You Can’t Own What You Don’t Pay For (In Social Media)

There’s been a lot of discussion recently about ongoing changes that Facebook is making to its Newsfeed algorithms and how those tweaks impact brands.


Notably, there was the release of a paper by PR agency Ogilvy discussing the notion of “Facebook Zero” and its potential implications, whilst food delivery start-up Eat24, in a more concrete and immediate move, posted a breakup note to Facebook, blaming the same changes.

Whilst Eat 24′s note, which ends with a threat/promise to delete its Facebook page (it should be gone by the time you read this), it’s amusing in a snarky kind of way. It also highlights the fact that some people have been thinking about Facebook in the wrong kind of way for quite some time.

Hella Messed Up

From the letter:


When we first met, you made us feel special. We’d tell you a super funny joke about Sriracha and you’d tell all our friends and then everyone would laugh together. But now? Now you want us to give you money if we want to talk to our friends. Now when we show you a photo of a taco wrapped with bacon, you’re all like “PROMOTE THIS POST! GET MORE FRIENDS!” instead of just liking us for who we are. That’s hella messed up.

What’s hella messed up is that any business would ever base its success on an unpaid relationship with a third party it had no control over. We saw the same thing years ago where every few months Google would be blamed for the success or failure of a business based on changes to its algorithms (Florida anyone?).

Whilst it is understandable that small businesses (or large ones) get upset when what seemed like a free customer acquisition strategy no longer works, it shouldn’t be so surprising when this happens.

Why The Changes Are Happening

Telling someone they shouldn’t have been surprised by changes to another company’s business model isn’t particularly helpful; though, understanding why it has changed might be. Obviously Facebook was going to evolve following its IPO, but it’s not like it hasn’t always been a commercial beast (remember when they killed brand templates?).

The simple fact is that the more popular Facebook gets, both with consumers and businesses, the more stuff Facebook is going to have to filter if it doesn’t want to risk losing its users. Indeed, the idea of “stream fatigue” goes back to 2011.

What’s turbo-charged this need to filter is that Facebook’s traffic has migrated at a rapid pace to devices with smaller screens than the PCs and laptops it originally became popular on. The ticker, which was meant to help with this problem (filtering) doesn’t fit on a mobile screen.

So, understanding why Facebook has changed, what lessons can brands learn? Well, broadly the same ones that have always applied, many of which are touched on in the Facebook Zero document we mentioned earlier.

  • Understand. Facebook’s value has always come from its ability to drive or highlight advocacy. It’s why Google has been so keen to add +1s to its ads.
  • Focus. Just because posting a picture of a kitten won you thousands of likes, that doesn’t mean it was actually helping your business. Instead, brands should still be thinking less about what platform will get them “free” reach and more about how they can use social products to drive utility and entertainment.
  • Social Lives Everywhere. Eat24 talks about the fact that when Ellen wanted to promote her selfie, she did it on Twitter (they also talk about how Twitter broke, as if that’s a good thing, but anyway).

    She actually did it on TV*, and that’s the point. Facebook and Twitter and the whole internet are all a great way of exploding interesting things that happen offline, or IRL, if you will. Focus on creating those great experiences and the right platform to use will come naturally. It might not even be a social network.

  • You Can’t Own Something You Don’t Pay For. Even then, paying for something doesn’t necessarily denote ownership (think rent versus mortgage).

Essentially what we have learned from both Google and Facebook is that if you want to succeed, you shouldn’t concentrate your efforts in any one place.

Brands should look to create experiences and products that resonate both on and offline, using all available and relevant channels to promote them. In other words, create truly owned assets and use paid media to distribute them, ideally generating earned value. Without the first two, the last one is always going to be nigh on impossible, even with great sushi porn.

* And, it was an ad.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Social Media Marketing | Facebook: Advertising | Facebook: News Feed | Social Media Marketing Column | Twitter


About The Author: is the Chief Digital Officer for Mindshare Australia, where he is responsible for the overall digital output of the agency, including ensuring that search, social, mobile and video are integrated into the broader marketing mix. He has worked in online marketing since 2000 at a number of publishers and agencies.

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  • Steven Graff

    A couple of points I’d like to raise: 1) facebook is nothing without its community of users and this includes the brands and business it has attracted over the years, a symbiosis has been required for Facebook to grow to its value of $100+ billion. As many social media startups and VCs will confirm without its unpaid users, Facebook would be worthless. 2) It is disingenuous to imply users have given up nothing in return for access to facebook and that participation is free. They have been directly responsible for recruiting new users, they have provided user, beta and bug testing worth millions of dollars as well as new user training that would not be economically feasible if monetary compensation was required, and above all they have provided the content necessary to populate new features, build communities and enable affinity marketing. 3) In addition to all in this in kind payment, they have consumed advertising.

    As with successful brands, ownership of facebook is now very much shared. The team at facebook should be thinking more along the lines of brand stewardship, than those of start-up that has 100% control of its brand and can do whatever it wants without the input of a block of owners whose share is not stock, but the expansion or contraction of the product.

  • Ciaran

    Thanks for the comment Steven. Where you refer to users as in general members of the public, I absolutely agree – Facebook relies on them absolutely. But that is where I think they (Facebook) can make an honest claim that they need to filter brand material so it doesn’t swamp content people want to see more (updates from friends etc…).

    Using a focus group of one, I see plenty of brand updates (and not all promoted) but from pages I’ve interacted with in the past. But obviously not every brand sees the same thing.

    I didn’t mean to say that users should need to pay for Facebook because, as you point out, they have – with their data and their consumption of ads.


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