Facebook Did Something and Marketers Will Screw it Up

Facebook Did Something And Marketers Will Screw It Up

[AUDIO VERSION: As an experiment, I also recorded an audio version of this blog post. Click below to listen. Let me know if this is something you find helpful!]

Facebook recently announced that they are rolling out the long-tested feature of surfacing posts from pages users don’t like that tag pages they do. I considered writing a long response to this development. And then I realized something…

My response is virtually identical to any Facebook feature change that impacts what users see in the News Feed: Brands will abuse it to the point of rendering it useless.

The end result is that, though the change was meant to help brands, it will ultimately be reversed or countered when brands take it too far.

Examples of Brands Screwing Up Facebook

Let’s think through just a handful of ways brands continue to use information learned about the News Feed and completely screw everything up…

1. Text Updates: There was a time when text updates received more Reach than other content types. The reason for this was that Facebook, always wanting to encourage engagement, noticed users are more likely to create their own content when they see text updates.

The problem? This wasn’t true of brand text updates. Why? Because brands used them in a completely different way than users did.

When a user just wanted to tell their friends how they were feeling or what they were doing, they shared a text update. Brands, on the other hand, went out of their way to share everything as a text update to improve their Reach.

The result was ugly updates like this one that included a pasted URL…

Facebook Text Update Link

Brands destroyed the use of text updates. And Facebook needed to adjust their algorithm accordingly. Now we’re seeing that the Reach on text updates is down about 40%.

Of course, some brands took this to mean they should stop using text updates altogether. In other words, they just don’t get it…

2. Memes and Unnecessary Photos: Before text updates, sharing everything as a photo was the biggest craze.

Once again, the action of sharing a photo wasn’t the problem. It was brands going out of their way to share photos unnecessarily in order to artificially inflate Reach or engagement that was the core issue.

So we started seeing brands share everything as a photo. Photo boxes with nothing but text in them. Screen shots of blog posts with a URL pasted into the description. Endless cat photos and other memes.

Facebook Photo Update Link

The goal here, in most cases, wasn’t to provide value. Brands were putting a metric ahead of their content. They assumed that any photo would get more Reach and engagement, and that no matter what it was users would prefer it as long as it was in the form of an image.

Of course, users don’t share everything as a photo. But brands were forcing the use of photos unnaturally, which completely screwed up the News Feed.

3. Lame CTAs: Study after study has been released indicating that if you want a desired action, you simply need to ask for it. Psychology and stuff.

I don’t completely disagree with this. I understand the power of calls to action. But I also know how annoying bad ones are.

Every brand started using lame CTAs in their posts. “Click LIKE if you’re happy it’s Friday.” “Share if puppies are cute.” “Comment if poverty is bad.”

Here’s the brand’s dilemma: Most Facebook users are on the network to engage with friends and family. People don’t talk like this. Only brands do. And when brands do, these posts stick out unnaturally.

But of course you want the engagement. You want the click. We just need to be far more creative — and more conscious of how users prefer to engage on Facebook.

4. Get Notifications: Back around the time brands found out that ONLY 16% of their fans were seeing a single post, the Get Notifications option was released that allowed users to subscribe to alerts whenever a brand published new content.

The result? Yeah, I’m sure you know what happened. Brands started sharing whiny posts that went a little something like this…

You aren’t seeing all of my posts! Facebook is keeping us from reaching 84% of you. YOU CAN GET AROUND THIS! Just click that drop-down thing and select Get Notifications so you never miss one of our updates EVER AGAIN!

Do you know how many people actually followed your instructions and decided to get notifications? Probably very, very few. Likely fewer than the number of people who unliked your page as a result.

It’s very rare that a brand will produce content that’s so good that I would be upset if I missed a single post. In fact, no brand exists for me.

5. Hashtags: Very few people use hashtags on Facebook. But when the feature was launched, do you know who used it more than anyone else? Brands.

