“Facebook Wants my Business to Pay for Visibility” and Other Famous Lies

(Or How we betray our audience when we assume that brands can’t compete organically on Facebook.)

As a digital strategist, I regularly hear from clients and potential clients that their social media strategy is unable to gain traction. As a business owner, I’ve experienced this same phenomena myself. We know that remaining top-of-mind using a social media strategy is important to brands. We also know that often times, when we create a post, we get 3 or 4 likes, no shares, and no clicks. An organic social media campaign that fails to inspire an audience is where enthusiasm and faith in the medium (or worse, your product itself) goes to die. “Fine,” we mumble, “I’ll put on a happy face and create a great post and no one will care.” And guess what? You’re correct. No one cares about your post.

Happy National Muffin Day. What’s your favorite flavor of muffin?

A few years ago, businesses were wasting $25 – $40k annually on social media managers who created content calendars based on irrelevant holidays. They did this because, they assumed, that this would keep them in user’s feeds and that audiences would think it’s cute, and, I guess, thought your average Facebook user would be really excited that a company wanted to hear their thoughts on whether they preferred glaze or sprinkles on National Donut Day (June 2). What value did these social media managers bring? They may be able to initially dazzle with metrics (your post reached 2,455 people) but, then what? Were they turning Facebook users into customers? Were there suddenly more people who remember the business’ name? Was there more traffic to the company’s website? Were there more fans that they could talk to again?

Eventually, those numbers dropped. They dropped because Facebook changed what showed up in the feed. But that’s not the only reason. Sure, you could accept the dismissive argument that Facebook wants brands to pay for visibility or you could ask – “Hey, why would our fans care that it’s National Girlfriend Day (August 1)?”

Every post you make either invites your audience to know or ignore your brand. Irrelevant posts may have helped you creep into the feed in the old days, but the problem remained that the posts were irrelevant. There was still a real person on the other end rolling their eyes and asking the same question your social media manager should have been asking, “Who cares?”

Being irrelevant on Facebook doesn’t work. By exclusion, that has to mean that the opposite, being relevant, is the key to organic success, right? Yes, absolutely, but relevance isn’t always an easy target and it may mean a different thing to your audience than what you think it means to them.

You might think “What could be more relevant to my audience than speaking about new innovations to our product or service? People liked our business page, after all. They must want to hear about how our businesses is evolving and providing value to our customers, mustn’t they?”

This is the typical thinking and strategy for many brands on social media. They get on Facebook and craft posts meant to demonstrate innovation or keep best sellers top-of-mind, yet, the needle ceases to move. The truth is that your audience feels like you’re selling something to them (you are), rather than providing value to their social media experience. Believe me, I get it. How are we able to do service to our brand when we aren’t talking about it? Well, as the numbers likely show (you are tracking your numbers, right?), talking about your products and services isn’t doing the trick. Adding real value to your audience’s social media browsing experience is what will make your brand relevant on Facebook

Feeding the addiction.

Let’s talk about your addiction to Facebook. This addiction is not just you and it is by design. Facebook wants to deliver you posts that you likely want to see. When they do this well, you are more likely to stay on Facebook. When you leave, you’re more likely to come back more frequently. How do they do this? According to Forbes, last summer Facebook updated their feed algorithm to focus on “posts from friends users care about.” This means less organic visibility directly from brands, more content delivered from friends. It doesn’t mean no visibility directly from brands… just less. So when your brand is given visibility, that post better kick ass, right? You have a limited audience with which to make a big impression.

To maintain and extend your visibility in the feed, you’re going to need to turn the audience who sees your posts into the carriers of your brand message. You will have to rely on them to share your brand’s posts because “(Facebook shows) posts from friends users care about.” If those friends are sharing your post, you’ve won.

Your primary objective is to deliver a post that your audience will share when they see it. This will, by extension, achieve your ultimate goal, of gaining organic visibility.

Focus on shareable content.

Your four-step guide to creating shareable content


If creating sales-driven posts were a crime, I’d be in prison. You’d be my cellmate, too, wouldn’t you? We have all done this and we are all doing it. Especially if you work for an agency and you’ve been tasked to run Facebook for a client. Given the option, most clients will not sign off on a strategy of avoiding brand mentions. But, brand and product mentions, more than any other reason, are why your posts are going nowhere.

Have you ever avoided eye contact with someone manning a sales kiosk while you walked through a mall or an airport? This is the same thing. Your audience is willing to shop (and even be sold to), but it has to be in a place that they expect to shop. Save selling for ads that you know you’ll have to pay for.

Another reason, though not as prominent, is because the message is being frequently repeated and it’s a boring message that the audience didn’t respond to the first time. “Buy this,” “Buy today,” “Are you ready to buy yet?” ZzzzzzzzZZZzzzzzZZzzzz

There are always exceptions and if your brand, product, or service has created an incredible buzz, you can likely get away with brand-focused posts. Otherwise, you have to assume that your audience doesn’t just quite love hearing your value proposition every time you show up in their feed.

2.    Figure out your brand themes and create content to those themes.

Your product means something to your audience. Who is that person and where does your product fit in to their lives? Better yet, what does your product or service represent to them? Why did they choose your product? What does choosing your service say about their lifestyle? How is your product or service helping your customer to be better?

I have a client that makes a mojito pitcher bar set that promises a perfect mojito every time. When considering what their product represents, drinking alcohol is an obvious theme, but a mojito means more than just taste and refreshment, and, maybe (probably) inebriation. The drink itself represents experiences like leisure, vacation, and socializing. These experiences are at least a few core themes for this client and the kinds of content that the brand’s audience would likely expect to see from them. These themes are also the antithesis to ideas such as work, bad weather, loneliness, and packed schedules. Knowing, and cataloging, what themes your brand is the alternative to is also important for creating shareable posts. I strongly recommend getting out a notepad and a pen and brainstorming these themes and their opposites.

