands have gotten into the dangerous habit of thinking of social as ‘free.’ Those of us who work in the social space realize that couldn’t be further from the truth. Social is an investment of time, energy, brainpower and resources.” — AMY TAYLOR

“Paying to boost a post only insures visibility and reach. Brands still must create content that audiences will find relevant, enjoyable and furthermore, content they will like, share, and comment on.” — MOE MEGAN

“In a weird way, these Facebook changes are helping to keep us marketers on our toes. If a brand isn’t going to boost a post, then it will need to make sure its content is creative and compelling as it can be.” — SHANNON KOHN

“The big advantage to boosting posts is the ability to target posts very narrowly. For instance, you can target men from the ages of 18-to-22 in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida that are interested in Home Improvement, the Discovery Channel and Burger King, if that fits your bill. When you think about it, that’s pretty incredible.” — MOE MEGAN

“Regardless of whether you’re paying to boost Facebook posts or not, any good Community Manager must strive to craft and share content that adds value to the lives of their audience. If you’re doing social media well, the Facebook changes shouldn’t change what you’re sharing, only how you’re sharing it.” — AMY TAYLOR

  • Chad Heavilyarmed

    Do we have any hard evidence that quality posts can still win? My understanding from the reporting of various outlets (AND. TOTALLY. NOT. BREATHLESS. DOOMSAYING. REPORTING. WITH. LIMITED. SOURCES. PROVING. THE. END. IS. NIGH) is that you could still post genuine, quality content, but it’s still going to suffer the same fate as junk updates. I don’t mean organic reach when something is re-shared, but natural reach provided by the landlord itself. If they’ve really “tweaked” EdgeRank to the point that even quality updates have dropped dramatically, would it not make more sense to heavily promote posts leading visitors away from the rental property and over to a brand-owned property?

    • Amy


      GOOD question. My understanding is the same as yours. It seems there’s no algorithm that can separate good, valuable content from the “HEY, LIKE THIS POST” junk. As far as promoting, I feel like that’s probably a matter of strategy and goals. If selling product is the main goal, pushing to an owned property makes sense to me. If the goal is to spark conversation and build community, we wander into more of a grey territory. I say that because many brands are not building infrastructure that encourages conversation. They may provide great content on their site, but limited opportunity for brand advocates to engage with the brand and each other. Engagement is a lot easier (which is key) on a site like Facebook, which is built specifically to encourage sharing and conversation with minimal hassle. Though visibility may be limited, the conversation is happening where people already are (obsessively checking their FB page 300x a day). Because, let’s be honest, how often are people really visiting a brand page vs. the daily checking of one’s Facebook stream? I’d love to see some research on how this shakes out, statistically. If Brand A takes an approach where they regularly promote posts to their owned site (which requires more of an energy buy-in from fans to get there, but more people see the messaging because the posts are promoted) vs. Brand B who just posts great content on FB (where people are) and rolls the “organic dice” with who sees what and how often … who will be the victor?

  • John Moore

    Chad… from my perspective it comes down to how one defines winning. If winning is gaining more likes then a brand must pay to play. If winning is about quality (not quantity) then sharing genuine and rich stuff matters most.

    In our Passion Conversation book we touched upon this when we wrote:

    We work in a world where what gets measured gets manufactured — we turn to things like Facebook likes, Twitter followers, and Amazon reviews. We search engine optimize ourselves into next Tuesday. These are all opportunities to see and engage in person-to-person conversations about brands, but marketers often view these, and countless others, simply as success measurements; yet each one can be manufactured. And once a marketer has deemed a result worthy of measuring, someone will devise a way to engineer that

    Thanks for sharing your smart thoughts Chad.