And why do you think this was? No, it wasn’t because it added any value to the post. The only motivation was to reach more people than they do normally. Evil Facebook was keeping them from reaching all of their fans, so they might as well hijack some discussions through hashtags.

The result was posts cluttered with unnecessary hashtags. You’d rarely see this from users. But brands went nuts with it.

Facebook Hashtags Abuse

I won’t go so far as to say brands ruined the hashtag on Facebook. It never really got off the ground (at least so far). But they are certainly slowing the feature’s growth.

And Now… Page Tagging?

So now the latest shiny object that distracts brands is page tagging.

Facebook provides the following scenario:

  • User likes the Dwight Howard page
  • User doesn’t like the Bleacher Report page
  • Bleacher Report creates a post about and tagging Dwight Howard
  • User then sees post in their News Feed

Facebook Page Tagging

This is actually something I’ve seen in my News Feed for a while. It has worked quite well because it wasn’t public knowledge that this happened — or that brands could take advantage of it.

But now that the feature is official? I expect the worst.

Some will continue to use it for good. They’ll tag a page to provide attribution for a link they are sharing. This is the way it should be used.

But you can also expect to see brands randomly tagging big brands with the grand plans of reaching their larger audience. This will help those big brands, but it’s unlikely to move the needle at all for the small brands tagging them.

You see, Facebook’s learned their lesson. They know they can’t trust brands. So not every post that tags a brand you like will appear in your News Feed. Those posts will first need to be highly relevant to both audiences and receive a ton of engagement.

So I don’t expect this to be effective at all. But that hasn’t stopped brands from abusing features in the past, all in the name of the almighty Reach metric.

It’s Time We Learn Our Lesson

In the process of chasing Reach and putting a metric ahead of value, brands are becoming less and less interesting on Facebook. In fact, a recent survey suggests that 68% of users never or hardly ever pay attention to brand posts on Facebook.

Now, I’m the first to question results from surveys since they rarely reflect reality of actions. But I do believe there’s truth in this.

Brands complain that they don’t reach all of their fans with a single post. They do everything they can to game the system. They assume that a “like” is an opt-in and that users are furious if they don’t see every post.

But the reality is that most users just don’t care. And in fact, if you’re chasing Reach instead of focusing on providing valuable content that your target audience actually cares about, they probably care even less about you than the typical brand.

Users aren’t robots. They aren’t going to automatically engage with you or buy your stuff just because you used a text update or a photo or a hashtag or a tag or a CTA. If your marketing doesn’t work on Facebook, it may just be because you completely suck at it.

The Root of the Problem

If you think everyone who likes your page wants to see all of your content, you are part of the problem.

If you obsess over Reach and treat users as robots who will automatically engage if you post a particular way, you are part of the problem.

People aren’t on Facebook to engage with brands. Accept this. They are on Facebook to engage with friends and family.

That doesn’t mean brands can’t be successful on Facebook. The complete opposite. But it separates the brands who get it from those who don’t.

If you want to reach users on Facebook, treat users as people. Understand what they like. Find out how you can make their lives better with your content. Act accordingly.

Your Turn

Am I off base here? Are bad marketers ruining the News Feed?

Let me know in the comments below!

  • http://www.newmediaangels.com/ Cemanthe

    Oh Jon I do love you…in a ‘social media person to social media person with philosophies in common’ kinda way. I completely agree. There are so many brands and businesses and marketing agencies with no respect or understanding for the place of social. It drives me mad!

  • Rob Kischuk

    Jon, this was my first thought as well – that brands will screw this up trying to gain reach. I regularly talk to page owners using Hashtags and Page Mentions constantly, in spits of no real evidence that either habit actually increases reach.

    Now that Facebook has announced an incentive to tag other pages, brands will miss the subtext that this will only matter for very popular posts, and try it on every post, cluttering things up while ignoring the most reliable of optimization strategies – post time and format.

  • john

    I love Facebook – but they have to support the brands better – users either have to pay or the brands get more SAY!

