Facebook, your brands strategy is screwed

I am not one of those people who hate the idea of Facebook making money. But in its latest attempts to make money from brands, it has lost its way.

Sponsored brand messages are interrupting, confusing and pissing off my friends.

And the brands have become so obsessed with getting “likes” for their posts, they’ve mostly stopped saying anything relevant.

Today was the final straw though. It dawned on me that the more brands I choose to like on Facebook, the less likely my friends are to see my own updates.

Which means I’m going to have to start unliking brands. As others realise what is going on, I suspect they’ll do the same thing.

facebook suggested pagesThe issue is that the algorithm quietly changed a few weeks back. Now, somewhere towards the top of the news feed, users are offered a “pages you may like” section.

It feature brands that your friends have previously liked and invites you to do the same. The placement is paid – and can be based on an action months before, a point that most users tend to miss.

The confusion was demonstrated quite well when I took a holiday last week. I’m delighted to report that I managed to go completely offline – no phone calls, no email, no internet whatsoever. Yet my colleagues were demanding to know when I got back how come I’d been busily liking brands such as Telstra, Meat & Livestock Australia and even Colonial First State while I was supposed to be forgetting about the world of marketing.

Of course, I had liked those brands at some point – probably months before. But my colleagues – and reasonably social media savvy ones at that – got the impression that this was something I’d done that day. Confusing perhaps, but no harm done, or so I thought.

Until I got this email from a friend today:

facebook brands

The email that turned me against liking brands on Facebook

So in other words, he got pissed off with seeing the Colonial First State mesage, but when he tried to mute it, it offered him instead the chance to change what updates he sees from me. So his only way to see less spam from Colonial First State is to choose to see fewer genuine updates from me.

Unless of course, I unlike Colonial First State. Which I just have. I guess the other 249 brand pages I liked are going to have to follow.

There’s another thing going on.

condescending brand pageWe’ve written about Condescending Brand Page before. Facebook decides how many messages to show consumers from brands based on how well liked and shared previous posts have been.

Which is why brands have become obsessed with messages about “Like this if you’re glad the weekend is coming”, just to improve their reach.

But of course, that’s pretty pointless if they never actually talk to consumers about anything relevant to the brand.

As a brand page owner, we get trapped in the same thing. If we boringly tell our readers about the best stories we’ve posted, they may well click it, but they aren;t likely to like it.

heston reach

The Heston penis effect

But if we go off topic and put a funny piece about Heston Blumenthal’s head looking like a penis in an unfortunate photo, our reach soars. I’m not sure what it really does for us as a brand though.

heston facebook

Once in a while, I guess it helps you stay up in the algorithm, but too many brands now refuse to post anything that consumers won’t engage with – inane or otherwise.

A few weeks back, I was at a breakfast presentation from WPP boss Sir Martin Sorrell. He argued that Facebook will never be as profitable as Google, because people don’t want their social conversations to be interrupted by brands. At the time, I wasn’t sure I agreed. But actually, I think he’s right.

To make money, Facebook needs a brand strategy. This one isn’t it.

Tim Burrowes


  1. Tbone
    24 Oct 12
    1:29 pm

  2. Keep it simple.
    Fit for audience.
    Call to action.

    Basic rules of effective communication, no?

    It’s Facebook. Short attention spans. An entertainment channel.
    Save sophistication for a channel where its wanted and embrace Facebook for what it is – instant gratification.

  3. Social House Media
    24 Oct 12
    1:41 pm

  4. Agreed 100%

  5. Amanda
    24 Oct 12
    1:59 pm

  6. Well said.

  7. Em
    24 Oct 12
    2:01 pm

  8. well said, Facebook is steadily veering well away from the space it occupied in the consumers mind and is now overcommercialised.

  9. Liam Campbell
    24 Oct 12
    2:03 pm

  10. Couldn’t agree more.

    Shared on Facebook by posting the URL.

    Decided not to ‘like’ the page.

  11. Mike
    24 Oct 12
    2:11 pm

  12. Fantastic article. I’ve been a fond user of FB since 2007, and since they floated it’s started to act like that drunk loud weirdo at your friends house party.

  13. David Olsen
    24 Oct 12
    2:39 pm

  14. Tim,

    ‘Like gaming’ is just the most widespread method brands pages are using atm to maintiain organic reach in a race to the bottom with competitors.

    Facebook’s Edgerank algorithm looks at multiple variables (not just likes/comments) in determining its score (and hence reach) – if you’re posting links that get heas of clicks, that content will score well too – other factors include things like “mouse hover” time over the post in the feed – which is harder to game than “click like for puppies!” but it can be optimised for.

  15. Chris
    24 Oct 12
    2:40 pm

  16. Consumers? You guys aren’t paying anything for Facebook and never have! You get this world of social interaction and comprehension behind the most feverish dreams of a 1980s nerd brought into your homes, your pockets. And you COMPLAIN because you have to scroll past an advertisement?

