Facebook Is Still Failing Marketers

Our declaration last October that Facebook was failing marketers and that brands should focus their social efforts elsewhere created a lot of discussion. To no one's surprise, most of the people defending Facebook were vendors that rely directly upon Facebook marketing for their livelihood.

Just four months later, the debate seems to be over. Is there any doubt now that Facebook has abandoned social marketing, and that its paid ad products aren’t delivering results for most marketers? Consider:

  • Marketers can now reach just 6% of their fans organically. When we published our research, some brands were surprised to find that Facebook only delivered posts to 16% of their fans. In December a leaked sales deck revealed that Facebook was telling marketers they should expect organic distribution of posts to decline further — but few could guess how far and how fast that distribution would fall. This month, Ogilvy released data showing that the brand pages they manage reach just 6% of fans. For pages with more than 500,000 fans, Ogilvy says reach stands at just 2%.
  • Brands and agencies are now openly talking about their discontent. Every day I talk to brands that are disillusioned with Facebook and are now placing their bets on other social sites — but few of them want to go on the record. Lately, though, more brands and agencies have started speaking openly to the media about how Facebook is failing them. One former Facebook advertiser referred to Facebook as “one of the most lucrative grifts of all time.”
  • Marketers are worried many of their fans are “fake.” Many marketers and many publishers are reporting that huge percentages of their fans come from emerging markets where they didn’t expect to find an audience. The kicker? They’re saying many of those fans don’t seem to interact with people or with branded content — they seem to do little other than "like" thousands and thousands of brand pages. The conclusion some marketers are coming to: The paid ads Facebook encourages them to buy often lead to “fake” fans generated by “like farms.”

No wonder a B2B marketer told me recently that Facebook’s constant rule changes were “the biggest problem we have,” and as a result they were focusing more of their social efforts on Twitter and LinkedIn. And no wonder a national retailer told me they’re no longer dedicating content resources to Facebook, just reposting assets from more-effective social sites (which for them, perhaps ironically, includes Instagram.)

All these marketers want Facebook to live up to its promise and to become a valuable marketing channel. They just don’t believe it’ll ever happen.


Startup Phase Blowback Now Apparent

Super important information. Thank you for this. It's becoming clear now that Facebook's early days---in which the founder vehemently opposed the creation of an organically viable business model and focused on user acquisition only---have created a blowback effect that manifests in poor performance for its advertisers.

It's also clear that the $19 billion paid to WhatsApp was not about monetizing WhatsApp via ads----which the WhatsApp founders are on public record both opposing and criticizing----but about Facebook's diversification into a new 'subscription' or 'app download' sales model for its new services.

About super information

I was just talking about this yesterday and started a whole discussion on my personal facebook page. I noticed a sharp decline in impressions over the past week on my business page and I am not happy about it. As a food and recipe site I am focusing more on Pinterest now, but I have always enjoyed the community interaction facebook allows and wish there was a better way for users to choose what they want to see.

The Social Mobile Divide


Interesting follow-up to your previous Facebook post. As one of the vendors who makes a living on Facebook and Twitter and who works closely with big brands and agencies every day, I certainly have a bias but I've also been a professional digital marketer for 20 years and I see a different reality emerging. 

Frankly, all of the data you point to has been out for a bit and has very little to do with "performance" as marketers have traditionally realized it. Free "social engagement" is a construct -- largely created by Facebook -- that marketers have been complaining about for a long time. How do we quantify the value of a fan? How do we move beyond likes, comments and shares to driving higher-value brand and business outcomes? Do polls and contests really drive lifetime value? We've been asking these and many other questions for a while.

As Facebook turns down organic reach (something Google does as well) and forces marketers to spend media dollars to reach both fans and key audiences, what's emerging starts to look a lot like... marketing. Target high-value audiences with advertising, test and optimize ads and drive sharing or to landing experiences tuned for engagement and conversion. It turns out that this model, proven in search and email, actually can work pretty well in social as well.