  • dave

    Let the spam begin! I’m confident brands will abuse this feature, users will be frustrated, and facebook will rethink it.

  • http://www.blinkback.co.uk David Kilkelly

    Actually individuals make the same mistakes as brands. I’ve seen plenty of Facebook updates where people bang on about themselves or try and make their lives out to be interesting in some unfounded or exagerated way. Genuinely engaging posts always offer something to the reader regardless of whether they’re brands or the public.

    • Dom Reidman

      ok so I am not only one who has noticed this. Lets all just be honest…facebook is a place for individuals and brands to feast on their own narcissism.

  • [email protected]

    I anticipate some awkwardly worded posts where brands attempt to tag a well known brand that ordinarily wouldn’t have any relevance to them. I think (hope) this concept will die a quick death.

  • http://www.certifiedfoodies.com/ blankPixels

    When I learned about this new update, my initial thought was, “Oh no, more spam (irrelevant contents) on my news feed”. I’m hoping for the best though since I also believe that Facebook has learned their lesson that there are many who’ll abuse features they introduce that were supposedly for the benefit of businesses or brands.

  • http://www.decklangroup.com Tim Dolan

    Ironic…I posted a blog emphasizing the same core idea about the newly announced tagging feature in my blog yesterday (www.decklanblog.com). I’m not nearly the blogger or social media mind you are, however it’s good to know I’m in good company in my thought process. It is sad really, marketers nearly always over utilize tactics to the point of rendering them useless. Mailer sales at auto dealerships are a perfect example. Great tools, until everyone used them to the point the consumer was desensitized.

    • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

      Glad to know you’re thinking along the same lines, Tim!

  • Kris de Leon

    This actually explains it well. I noticed the last few weeks when I tagged a Page to give a proper source credit, I noticed higher reach and more Page likes from non-paid advertising. Now I know why. Thanks again!

  • Ros

    I’m pretty sure that marketers will abuse this new development….there’ll probably be a a new $9.97 product made on it to teach us all how! From my own perspective, I’ve only noticed one annoying piece of marketing behavior recently

    and that is the overuse of #feelinghappy or something very similar, on Facebook. Does my head in!

  • http://www.Marketing4Traffic.com/ Devani Anjali Alderson

    Almost everyone screws up Facebook features… It’s not a secret lol.

  • illoh ifeoma

    The audio was nice, though it sounded like you were reading off a script. Yes you are indeed right and am just tired of small business also who are trying to copy post patterns of big brands for example, a big brand would sometimes post about a celebrity birthday or show off their staff throwback pictures…. small brands confuse the engagement and engage in similar format without getting similar results. whats the solution here Jon?

  • http://cassiewitt.com/ Cassie Witt


    My first thought was also that brands would screw it up and that thought kept me from writing a blog post about the update.

    All your examples in this post were spot-on. Brands take something that is meant to help users find more interesting and useful content and try to squish themselves into so that they will be seen (even if they don’t fit).

    Brands expect so much out of Facebook and I don’t really understand why. No one expects an opt-in for an email list to open 100% of your emails. And no marketer expects that 100% of their list will open one single email. So, it baffles me that they think Facebook can deliver this.

    Anyway, great blog post once again. :)

  • Louann Cormier

    I agree with you Jon…if we treat people with respect and like we would like to be treated on facebook…it will help the community as a whole.

  • Takis Mouzakis

    Totally agree… And again, giving the proper content succesfully: this is the answer. Engaging art & other social activities at Brands’ interests…

  • jem

    As a page manager I’ve been using tags since the “update” for pages that have similar fans as my pages and some of whom belong to my pages as well. I have seen zero difference in reach whether I tag or not.

  • http://facebook.com/nplay Mark Bloomfield

    Jon, I agree and disagree with your position. Agree – create good content that’s relevant and you win new customers and build brand loyalty.

