Eleanor Pierce

Are the Days of “Free” Social Media for Brands Numbered?

By: Eleanor Pierce | April 30, 2014 | 

Are the Days of “Free” Social Media for Brands Numbered?By Eleanor Pierce

I’ve been thinking on what I have to say about the Reachpocalypse (have we all agreed on that term? Or are we going with Reachgate?) that’s distinct from what others have already said so succinctly.

Jay Baer did an excellent job laying it all out in his post about “Why Facebook is laughing all the way to the bank.

The long of the short is this: Facebook is a publicly traded company, and having a lot of users just isn’t going to cut it anymore.

They need dollars, and those dollars aren’t likely to come from the individual users. They’re going to come from brands.

That’s why they’re cutting back on organic reach for most pages—to get brands to pay to reach their desired audience (yes, even if you already paid to amass the audience in the first place).

I agree with Jay in thinking this isn’t terribly shocking.

Diminishing Returns on Social Media for Brands

We were discussing this topic recently here at Arment Dietrich, in response to a Forbes article that Clay Morgan, sent out to the team.

The article, Law of Diminishing Returns Hits Social Media Companies, describes the rapid growth of new social media networks, apps, and platforms.

It looks at the dilution of the “level of engagement per social media vehicle” not just from the perspective of the social networks themselves—which will have a hard time garnering ad dollars as users continue to seek out new experiences that are less inundated with ads—but also for the “advertisers on social media,” which may eventually have to move some of their attention away from the relatively ad-friendly Facebook, if they haven’t already begun.

While I agree with many of the points in the article, I took issue with its relatively narrow scope.

It’s as though we’ve all decided already the only way to do social media for brands is to advertise.

But is that accurate?

They’re in it for the Cheddar

I understand all of these social apps and platforms are not just created for the love of connecting people. Or even if they are, once they start attracting a significant user base, the creators start to get dollar signs in their eyes.

So, eventually, they all become potential money-making ventures (even Twitter, at long last, was able to generate some revenue!).

So yes, I do believe most of the big players in shared media will eventually start charging you to reach your audience, if they haven’t already.

Lately I’ve noticed LinkedIn has been suggesting sponsoring posts nearly as aggressively as Facebook does.

Twitter ads are becoming more appealing all the time, especially as new, more visuallyoriented components to the platform are rolled out.

But is pay-to-play social media for brands the only way to reach people?

Not yet.

At this point, Facebook still isn’t keeping you from sharing links to your favorite Spin Sucks articles with your friends.

Neither is Twitter or Google+.

Even Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, has yet to start filtering out photos users take of their favorite new shoes, or book, for that matter.

The most powerful component of “shared” media is the urge of the users to share what they love, what inspires them, what they find educational or fun or funny.

I haven’t seen any social network start charging brands for that, though correct me if I’m wrong. But could a positive brand-sentiment filter be far behind? Will the social overlords discover an algorithm for excluding content that may include brand sentiment that hasn’t been paid for?

Maybe. Maybe it won’t be long until there’s an app for that, too.

About Eleanor Pierce

Eleanor Pierce is a recovering journalist who can't decide which part of the country to call home. She's happiest when she's reading, though she also really likes writing, baking, dogs, and sarcasm. No, seriously.


"The most powerful component of “shared” media is the urge of the users to share what they love, what inspires them, what they find educational or fun or funny." Yep, I share the videos from Gin & Topics...which is the ideal gateway drug to Arment Dietrich consulting services, right?


Just wrote this on LinkedIn in answer to a post saying digital was just traditional marketing. Thought it might be relevant here...

Traditional marketing is around 60 years old. It is your Grandad's marketing.

Digital came along 31 years ago. It is your Dad's marketing.

Both were rooted in the broadcast era, and broadcast methodologies when companies could talk to people, but people couldn't talk to companies, or at scale with eachother.

So it is not surprising they are similar. But neither is relevant now.

Douglas Adams was asked how the internet would affect the giants of the music industry... "It'd be like a bunch of rivers, the Amazon and the Mississippi and the Congo asking how the Atlantic Ocean might affect them… and the answer is, of course, that they won't be rivers anymore, just currents in the ocean."

Outpourings from companies are just currents in an ocean of information surrounding people. No longer their most important source of information in making a decision.

Marketers should no longer be focused on delivering information. They need to pivot, and focus on using information from the customer to change the company, so that it provides something good enough for people to want to talk about it to eachother. 

That person to person conversation carries much more weight than any company information. If it persuades ten people and those ten each tell ten others, soon you have a movement. People are the new media.


I'm going to tell you this, I think I should start getting paid for posting photos of my shoes or favorite products. I'm basically being a brand advocate, and this is essentially the same as products being placed in movies. My Facebook page is an exclusive engagement, and I deserve revenue from this. 

But seriously, I think your last paragraph is the scariest part for me. Social makes up our reality in so many ways, so if that reality now all the sudden becomes "sponsored", it's  pretty 'Brave New World" frightening. 