But there's a more important force that's changing the game for marketers on Facebook even more than the end of free reach, and that's mobile. +75% of daily Facebook users are on a mobile device. The two best ways to reach mobile consumers is in search and social, period. By "best" I mean reach, engage and convert. Yet so many marketers still think desktop first or "mobile-enabled", but neither of those will drive real and sustained outcomes. To be a social media marketer today is to be a mobile marketer, are the folks you're talking to truly mobile first, every time?

Sure, the transition from community engagement to social advertising is abrupt and unsettling for many, especially those heavily invested. Do we cry foul for the marketers who have invested in NFC when Apple releases and invests in Bluetooth LE? No, such is the danger of being a modern marketer and relying on giant corporations to mediate our messages, define our formats and set our costs. In some ways, Facebook's move away from being our remote CRM in the sky should be a moment of rejoice for marketers. We will, once again, take (more) control of our prospect and customer data and the next generation of digital marketers may learn the value of "working" dollars that drive business outcomes. 

Thanks Nate, I appreciate the opportunity to participate in this conversation.

Marko Z Muellner
VP Marketing  |  ShopIgniter

The line between marketing and advertising is an important one

And I'd argue you're conflating them, as Facebook so often does. Facebook's promise was 'advertise to collect fans, so that you can market to them.' (Advertising being effectively a subset of marketing that requires you to pay for media. Marketing being all the ways you can reach audiences, both paid and organic - but in Facebook's case, the promise was at least implicitly, and often explicitly, that after you paid for fans your marketing reach would remain free.)

So Facebook's shift from free organic reach to paid reach doesn't mean it's "looking more like marketing" - it means that Facebook has abandoned the social marketing it always promised brands, to the type of advertising model that brands can already buy on Yahoo, NBC, and elsewhere.

If brands are okay with this, and if Facebook's audience and inventory and ad units perform better than those brands can buy from other ad sellers, that's fine - brands will keep buying ads. But our research says brands are buying ads despite the fact they're not happy with that switch, and despite the fact those ads aren't working as well as they ads they can buy elsewhere. The only question is: When will spending patterns shift to reflect this?

2 more quick points...

Nate, thanks for the speedy reply. 2 quick additional thoughts:

1. Sure, Facebook has shifted their model -- again, Google does this too, albeit more subtlety -- but shame on us for believing we could eat from the buffet indefinitely. We pay to reach the same people over and over all of the time on TV, print, OOH, etc. We  spend media dollars to capture email and then pay vendors to send email to those in our database. Rarely is it ever free to reach key audiences. Organic social reach is a marketing anomaly and good luck to the other social network's ability to maintain that promise.

2. Let's talk about ad effectiveness. To dismiss the current and potential performance of Facebook advertising out of hand is obtuse or uninformed. Today, Facebook offers one of the most advanced targeting and ad optimization platforms on the planet, with massive scale. In some ways it's more advanced than AdWords when you consider website custom audiences, look-alike modeling, conversion optimization, etc. Is it still early and too complex? Yes. Are there amazing tools and experts that enable marketers to do deep segmentation, rich ad testing and optimization, and bulk landing page creation tuned for conversion? Yes. And I see more and more marketers learning about what works and what doesn't. Will it take some time for social advertising -- Twitter and Tumblr and Instagram and Pinterest too -- to mature and provide the right mix or ad formats, reach, testing and management tools and analytics to truly enable marketers to sustainably succeed? Yes, but that's digital marketing 101, everything is new and always changing. Display advertising "performance" is terrible, yet spend continues to grow, year after year -- irrational spend in digital is endemic. Facebook desktop ads -- right rail -- are of the display model, but in-stream posts on mobile are a significantly different format and the performance -- driving higher value outcomes -- is far more likely here.

Lastly, as our digital time moves more and more to mobile, and the biggest chunks of our mobile time are spent on social networks, many marketers have no choice to fish where the fish are. The marketing free lunch is over, sadly, and now it's time to get smart about driving value from social mobile advertising, oh well.