    Disagree – that brands will screw it up. Social media is just like TV, you have to take the ads with the content or pay to not have ads (ie: HBO). Some of these efforts are good, some suck. Social media is simply a channel, the micro layer on the internet that connects people. It’s the people grid, the nextt layer on top of websites. A Facebook account is a personal microsite that is connected to others supported by brands. Think of Facebook as CBS in the early days of TV, LinkedIn is ABC, maybe Twitter is NBC. Eventually more broadcasters and channels will be created and flourish on the new people grids. Eventually brands will control it as they do now unless consumers are willing to pay for service. There’s no free lunch. We still watch TV, at least most of us do.

    • Tracy Austin

      Hi Mark, Interesting. I don’t see social media as being anything like TV because FB isn’t creating and offering ME any original content, and they profit from hosting mine. That said, what I’m taking away from John’s post is not that there shouldn’t be marketing at all. More that marketers on FB tend to take advantage and thoughtlessly misuse the tools they are given, to the annoyance of the users, and often making themselves look bad.

      • http://facebook.com/nplay Mark Bloomfield

        Hi Tracy, I agree that FB doesn’t provide content (per se), they are the conduit or channel (for now). My comparison to TV was simply to illustrate that social media is a new medium and that it will likely evolve as all mediums tend to do that must generate revenue to survive or die. Take newspapers and magazines for example. Social Media ultimately is no different. It too must be supported by advertisements or subscriptions. As marketers, the holy grail for us is to keep the message highly personal and relevant but also be able to scale (reach) if you are a large or growing brand. Facebook permits this capability more the most channels. I agree marketers can screw it up but I don’t believe some bad apples make all apples bad.

        I also attribute some of the misuse to overall ignorance of how it all works and having the freedom to screw it up (for now). I also think some of this will get tighter over time and the cream will rise to the top. Lastly, don’t be surprised to see Facebook be a content provider in the future. If they can pay $19B for a messaging service, they could also purchase major content providers of all types and control who sees what and when.

        • Dom Reidman

          Interesting points. I agree with premise of Social Media heading toward being primary content providers. Maybe it goes to subscription (like I think your suggesting) to get advertising free experience.

  • http://www.socialidentities.com Hugh Briss

    Great post but my text only posts on my main Page still far our perform image posts for reach and so far, the few times I tagged a Page, I’ve seen no evidence that any of them actually appeared to that Pages fans. I don’t think it will take long for Pages to figure out it’s not working the way they hoped and stop doing it. I think too many people read what all the gurus are posting about the feature and assume it works any time we tag a Page and that’s just not true. If it did, all we’d need to do is tag Pages with millions of fans and watch our reach shoot through the roof.

  • venkyiyer58

    “It’s Time We Learn OurLesson”. Who is going to tell the brands that, Jon?

  • http://digitaltitbits.blogspot.in Mahin Sherashia

    Bang on John..! hope every marketer read this :) informative as always and an eye opener for many of us.

  • http://dom4biz.com Domonic Mongello

    Jon you hit the nail on the head big time. I have been seeing these types of tagged post for a few weeks. I was noticing that it was being done by less know users.

    Brands and most marketers keep thinking and acting like facebook is a marketing platform and not a social platform. Totally missing the boat and it has in my opinion created a “banner blindness” effect.
    thx/for letting us share:) dom

  • stefanspiess

    Just the way I see it. Actually the worst “strategy” I’ve been seeing the last weeks is spam pages tagging everything in their posts to get “viral” reach.

  • K Marth

    (Perhaps I should post this on your 11.3.13 story instead.) I don’t want to pay for vanity fans on my FB page that make me feel better about my number of fans. I want real fans who care about my topic – books for 8-12 year olds with strong girl role models, and fans who care about kids inspiring kids to write. How can FB ads return fans who actually care about my content? Magic the Crest

    • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

      Target your customers first (email list and website visitors). The minute you move beyond people you know you and into interests targeting, you’re taking a bit of a risk.

