With Facebook on the news radar on a weekly basis, and the Cambridge Analytica scandal, it has really made me ask the question: “Can we trust Facebook with our information and relationships?”. It seems to be ever-present on our news feeds, in our workplaces and even our chats at the pub. Confidence in Facebook is declining – particularly given that we’re now being told it has hit 87 million users. A Reuters/Ipsos poll found that only 41% of Americans trust Facebook to obey U.S. privacy laws, considerably less than other major tech companies that gather user data. By comparison, 66% say they trust Amazon, 62% trust Google and 60% feel they can rely on Microsoft to keep their data safe.
Brands are experiencing this decline as a direct impact on the effectiveness to communicate with their audiences. The Content Marketing Institute reported that only 38% of B2B marketers found Facebook useful for brand promotion. With these gloomy trends taking centre stage, should B2B brands move away from Facebook?
As of the fourth quarter of 2017, Facebook had 2.2 billion monthly active users, making it the most used social media platform in the world. Because it is so widespread, brands see Facebook as a must-have platform and are expected to have the goal of acquiring thousands of engaged followers. A study by BuzzSumo, analysing over 880 million Facebook interactions between consumers and brands, showed that the average number of engagements (such as likes and shares) associated with targeted content has fallen by more than 20% since January 2017 alone. Although this does not undermine the importance of Facebook as a communication platform, it does hint at a drop in the value people place on Facebook content and interactions.
Consumers use Facebook to connect on a personal level with friends and family and engage with content that is shared in the context of this personal relationship. But not all this content is equal in a user’s eyes. Think about it – how often do you comment on a cat video your best friend has shared, or a thread about a political issue you care about? Now contrast this with the number of times you’ve commented something nice on your ex-neighbour’s new profile picture? For a piece of content to break through the Facebook noise, it must be directly relevant to emotions, experiences, goals and relationships at a given time. To put it simply, people engage most on Facebook with content they care about. Standard branded content rarely falls in that category.
Another reason for you missing your ex-neighbour’s selfie is the Facebook news feed algorithm, which prioritises user-generated content that it identifies as specifically relevant to you. More recently, this algorithm has been tweaked to bring business page and branded content further down the attention scale. Posts with a short comment and a referral link are a very good example of popular branded content that under-performs on the platform. B2B brands are especially reliant on this top-down, and often cold, sharing of information.
However, Facebook’s reach cannot be ignored - brands that want to make the most of its power will have to think outside the box. More reactive and personable content that encourages immediate interaction within Facebook is the way to go.
In the past couple of years, Facebook has refined the functions that make it a better platform for live content: Facebook Messenger opens up the opportunity for direct contact between brands and their customers and can make lead generation more seamless and faster – especially for sole traders and SMEs. Live video content performs best on Facebook, allowing for authentic moments to connect directly with target audiences.
Facebook groups are an untapped resource for brands. Consumers don’t use products and services in isolation. Brands can create and moderate groups for people that use their products in similar ways, creating communities around these interests with products and services that are central to them. If these groups remain authentic and encourage safe spaces for users to share their experiences of products and services, then brands can gain.
Brands that want to succeed on Facebook should behave like their target audiences’ friends do to maximise engagement. Content that is responsive, immediate and highly personable will help brands create connections that are relevant and ultimately improve their chances of being reached them on the platform.