Thanks Nate!

Marko Z Muellner
VP Marketing  |  ShopIgniter

Marko is Spot On

Marko, I work at a digital marketing agency and we are in it every day. We are doing more with Facebook Ads than ever - it is absolutely working, both for large and small advertisers. From my perspective, your responses are spot-on!

Not exactly, Marko

You do have to pay to reach the same TV, print, and other audiences over and over again...because you haven't brought them into your audience sphere. Those contacts have been developed by someone else, at their cost. If you did keep paying someone else to reach your audience over and over you'd be a dope and you'd be out of business.

FB magic is in convincing all of us to build their business by building our audiences, and then asking us to pay for them again. If the telephone company showed up and announced you needed to pay extra to ensure your calls to your regular contact list got through every time, because, you know, they happened to have their numbers because you call them, you'd be angry.

It does cost resources (time and money) to attract fans and maintain successful FB accounts. It's not just in the buying of ads. If FB presented what they were doing, and allowed their customers to make informed decisions on what they wanted to spend, it might not change their economics. But, I suspect it would. Because the point is that FB exists as an opaque promise that makes us believe there's gold as long as we keep panning...and buying their picks and blue jeans.

Limited Ad Space

Well, to be fair to Facebook more and more brands are competing for the same space in the newsfeed, and at the same time, they have a responsibility to their users (the people you want to market to) and their advertisers to not turn the newsfeed into the adfeed.

If they dilute the quality of the newsfeed with too many ads, you'll be reaching even fewer users, because they will have all moved on.

When people compete over valuable, limited resources (Like space in the newsfeed), pay-to-play is generally how we decide who gets priority access to those resources. Basic example of supply and demand.

I should limit the ad space, not anybody else.

Respectfully, Zachary, I don't agree. If the only two companies that I have liked are BRAND X and BRAND Y, then nobody else has a shot at my newsfeed. If I decide that I want to see updates from BRAND Z, then I want those in addition to everybody's cat and vacation photos, not in lieu of material from BRANDS X and Y just because I have not clicked the like button for their posts recently.

Paid Reach

Actually any company who targets ads to demographics you're a part of has a shot at your newsfeed, whether you've liked their page or not.

If you fit the demographics for the ad targeting, you will be shown the promoted post, whether you already showed an interest in that brand or not.

Oh, those. Those don't even

Oh, those. Those don't even register on my eyeballs for more than a millisecond. I couldn't name one who ever appeared there, ever. I only care about the brands I've liked, and I want to see every one of those updates - whether it's a musician, a museum, or a restaurant. They shouldn't have to compete against my friends when I've tried to tell Facebook that I want to see them!


Ok, well even if you don't pay attention to them, plenty of other people do. :)

Otherwise Facebook couldn't get people to keep paying for ads if no one ever clicked on them or engaged with promoted posts.

Just because you dislike them or don't pay attention to them doesn't mean that they stop existing, or that brands don't like them and use them.

There are pages that I see every single update from. Those are pages that I've been very active on. The EdgeRank formula decides what shows up in your newsfeed. If you are active on certain pages, you'll see more of their updates.

Limited Ad Space

Well, to be fair to Facebook more and more brands are competing for the same space in the newsfeed, and at the same time, they have a responsibility to their users (the people you want to market to) and their advertisers to not turn the newsfeed into the adfeed.

If they dilute the quality of the newsfeed with too many ads, you'll be reaching even fewer users, because they will have all moved on.

When people compete over valuable, limited resources (Like space in the newsfeed), pay-to-play is generally how we decide who gets priority access to those resources. Basic example of supply and demand.

Limited Ad Space

Well, to be fair to Facebook more and more brands are competing for the same space in the newsfeed, and at the same time, they have a responsibility to their users (the people you want to market to) and their advertisers to not turn the newsfeed into the adfeed.

If they dilute the quality of the newsfeed with too many ads, you'll be reaching even fewer users, because they will have all moved on.