3.    Relate.

With your brand’s themes in place, you’ll need to create or find messages that relate to the audience. Using the mojito brand as a continuing example, we know that mojitos are not generally sipped at 8 AM when you first arrive at work. For that reason, trying to tempt someone with a mojito as they are wiping the crust from their eyes and they sip a hot cup of joe probably won’t resonate.

Perhaps the idea of “escaping Mondays altogether in favor of island living” would be a more relatable message that you’d expect to hear from this brand. Consider what you can post that will make your audience say, “That’s exactly how I feel.” If you can do that, you can start winning shares.

4.    Make your audience better.

At Pubcon in 2015, Wil Reynolds of Seer Interactive suggested the idea of “leveling-up” your audience. This concept is wonderful. In video games, when you level-up your character, the character has more resilience, is stronger, and faster. When you level-up the character, the character is better. When you level-up your audience, your audience is better.

What makes your audience better? One idea is to create or share lifehacks that remain within your brand’s themes. You could say that a simple method for creating a mojito perfectly every time is a lifehack and you’d be right. It’s also a self-serving message from this brand and kind of a one-trick pony. Instead, maybe they’d do well to share instructions on how to make your own tiki-bar or tips from a chef on preparing sweet plantains, a Cuban dessert.

Other examples to consider would be creating or sharing a video about keeping your valuables safe at the beach. It fits with the aspirational vacation theme, it’s relatable (since most of us have had this problem), and it’s actionable. If the audience didn’t know how to do this before, they now know it and, are therefor, leveled-up.

The brand may also want to think about creating an infographic outlining all of the things you need to know to have a perfect Cuban vacation (incredibly shareable given that Americans once again have that option). Are there health benefits to mojitos? If so, creating or sharing a video about those benefits would be on theme, relevant, and level-up the viewer. Even better, it will justify the mojito drinker’s decision to make the mojito their drink of choice. That would definitely win some shares.

Who does it well?

I’m no fan of David Wolfe (https://www.facebook.com/DavidAvocadoWolfe/) and my eyes roll a little bit every time someone shares content from his Facebook page that shows up in my feed. But, you know what? A lot of people I know share content from his page. I end up watching the videos sometimes, too. He may not believe in gravity on earth, but he sure knows how to add interesting content into the feed. I don’t think any of it has been a sales message, either. It’s always about another brand, person, or organization who is innovating to make life more functional or sustainable. It’s entirely on theme for his brand, it’s relatable content, and while it’s rarely actionable, the shared content from his page consistently levels me up by educating me. By the way, I don’t “like” his page and I’m not following it, but at least weekly, I see his brand name show up in my feed because a friend has shared something interesting from that page.

So, what did I eventually do? I checked out his page and learned who he was. I visited his website. Hell, I’m talking about him right now in this article. He is branded and he did it without talking about the products he sells. If he were talking about the products he sells, I wouldn’t be leveled-up because no one would have shared his posts and, most importantly, I would have no idea who this guy is. He has won organic visibility not in spite of talking about his products, he wins visibility because he doesn’t talk about his products.

Use him as a social media guide. Use George Takei (https://www.facebook.com/georgehtakei/) as a guide. Use Mashable (https://www.facebook.com/mashable/) as a guide. Use your friends as guides. What are they sharing? Those are your keys to the kingdom. Dismiss your ego and your need to move units in favor of creating the kinds of posts that your friends are sharing from other brands. Learn what they consume, feed the friends you care about and let them carry your message to the friends that care about them. If you can win those shares, you will find that your brand will grow as a result.

And sometimes, people just love you.

Then, there are those times that the rules I’m proposing are thrown out. I have two brands right now that have created posts that talk about their products and their organic reach is out performing their paid reach. I’m going to repeat that because you may not believe it…. Their organic reach is outperforming their paid reach on Facebook.

One is a well-known painter, who is also a likeable guy with a pretty big offline social network. We crafted a post that teased new artwork available in his online store. The response this post was getting in the first 24 hours actually freaked me out. “Did I set my lifetime budget to promote this post as a daily budget?” I thought. I had indeed crafted the campaign budget correctly, but the post resonated with his audience. Maybe it was because it was a beautiful painting of a horse amid angry political posts. Maybe it’s because people really like the artist and they wanted to do their part to promote his work through shares. Maybe it’s because when someone saw 10 shares and 100 likes, it prompted them to share the post and like it so that they could be “in the club.” If I had to guess, I’d say it’s all of the above.

The other was a natural skin care company executing their first giveaway in exchange for mailing list subscribers. 52% of the audience during this campaign was reached organically, thanks to a significant number of shares from their audience. Despite this being, again, a very brand-focused post, I suspect that this won favor because each time it’s shared, it’s a multi-faceted benevolent gesture on the part of the sharer. They support the natural skin care they love by sharing and they’re also spreading a message of opportunity to their own social network. It feels good to be a part of that message. Will it begin to feel like you’re a salesperson for the company if you share every giveaway? Probably. I expect this client will see diminished returns if they were to run the exact same campaign again.

In conclusion….

It’s a disservice to your efforts to rely on the tired idea that your brand can’t compete organically. We know it’s a tired idea because I’ve cited companies in this article who have proven that idea wrong. Winning that broader organic visibility will take a lot of work and a lot of trial and error to nail down the science behind gaining shares from your audience – but once it happens, once it’s intentionally repeatable, all of that stress will pay off and your brand will reap rewards that others will still believe don’t exist. Someone’s going to win those shares, it may as well be you.

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/facebook-wants-my-business-pay-visibility-other-famous-tyler-jacobson

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