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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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  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.

  • 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 Amen.

  • 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

  • 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.

  • In fairness, http://dannybrown.me/2010/01/17/the-real-cost-of-social-media/, despite what many folks have tried to say for years. There was always resources, manpower and tech costs to swallow, not to mention integrated ad and marketing costs to support social activities.
    The only difference now is organic is needing to be paid as well as normal costs expected with an ad. Yet should the networks be any different from what’s happened in business for hundreds of years?
    You wanted the King’s attention, you offered gifts from the land you cultivated. You wanted the local community to support your fundraising effort, you bought small ad space on the radio or local free press (there’s that word again).
    The truth is, free is only for the recipient – the sender always has costs attached. How much of that is increased manpower and legwork to continue pushing organic, and how much is switched to paid to target, is the question brands are having to answer now.
    You know, it might even make smarter marketers and decrease lazy approaches. Here’s hoping.

  • biggreenpen ginidietrich  You’ve been using IE???? EGADS!

  • susancellura

    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?

  • annelizhannan ginidietrich  “Home” vs. “dorm” is pretty much the perfect analogy.

  • 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.

  • Excellent article! Thank you!

  • susancellura That is my question as well! Howie Goldfarb

  • Jackie Wellfonder  🙂

  • biggreenpen Haha, yeah, I guess it’s hard to complain on that particular front.

  • 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.

  • Howie Goldfarb  I think Howie has a point here. I remember reading a similar argument to this on Social Media Explorer. 
    The argument was simply that no matter how hard you try to personalize your brand, it’s still not a person. And people don’t want to relate to it like it’s a person, even on social media. 
    You can read that article here if you’re interested:  http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com/social-media-marketing/an-apology-to-brands-on-behalf-of-social-media-experts-everywhere/ 
    Eleanor Pierce:  I think most people only want to interact with SpinSucks because of the people that are on it — you, Clay, Lindsay, Gini, Howie, etc. SpinSucks as a brand alone, though. I don’t really feel I’m relating to a brand at all, and I think that’s why SpinSucks does have an interesting appeal that deems successful with its readers. 
    Not many brands can pull of that personal, human touch.

  • Howie Goldfarb Eleanor Pierce  Oh, look! Another interesting read about Brands vs. People lol. 

  • 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 a pretty ‘Brave New World” frightening.

  • KateNolan

    Eleanor Pierce Howie Goldfarb  When I think of what “brands” I interact with on facebook, it’s mostly local restaurants, bars, museums, or educational institutions, and Spin Sucks, of course. Sports teams, products, chain restaurants, etc. I may follow them, but rarely interact, so I think there’s something to be said for the size of the brand or the region of the brand that it could apply to, but even then, you’re probably still better off sparking the conversation and then pushing to the owned asset.

  • What the people want from social networks is to chat with eachother, not with companies. But any company who sets up a platform to make this happen falls foul of the way the West funds companies through the stock market.
    Investors won’t let them simply do the job and make a steady income, the focus is always on growth. Shares are sold with a “get rich quick” betting mindset, betting on fgast growing companies. The minute growth stops, everybody piles out, the stock drops and the money the company needs to operate simply isn’t there.
    This stops companies who simply want to charge minimal amounts per user or earn from spin-offs, but insists they become media for the deluded corporations who believe advertising works. It also turns off the people who simply want to talk with their friends.

    There is thus a cycle of companies launching good social platforms, turning it into media, then customers going elsewhere. We will continue seeing churn in social networks, as long as we have this funding method. What is needed is a crowdfunded marketing free network.

  • 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.

  • “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?