When people compete over valuable, limited resources (Like space in the newsfeed), pay-to-play is generally how we decide who gets priority access to those resources. Basic example of supply and demand.

Brands reach more than 6% of their fans

Hi Nate,
Ogilvy's research on Facebook reach is unfortunately biased and their conclusion that Brands reach only 6% of their fans is false (sorry guys!).
Because they've taken the post reach metric and not the whole page reach.
Each post may indeed reach only 6% of the fan base and it's rapidly declining, we agree.
But brands publish more than one post in a week or a month, and in aggregate the result is much much higher than this tiny number.
Facebook's algorithm don't always show the Page's posts to the same users.
(more on that later on a forthcoming blog post)

My 2 cents,
Stephane Allard

6% post reach is still tiny

As you yourself say, "Each post may indeed reach only 6% of the fan base and it's rapidly declining." What more evidence do you need that Facebook is failing to deliver the value it's always promised?

And sure, the Ogilvy numbers refer to post reach rather than total page reach. But post reach is a fair metric; we count email deliverability by what percentage of our list each of our mails reached, not by total reach over a month. And even if brands can 'count on' their Facebook messages reaching more than 6% of total fans over a month, reaching a user once a month is very different from reaching them twice a week. The fact marketers have no visiblity into who's seeing what makes it that much harder to plan effective marketing efforts.

I'd also point out that not everyone who disagrees with you is biased. If Social @ Ogilvy had any bias, it would likely be the same as yours at Wisemetrics: to keep marketers using social.

You're right Nate, 6% is still tiny and it's declining.

My mistake Nate, I didn't mean Ogilvy was biased but that their research had a statistical bias and people need to be aware of it.

My point is that the reality may not be glorious but it's less worse than these alarming numbers.

At the same time, Twitter is not divulging any reach numbers and no one is complaining. Maybe Facebook is too transparent.

Make no mistakes, I'm not interested in having brands keep using Social if it brings no value to them.
But we need to be careful of generalization on this subject.
Facebook still works, but not necessarily like before.

Which Brands are still enjoying success with Facebook Pages and posts? Brands with content. Redbull, BMW, Chanel... or even B2B brands. Media companies too.
These brands use Facebook as a springboard to their own content, generally hosted on their own websites.

Which Brands will suffer the most? Brands with no content, mainly CPG brands, which thought for a while that they could spam their users with low interest content as long as they were fans.
For these brands, party is over.
Facebook ads is a very powerful platform perfectly suited for them.

Don't forget...

Only 6% of fans and getting smaller. That's not great, no matter how you look at it. Here's something that makes it even worse: that 6% is for the most part the SAME 6% over and over. The people who have interacted with your post will see them. The silent majority who haven't won't. I know my personal News Feed is now devoid of many pages I did enjoy, but never interacted with.

Between the rule changing, the double-dipping of follower acquisition/reach marketing cost, the lessening of edge rank rewards for interaction, the punishment for asking for fan interaction, the very high rates for marketing to existing followers, not no mention the constant threat that for all your investment in building a community on Facebook, there is NO indication that it won't get worse and more expensive... I feel most business models that would not benefit from looking at the opportunity cost to use their advertising budget elsewhere. Yes, Facebook can work. Those same 6% over and over may yield some benefit.

But for every one hundred hours and thousand dollars invested in Facebook marketing, how much more could be done with that if it was invested somewhere else?

Facebook offered free cheese, then charged for it, and now has effectively moved it away. There are still a lot of mice going back to that same place, looking for it, trying to make it work. It will take time for them to start to think differently, and wonder if it's really worth it.

As social marketeers, we are affected. We need to think about how users are affected as well. As Facebook continues to filter and censor a user's Newsfeed aggressively, their experience quality drops. As businesses and content providers they genuinely enjoy, are no longer visible to them, as well as many of their friends, Facebook becomes what we're seeing when we log into our personal accounts: seven hundred friends, but you're only seeing the same dozen.