      • K Marth

        Thanks, Jon. The author is ten years old and the book is for ten year olds, so there’s no website or email list ;) So we’re doing it the old fashioned way – bringing the book to bookstores and librarians. Thankfully, the response has been wonderful – it’s at Powell’s books and about two hundred kids have read it since it came out a month ago. But I’m still trying to figure how to have online reach. There’s a fascinating conversation going on about how readers find good books at http://dearauthor.com/ebooks/is-genre-fiction-creating-a-market-for-lemons/

  • http://drumtrip.co.uk/ Law @ Drumtrip

    Whilst I very much agree with your core message about marketers gaming the platform and valuing reach and engagement over content (a cardinal marketing sin!), surely if every single new feature is abused by brands, perhaps the blame lays at the feet of Facebook themselves?

    If they are releasing features that become useless due to abuse, that ultimately has to be a Facebook issue, not a user issue.

    To me it all goes back to the same old (very old) issue of Facebook not really knowing how to monetise such a huge beast in a way that keeps users happy, brands and all. If every user needs constant hand holding to get them marketing on Facebook in the correct way, maybe Facebook need to reevaluate how they do things?

    • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

      I don’t think so. Users don’t abuse the features. They are very effective for them. But brands will always take shortcuts, just as they do with SEO and everywhere else. I think they’re actually taking the right approach with page taking because the shortcuts really shouldn’t work, but that won’t stop brands from trying them.

  • Helen Warburton

    Fantastic post Jon- as always. You’ve just said in black and white what we have been training our clients to realise. Isn’t it so frustrating when you see brands completely ignore the ‘social’ part of SocialMedia?

    • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

      It is, Helen!

  • Josh P Greenberg

    You’re right in that abusing these features is a philosophical problem. What this really hurts is the social managers who are doing it right, but feel pressure from above to increase metrics more quickly and succumb to “get rich quick” type schemes that hurt them in the long run.

    • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

      Yep. Agreed, Josh.

  • http://www.windycityparrot.com WindyCityParrot

    Facebook has been very disingenuous. They just change rules as in “oh that didn’t work, let;’s try that – Having been involved with Google’s 20 – 50 annual algo changes for more than a decade I can see a stark contrast in professionalism & (business) modeling comparing FB to Google.
    I think the difference is Facebook seems to rely 100% on technology where as google pays 3rd party companies to have rooms of HUMANS evaluating search results – that info gets fed back to linguiests & engineers writing the algos vs a “let’s see what happens approach” on Facebook.

    google struggled with keyword stuffing and link schemes for years but resolved this all with Hummingbird. Facebook thinks adding bacon fat (WhatsApp) will hide the underlying problems of core communication with fans but every ponzi scheme needs to end.

    Once this pay to play (to get reach) plays out and quarterly profits begin to slip hopefully we’ll see some changes because right now FB is biting the hand that feeds

  • Michelle Pescosolido

    “People aren’t on Facebook to engage with brands. Accept this. They are on Facebook to engage with friends and family.

    That doesn’t mean brands can’t be successful on Facebook. The complete opposite. But it separates the brands who get it from those who don’t.”

    Brilliantly said Jon! I’ve been teaching this for quite sometime. But, you put it into perfect words here!

    • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

      Thanks Michelle!

  • KevinFerrasciOMalley

    Loved the audio blog – it was a great option. While I subscribe to podcasts I’ve always got a bunch of podcasts in the que to catch up on. This was a post I was interested in reading and was going to save it (pocket) for later but when I saw the audio option and since I was heading out in my car to a meeting I was able to listen to it on the way. It’s certainly more work for you Jon I wonder it it’s worth the time ? Are you able to track analytics on how many people clicked and listened all the way thru?

  • http://www.sociallyaligned.com/ Julie Lowe

    Really glad you are doing these audio versions, I never would have gotten around to this otherwise today! Thanks for recording!

    • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

      Thanks Julie!

  • Trevor Cherewka

    We are singing the same song. Well said Jon.

