Facebook for Business – no thanks

In 2011 and 2012 I taught a class on digital marketing at a local business school. Part of the fun was to explore the ways that changes in the make up of the various online marketing systems were offering up new alternative ways to reach customers by using social media.

One of our explorer classes was to look at ways that businesses could use Facebook and whether there were any useful variables around those marketing choices that would be meaningful. The answers we got on 2011 and 2012 are different to the answers we get now. Today in 2014 Facebook is much more structured and filtered in the way that businesses and brands can use the platform.

Then, and now I’m genuinely perplexed when I see people I know “liking” pages by monster brands except that in my stream those people are often PR and other marketing people so I assume that they have worked on a campaign for the brand owners. It doesn’t make sense to me to like a bank, insurance company or any large scale business.

In the early days – “liking” a business of update on Facebook was a low effort way of acknowledging the brand owner, broadcaster or messenger. For more personal news it still makes some sense as it does show that you are at least keeping up with the “news” such as it is.

However for large brands the “like” process has very little value in my view and here is why. Likes are a commodity and many of them come from link farms. In order to avoid detection the link farms “like” lots of other things so that their Facebook profiles look more genuine except that a profile which likes 3000 things is not bona fide at all.

Back in 2011 I asked the students how we would prioritise a marketing budget with respect to Facebook or any other social media or online activity. The short answer is that as business service providers we would play “follow the money”.

What businesses want for their marketing budgets is some kind of measurable success, some form of engagement that goes beyond a “like”.

In other words how does having lots of “likes” on a Facebook page translate into meaningful activity like business leads or transactions. As Facebook has grown and gone public it has naturally looked at ways of monetising the processes through direct ads and other formats.

That is all perfectly valid but it has transformed an activity pool which was quite organic into something much more structured and filtered.

I personally think that Facebook is now on a downwards slide like Geocities, myspace and Bebo before it – all those big web communities that did not survive the corporatisation process and when I mention them almost no one remembers as 5 years in a lifetime in the online universe.

Derek Muller of Veristasium (@Verstasium) was concerned about the volume of likes and the lack of real engagement on various Facebook projects that he was aware of.

The slide below shows the relative volume of likes for various geographical regions. The circled “80,000 likes” are from countries known for their click farms and fake Facebook traffic. What distinguishes that traffic from the other traffic on that site is the lack of engagement.

The numbers across the bottom axis are percentage of engagement and the the one on the far right is for Austria but most engagement numbers cluster around the 30% mark or a bit less.

80000like

Facebook cracked down on the fraudulent “like” business sometime back by cancelling millions of fake accounts; unfortunately all of those fake likes did not get removed along with the fake entities.

I would have thought it was a simple database query. Something like “show me all the fake Facebook identities” and then a cleanup query to remove all the likes that those fake identities had added.

What has happened is that in many respects Facebook has become a victim of its own success. It has become so easy to amplify messages on Facebook and social media generally that the real signal to noise ratio has been ramped in favour of the noise.

The upshot of all of this is that the value of a like on Facebook has dropped to almost nothing. The organic reach that private individuals ( and businesses) used to get is being filtered and sampled by Facebook so that its ad business can “clip the ticket”.

What this means is that while Facebook has huge traffic flows – so much of it is generated by a large number of fakers who are blatantly gaming the system that the whole well has been poisoned.

So for businesses, the takeaway is don’t invest any money on Facebook until it cleans house. We would all be much better off with a smaller more organic Facebook community that encourages authentic communication and reach but we don’t have that currently.

Watch the video clip from Derek below for more detailed examples of how he measured some of these parameters. The clip called Facebook Fraud has had almost 2m views on YouTube since mid February (so about 6 weeks) and it deserves a real response from Facebook and a big cleanup.

In other – related news I was able to ask some questions about Facebook and business of a Facebook employee just last week. What they told us was that we should think of Facebook as a giant search engine which we could use to identify likely customer segments for marketing campaigns.

In essence we should use Facebook as a way to identify likely prospects and build a database and then market to those people using our own branded channels rather than Facebook itself.

That was kind of a mixed message. I suspect there is some value in that approach but I wonder whether the targeting process has been tainted by the inclusion of so many bogus accounts in the gene pool.

I would want to exclude all users with more than 40 liked pages as those are more likely to be fake and absolutely to exclude entire countries from the targeting process. I suspect that Facebook has peaked and that it will burn off many of its organic users in the next year or two.

I can see some businesses may still benefit, for example restaurants where the current fad of photographing your food is being co-opted by the restaurant owners themselves by having a Facebook page for their business. And small local businesses can still benefit but in my view its all over for the big brands on Facebook.

Derek made another Facebook video titled “The Problem With Facebook” a bit earlier and it gives some more numbers and other insights. At one point Derek notes that there is an mis-alignment of incentives where the need for FB to grow its revenue has prompted the excessive filtering we now see and the decline of organic reach has reduced the efficacy of Facebook to almost nothing.

I agree and for now I am happy that Twitter does not filter. I know that followers on Twitter only see a fraction of what is posted but its not because it is being filtered out.

What do you think?