I'm starting to notice similar trends, Eleanor. And I agree with you -- it's only a matter of time before every POPULAR social platform will squeeze every penny out of you they can. 

However, social is constantly evolving and new platforms/ apps are taking place of the traditional big boys like Facebook and Twitter year after year. (And that's another reason Facebook and Twitter are aggressively finding ways to monetize their platforms.) 

If you are a smart brand, you'll stay up-to-date with the latest social media trends and find ways to promote your brand in a cost-effective manner on the new and trending platforms/ apps that haven't begun monetizing their content yet. 

Right now, the hot platforms are Snapchat, Pinterest and Instagram. If you can find a way to promote your brand on these, you'll be mighty grand. 

Latest blog post: The Deaf Club


To @Howie Goldfarb 's comment...this makes it even harder to educate and persuade companies to use social media and use it correctly. How do you go about it now?


I haven't finished reading this post yet and promise to come back and comment on the actual post itself, but I really must point out for those who have been following the saga of my workplace IE9, that I am COMMENTING WITHOUT HAVING TO TAG ON TO SOMEONE ELSE! That is because in the face of the IE security issues, we now have Google Chrome at work. Where I will be working for three more days. Oh well! @ginidietrich

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

Why they were free the brand pages in the first place no idea. But Facebook has no visionaries. They are still stuck in 2010. Had they invested in the user experience vs the ad buying experience they be a lot different. 

The problem with social media is it has an outsized image due to it being a huge mouthpiece. If a star tweets, even if none of their 5 million followers sees it and retweets it, E! picks it up and posts it on it's old media network broadcast to a few million households who all see it and say 'wow that went down on twitter?' So of course so much entertainment and pop news is all the same with everyone using the same public sources.

So I just feel even when brand pages weren't reduced in reach they were a failure. People in general don't want to be involved with brands in this way or on a regular basis. And so brands aren't seeing returns like our peers evangelized and promoted. And values are being reviewed. Remember all the dumb 'How much is the lifetime value of a Like?'. Well the answer is on average zero. 

So brands are adjusting. I have been saying for years social networks really are just big display ad networks that allow interaction on a small scale. Brands don't actually converse much on social outside of customer service. And the % of customers using social is still small vs traditional formats. Macy's can't exchange clothes over Facebook. 

Networks should toss away the lure of social media and  do what everyone else does. Here is the ad specs. Here is your CPM rate for eyeballs. Good luck.


I think it is absolutely critical to allocate a piece of the social budget for sponsored/promoted content when it's appropriate to the organization. High-value content assets like webinars and white papers, which also serve to drive leads, just aren't going to be as successful without a little paid boost. 

If you look at the brands and organizations that are most successful on social, there's always been some level of paid promotion in support of organic reach. 

ginidietrich moderator

When I was at Social Media Marketing World in San Diego a month or so ago, EVERYONE was talking about this. With the changes at Facebook and the big departure at Google+, it's going to be interesting to watch, that's for sure. For now, organizations should be thinking about creating content on something they own and using the social networks to distribute it. Those that have used the networks to build their content and their communities are going to be in trouble.

Eleanor Pierce
Eleanor Pierce

@Howie Goldfarb  I actually agree with much of what you're saying, but do you think you're taking a limited view of what a "brand" is ? Because Spin Sucks is a brand. And I'd argue that a good number or people do want to interact with the Spin Sucks "brand" in that way on a pretty regular basis 

... though the difference, of course, is that we push the majority of the conversation to an owned asset rather than letting it live (and potentially die) on a channel we ultimately have no control over. 

Eleanor Pierce
Eleanor Pierce

@jasonkonopinski  Absolutely - I'm not discounting the place of ads in the least. They'll be needed going forward, there's no question about it in my mind. 


@ginidietrich  We keep saying it, it is better to invest in renovations at your home (website) than to count on a landlord for promised services.  Dorms are fun for partying but fickle in nature. 

Eleanor Pierce
Eleanor Pierce

@ginidietrich  Absolutely. I know I'm supposed to be a social media evangelist (or something/whatever that means) but I've always thought it was kind of silly for brands to invest solely in one social network or another. Because I also don't necessarily think Facebook as we know it (or whatever the next big guy is) will be around forever. 


@Eleanor Pierce @biggreenpen @ginidietrich  Technically, my employer has only had IE available as a browser, so it has not been by choice. I never felt like I could find just the right opening to say "hey guys, I really want to be able to comment independently on Spin Sucks (on work time - shhh) without having it look like a reply to someone else's comment, so can you please change browsers?" I think the security thing changed that -- at least we got Chrome as an alternative although IE 9 is back up and they say they've dealt with the security issues. Fun times.


@Eleanor Pierce @ginidietrich  which is just great business sense in the first place, right? (not putting all your eggs in one basket; staying abreast of changes, being prepared for changes, etc.) Thanks for this post; it was definitely informative.

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