We're not the only ones affected. The Facebook experience has gotten worse for everyone. More and more frequently at social gatherings, you've probably heard people complain about it, and this time it's not the interface changes, it's the content. And that is significant.

And then there's the other thing: Hardcore "Facebooking" was fun for a while... but people are getting weary of it. It's exhausting after a few years. When is the last time you heard anyone say how much they love the experience and convenience of keeping up with everyone? Don't you find it more common to hear people describe it as a compulsion?

This all may seem insignificant, but when it comes to trends in society, it isn't. Perception is everything, and as marketers, we know this.

What happens next is anyone's guess. As the Facebook experience becomes more limited to users, and challenging to content providers, I can't imagine Facebook will continue to be the big thing in another five years.

Making Facebook work may require a difference strategy

Great post Nate and thanks for sharing these insights. Many of these numbers are not at all surprising though. I believe most brands have been looking at Facebook the wrong way.

Facebook was designed to be a peer-to-peer communication channel. Users view their newsfeed as their private space. Then Facebook added the ability for brands to communicate with their fans. That could've worked well if we stayed within the definition of true fans. I.e. true fans who really want to hear from their favorite brands. However, brands really started abusing the brand-to-fans communication channels by focusing on somehow acquiring a large number of Likes. Facebook did nothing to discourage that, perhaps because they were making money from this madness.

Soon the newsfeeds started getting polluted and Facebook realized that they are hurting their core asset and started taking actions to fix it The result is heavily reduced 'organic' reach. Unfortunate for brands that had spent millions acquiring these likes? Yes. Surprising? No.

That brings me to how you can still make Facebook work. There are two simple strategies:

1. C2C (Peer-to-peer): this is the most potent strategy. Leverage the passion of your customers and get them to spread the word. It is free and damn effective

2. B2C: if you must do B2C, focus on acquiring real fans. Quality is far more important than quantity. With high quality fans you will find that the reach will be much higher.

My 2c from being in the space for a few years now.


Jai Rawat
Founder & CEO, ShopSocially

I'd go a step further

Thanks for the comments - and good thoughts. But I'd go a step further than saying 'Facebook did nothing to discourage this' - because they active encouraged it, promising marketers that if they collected a large fan base they'd then be able to communicate with that fan base. That's why many marketers feel as if they've fallen victim to a "bait-and-switch."

Your advice to focus on collecting real fans is spot-on, but for most brands it's too late. I regularly talk to big brands who say things like "At Facebook's advice last year we ran ads and a contest to acquire fans, and now we've got 5 million fans who don't actually care about us." Those brands have no way of going back and cleaning their page of "bad" fans (like you could clean an email list for folks who don't open your mail). Even if they could, they'd they have to pay a media cost to reach the fans they already acquired. The many brands in this situation are simply going to have a hard time finding any future value in Facebook.

What About Direct Marketing

Hi Nate,

You say that many brands are going to have a hard time finding any future value in Facebook, but I don't agree. Facebook has undergone a sea change over the last 12-18 months, and Facebook advertising is now a great direct marketing channel. We certainly do find that when we target fans, we oftentimes get better CTRs and better conversion rates than when we target non-fans (proving that in at least some cases there is some value in fan audiences). But, most of our Facebook advertising activity excludes advertiser fans, and we find that for most advertiser clients we are able to reach brand-new audiences at a positive ROI.

Even if many brands did poor fan acquisition in the past, this will not prevent them from doing great advertising via Facebook Ads going forward. It does not follow that FB advertising will not work just because organic reach has declined.

Terry Whalen

Strategy # 1 should have been the conclusion of this article

It seems inevitable to me... Facebook isn't necessarily failing marketers, it's just trying to not fail it's users. As people (and brands) share more and more content and news feed inventory stays the same (or drops as people spend less time on Facebook), you would end up with a bad user experience as you show more and more brand posts. The brand posts themselves become less effective because they would only be surrounded by other brand posts, not the personal p2p content that Facebook was designed to facilitate.