  • http://www.places4students.com/ Places4Students

    Jon, I love your content! I was wondering do you remember when Facebook said they would be ‘penalizing’ low-quality content like memes? Do you have any idea if Facebook is actually penalizing memes? They seem to still be dominant in almost every news feed.

    • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

      I remember, but really don’t know. We can only guess about the algorithm and how it’s executed, which is probably for the best.

  • http://www.postplanner.com/ Scott Ayres

    Marketers always screw up everything that is good..

  • Jayne Day

    Couldn’t agree more. The memes and the hashtags are my biggest “hates” at the moment that are being well overused by brands.

  • http://www.antoniocalero.com/ Antonio Calero

    Hey Jon, great article. I have a couple of theories about all this:
    1) Facebook is too transparent when explaining new features. As you said, the option to tag other Pages has been there for ages, but now that Facebook has given a hint of how it may help, people will over use it and screw things up for the rest of us.
    2) Facebook launches new features without a set of rules or strategy around them. E.g.: why pages don’t abuse of hashtags on Twitter? They are limited to 140 characters… but on Facebook there are no rules. I know you can tag up to 10 people on a comment or post, is this going to be the same for Pages? Because in my opinion it would be too much…

  • http://tarletonecampus.blogspot.com Dr. Anthony C. Edwards

    Great post, @jonloomer:disqus. What I’m getting from your post is to focus on adding value with our posts instead of worrying about tricks or gimmicks. Getting noticed for the wrong reasons can do more harm than good. Thanks for your blog and podcast.

  • Steve Page

    Found this an interesting insight. Made me think of a video I saw on a tech website that claimed the Hover Board from Back to the Future movie was now a reality. The video was over produced, included celebrities and basically featured the hover board. No branding, no marketing gimmick in the video, etc. That video had more engagement than the brand that I can assume put it together. I’m willing to bet a brand like Nike produced the video and similar ones to it to get the audience interaction to eventually promote the a new shoe design or it could even be a marketing scheme to promote a new Back to the Future movie.

  • nicholasjacob

    If we are good to
    the people, they obviously will be the same to us on facebook.So its all even
    that the review of yours will help the viewers for the same reason. Thank you
    for bringing the same in front of us.

  • http://nutritionheretic.com/ Adrienne Hew

    I see what you did there with that call to action!… I completely agree about brands jumping from one trend to the next and ruining effectiveness for everyone. I think what happens is that people are taught that Internet marketing is totally different from offline marketing. Yes, there are some differences, but the basics remain true as they always have. Deliver what people are interested in and tell them why your product or service is so special (just not in so many words).

  • Marin

    Every “good” marketer has a ton of spammers to complete with. Many spammers work for or are brands. The internet is full of spammy noise so every channel and platform including Facebook need to deal with this…

  • Philip Kushmaro

    Be nice? don’t over exaggerate? Humans in general are stupider than animals. They can’t help but to do things even if they know that in the long run it will hurt them. As opposed to animals that don’t know better.

  • Ann Burton Wootten Furnivall

    great post…i like reading lots of gurus and this post is the opposite in a way….my goal always is ..be as organic and authentic as possible…post about what they liked you for in the first place…facebook can really work…p.s. ive been glad i ignored lots of the tekk advice out there…. again, wish you would talk more about brick and mortar ..love to hear your take on great store strategies …… i have 9k mostly good local fans and dont want to mess it up…… .


  • Sarah H

    Do you know if there is a way to view how many people have chosen to “get notifications” from your page?

  • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

    Problem is classifying such brands. You know as well as I do that if it’s proven all news brands get more reach, everyone will classify their businesses as News. Facebook does seem to be favoring link shares from specific news brands already, so this may be happening already more than you think.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/richgordon Rich Gordon

    Yeah, I’m sure they’re doing it for big news brands (NYTimes, etc.). But I suspect a small local newspaper or hyperlocal news site is not getting that kind of personalized attention. And that’s consistent with what I’ve heard from small local-news publishers.