    What is wrong with Gen-Y? Where does this horrid, unfathomable entitlement come from?

    I’m honestly speechless.

  17. cj
    24 Oct 12
    3:02 pm

  18. @Chris (#8): The issue isn’t having to scroll past ads, so much as that the ads appear to be initiated by your friends (or at least recent action they have taken).

  19. Joel
    24 Oct 12
    3:13 pm

  20. Yeah, Tim… You damn entitled Gen-Y!

  21. Dan German
    24 Oct 12
    3:24 pm

  22. My biggest concern is my brand posts used to reach at least 20%, and often up to 45% of our base. Since the change, our most popular posts are reaching 2-3% of our base, unless we pay. in essence, we cannot count on FB to reach all of out fans who have clicked “like”. FB is still a valuable tool to connect with old friends, but their brand pages have jumped the shark.

  23. Frances
    24 Oct 12
    3:38 pm

  24. It is possible to stop those posts from appearing, but the process for is irritatingly complex, too.

    1. Hover over your friend’s name in your news feed (but don’t click).
    2. A little info box will appear; hover over ‘Friends’.
    3. A drop down menu will appear; click on ‘Settings…’
    4. Uncheck ‘Comments and Likes’.

    You need to do that for every single friend. It’s ridiculous.

  25. Cameron Bailey
    24 Oct 12
    3:42 pm

  26. I have been playing with advertising over the last 3 months and it is a very interesting beast. Just small amounts on a side project but I do fear what will happen when I remove our budget.

  27. EP
    24 Oct 12
    4:12 pm

  28. You’re still using FB? So “noughties”….

  29. Dorothy
    24 Oct 12
    4:12 pm

  30. @Chris (#8) – what pisses me off as a consumer is I am seeing messages from brands I haven’t liked, but I’m not seeing messages from brands that I have liked because the algorithm deems them not relevant enough or whatever. It’s ridiculous.

  31. Ringo
    24 Oct 12
    5:35 pm

  32. money can’t buy me love

  33. Billboards Cost Money
    24 Oct 12
    6:26 pm

  34. If Facebook iron out the algo, so that it is better (people see the brands they have liked) and then ensure that the brands who pay get even more exposure – that is okay isn’t it? (Rather than letting corporates have space for free?)

  35. @seancallanan
    24 Oct 12
    9:20 pm

  36. Completely agree Tim.

    For mine they should turn off Edgerank altogether & let fans decide what they want to see.

  37. @cheshunderlay
    24 Oct 12
    10:06 pm

  38. What concerned me was seeing my sister’s name come up as one of the friends who liked a page she never in her life would have (one of the sports betting websites), and she has gone on to swear she never has. I’m still trying to work that one out.

  39. Mona Ramona Soma
    25 Oct 12
    7:36 am

  40. To be honest why are we even having this conversation. Who cares. We’re all gonna leave facebook when something better comes along in the next couple of years. It will become of ghetto of farmville invites and brand awareness.

  41. A
    25 Oct 12
    8:09 am

  42. Facebook, what’s that?

  43. Bob
    25 Oct 12
    8:51 am

  44. The only brands I’ve liked are the ones that send out mostly discounts/freebies. Otherwise, I don’t see any point in friending a company.

  45. Craig
    26 Oct 12
    6:22 am

  46. Brilliant post Tim.

    I’d like to see Facebook’s response as well.

  47. nell schofield
    1 Nov 12
    12:33 pm

  48. FB advertising is irrelevant for anyone over 30 which is only 90% of our ageing population

  49. Kelly
    5 Nov 12
    10:30 am

  50. The new Facebook algorithm sucks ass overall. 75% of what pops up in my feed now are stupid ‘Like this if’ pages, rather than genuine status updates and photos.

    Time for a new social platform to step up perhaps?

  51. Agreed
    6 Nov 12
    11:00 am

  52. Yep, I was fooled a couple of times thinking that a friend of mine had liked a post, however they hadn’t liked the post, they do like the page of the company concerned. it is bad because for some of my friends it makes them seem really out of character, with a mate of mine appearing to like a powder room renovation, which in turn funneled a heap of friendly insults his way. He in turn unliked the companies page so that he was not associated with anymore of their posts.

    Facebook haven’t got this down pat and to really pull this off you need an human eye from their end me thinks….? It aint adwords and will not scale on tags and quality score – this is social and is all about senses.

    I am going to be very careful when I select to promote any of my posts on Facebook now.

  53. aaron woolf
    13 Nov 12
    2:27 pm

  54. On the anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster where 96 Liverpool football fans died in a stadium crush, a friend of mine was mentioned in a sponsored post ‘liking’ The Sun newspaper.

    If you understand the issue Liverpool fans have with The Sun then you will find it utterly appalling that Facebook did not prevent this ‘sponsored post’ from happening on this day of all days. If you don’t, then you should Google details of the disgusting lies in the disaster reporting The Sun carried out after the tragedy.