Activate your customers (and your employees) to create and share content on your brand's behalf. A systematic 'advocate marketing' program and a new environment that proactively recruits, engages and thanks advocates is our solution to this problem...

Direct Response

Thanks for the dialog. For our business, we continue to see very positive results from FB for our direct response programs. Curious if the other marketers with dr programs see positive results from FB . . . discuss :-)
Note: opinions are my own (to make the legal beagles happy!)

DR Works Well


We see DR programs working really well too. From deep content engagement like multiple video views to email capture campaigns to broader lead generation even deep into product consideration and driving to retail -- online and off, we see the mix of targeting, ad optimization and mobile landing pages works remarkably well. For many we're even able to beat current CPAs from other channels, it's exciting actually. : )

Marko Z Muellner
VP Marketing | ShopIgniter

Yes, DR is working for us, too

...totally agreed - same for us.

Your mileage may vary

Christina, I'm glad you're finding success on Facebook. Some marketers manage to beat the odds. The better a marketer you are, and the more help you have from PMDs (like Marko's) and other smart folks, the better your chances of success. And with more than one million companies paying for ads on Facebook, of course there'll be a range of different experiences.

Our data says that on average, marketers find significantly less success with Facebook than they do with search marketing, email marketing, and even plain old online banner ads. But if you can beat the averages and make Facebook work for you - then by all means, keep up the good work.

Thanks Nate! Third-party

Thanks Nate! Third-party validation is great. Our DR program on FB is by far our most successful. Thanks for helping to hold the ad platforms accountable to the marketers. All the best, CM

Streamlined Pages - a step in the wrong direction

Agree with your observations Nate. Their recent announcement of Streamlined Pages put too much focus on the 'News' element of the brand page - and too little on other content types Marketers use in their digital communication plans.

I want Facebook to add to their cover buttons and provide a Wordpress like system where I can control the experience of my customers/prospects.

Sadly, despite an increasing trend towards social search and social advertising, they're failing to give Marketers the complete set of tools required to really make Facebook a viable digital communication tool, and to generate the results that we all aim for.

Covered off more of my thoughts, which are of a similar thread to this post, at http://chriscain.es/blog/

Don't count too much on Facebook tabs/apps/pages

You say you want to use custom experiences to get the most from Facebook. But remember, Facebook's been trying to kill off custom experiences, and streamline brand pages into a single format, for years now. That was the entire point of the timeline-based page in the first place. So if anything, using custom tabs, apps and pages will only get harder, not easier.

Thanks Nate!

Nate, I enjoyed the post, as I did the study. I think the challenge is we are in a new world for marketers and it is changing rapidly. First I think marketers failed at social media, not just Facebook, because the content is typically the same push model we have seen for years, instead of recognizing that it is about adding value to the Consumer. The poor content in my view is what led to the change in Facebook algorithm. As Social@Ogilvy points out I expect soon organic reach will go to zero, shifting Facebook to an ad model for all businesses. I personally think eventually Facebook will take the advertising off their network but use the data to bring ads through other apps, and websites. I think it is important for them to maintain the best possible user experience. Facebook also will not be the only social network that will shift to a paid model, with most social networks moving in that direction. I wrote more in response to your post over on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20140318151758-19577932-it-s-...


The question of who's getting it wrong: Facebook or marketers

Thanks for the feedback - and I enjoyed your post over on LinkedIn. And I agree completely that Facebook will eventually be ad-free (about a year ago we predicted that "As Facebook slowly learns to leverage its affinity data for ad targeting, and as it partners with media outlets that can offer its marketers branding opportunities, the ads on its own site will be seen less as a revenue stream and more as a nuisance. Facebook will cut its own ads to keep members happy and will use the resulting data to generate more profit from ads on other sites.") -- they just need to leverage something we call the Database of Affinity: http://blogs.forrester.com/nate_elliott/13-03-08-the_database_of_affinit...

On your LinkedIn post, you chide marketers for being the ones who are failing here, by using Facebook wrong - and others have made similar arguments in response to our research. And I agree, marketers must do better. But remember: Marketers are only playing by the rules Facebook established for them. Marketers didn't dream up this idea that if they collected huge fans bases they'd be able to market to those fans; Facebook told them that's how it would work. Marketers didn't decide on their own to start 'buying' fans with ads and contests; Facebook encouraged it. If this is marketers' fault, the fault was in following Facebook's advice in the first place.

Re: The Question of who's getting it wrong: Facebook or marketer

I agree that Facebook could have provided a better experience and education for marketers. I think they could for general users as well (most general users think everyone sees their posts, not understanding the algorithm). I think the challenge for marketers is two fold. The content you see on brand pages is typically product or brand focuses, which does not add value to my life. In social I decided what interests me and block the rest. So the content is typically poor which when people do not want it in their feed or act on it, the algorithm will drive down the potential viewers for a post. This is the top reason for the challenge brand pages face. In terms of buying fans, I agree that it was encouraged and then became meaningless or even hurt brand content distribution. I was never a fan of marketers focusing on that metric because it leads to many bad results. It is always fun to watch

The fault is in ourselves, not our Facebooks

Frank Eliason, your point is the most important one, I think. My agency does quite a lot with Facebook on behalf of clients and Facebook works well—i.e., it produces good results. I am told by our lead social media strategist that Facebook's most recent algorithm rewards content that is good enough (i.e., valuable and interesting) to earn the audience's attention and punishes the stuff that doesn't. This is exactly what Google's newer algorithms (post-Panda) do. The only real difference is the strategy used by the two sites (Google and Facebook) to judge the worth of the content. Both are defending their audiences (and their businesses), not conning advertisers. They are denying advertisers the unlimited right to bore the audience. If Facebook fans interact with your content, I am told it can spread to as much as 15% of your fan base. So I conclude that Ogilvy's content is no better than most brand-authored, so-called social content out there. I intend to test all this in the near future and will report the results — good, bad or indifferent — as soon as I have them.

So even if you're an exceptional social marketer -

Even if you're one of the very best marketers in the world, then Facebook refuses to deliver your messages to 85% of the people who specifically volunteered to receive those messages. How is it a good user experience to refuse people the content they requested?

Your comparison to Google fails as well. The big difference between Facebook and Google here isn't that they use different metrics to judge content - it's that Google is a zero-sum game for organic marketers and Facebook isn't. When Google changes its algorithms, some organic marketers suffer, but an equal number prosper. (After all, Google offers 10 organic results per page no matter what.) But when Facebook has changed its algorithm over the past few years, all organic marketers have suffered, and only paid advertisers have prospered. Funny, that.

Facebook doesn't know how marketers (or SMBs) work

It surprises me that some marketers seem to conflate media buying with marketing. Media buying (including paid search marketing) is a rather small subset of all marketing disciplines. More importantly, Facebook has never positioned itself as a platform that is ONLY useful for buying ads. On the contrary. Facebook touted organic outreach and community-building opportunities—and STILL DOES to SMBs who have neither the time nor expertise to research the legitimacy of that opportunity.

I realize that a relatively small group of clever marketers who spend oodles of time researching, analyzing and comparing notes with other Facebook experts can anticipate changes before everyone else and modify plans accordingly. Indeed, Facebook advertising can be effective for them. But that has no bearing on the fact that Facebook is misrepresenting its value proposition as a marketing platform and that will naturally lead to a LOT of unhappy customers.

Basically, Facebook is bumping up against three hard truths:

1.) The company never really understood how to work with marketers and knows even less about working with small businesses. SMBs can afford little time and money to figure out the vagaries of Facebook’s complex and ever-changing system. If SMBs learn about something that works (i.e., community outreach), they will stick with that until they realize it doesn’t work and then will likely bail forever. Most can’t indulge in random experimentation with meager results.

2. The professional marketers who grasped community and reputation management first (and arguably best) were PR folks, who usually don’t buy media at all. Ad agencies were quite late to the social media party and PR firms certainly won’t cede their management of communities to them now. Unless PR firms add media buying services, there will be a big disconnect between advertising content and community management, which most would agree will not produce optimal results.

3.) Change management is HARD and happens slowly. Ad agencies aren’t going to change the way they do business overnight and most have no current business model for retraining their staff every few weeks or months to accommodate Facebook’s pace of iteration. Plus, the silos between media buying and creative mean most agencies will struggle with Facebook advertising effectiveness.

Until Facebook figures out how the various marketing disciplines (and SMBs) work and what types of support and training they need, it will get an increasing amount of bad press. The honeymoon is over. SMBs may never come back.

Finally, it would be foolish for Facebook to underestimate the lingering stench of bait and switch. Marketers often don’t make rationale decisions. Just ask any “old media” who has received the cold shoulder from a big ad agency (or media buying house) because of a single screw-up.

Great comment

I agree with all three of your numbered points - especially number 1 - but think you may be letting Facebook off the hook too much when you criticize the agencies for not doing enough to help marketers. The reality is, Facebook has done so little to help the agencies learn to help marketers. Google put so much time and effort and money into training their marketers and agencies from very early on - and has reaped the rewards. Facebook doesn't want to do that work; it uses agencies and PMDs to do its dirty work (e.g., helping marketers) but I haven't seen Facebook do enough to prepare the agencies or PMDs to handle this role.

I also think it's not just marketers who fail to see the line between marketing and advertising; in my extensive conversations with Facebook their staff uses these terms interchangeably. No wonder Facebook can't figure out why the shift from a marketing-focused model to an ad-focused model has upset and bamboozled so many brands.

The incorrect starting

The incorrect starting position from marketers is to think that any consumers really want to have "conversations" with their brands. They don't. They may want to complain, ask questions or seek customer service but they don't want to talk to KFC about what they're doing on the weekend. Facebook = friends and family and all brands are doing is getting in the way of these genuine conversations happening.

Engagement metrics is wrong headed...

I agree completely. I have several favorite brands but I don't want to engage with them, I want them to shut up until I need them again.

Engagement with brands is pointless and unethical because it takes away time from people engaging with their kids, grandparents, themselves.

Back in May 2009 I wrote about engaging with brands, "Managing social relationships is tough enough, I certainly don't want to do it with my products. I paid for them, now I just want them to sit there and be inanimate. Don't send me emails, Tweets, or try to engage with me."

The insistence on engagement metrics is pointless and harmful to the brands, imho.

Yes, Facebook perpetuates the conflation

Nate, I don't mean to let Facebook off easy (as FB fan boys and girls in my circle will attest to). I've been complaining about FB's lack of training, info and materials for a long time. I taught a university class on social media marketing for several years and was training many other marketers (SMBs to enterprises) in social media marketing early on, so I know how much confusion exists in the marketplace.

When you tell SMBs or pro marketers who are new to this stuff that there is no single site or reference point (let alone a book) that will tell them how to do marketing on FB and that the best way to learn about best practices is to CONSTANTLY sift through dozens of blogs for tips and tricks, they are utterly dismayed. It doesn’t seem logical to them (or me) that a social network with billions of users can’t clearly and consistently tell marketers how to use its own platform. Even people who do Facebook marketing (successfully) all day, everyday, admit privately that FB’s own ad reps don’t know much about best practices themselves.

I spoke recently with the CEO of a social media firm that manages communities for some of the best known brands in the world. Yet, the firm buys almost no advertising. That is handled by media buying firms (that don’t create ad content, that's handled by still more agencies) because the brand can get better rates through volume. It didn’t even seem odd to the CEO that these marketing efforts were completely separate.

Obviously, for many marketers, advertising isn't part of their FB mix. To suggest now that EVERY marketing effort revolve around advertising ignores how marketing disciplines (and related business models) have evolved. It's ignorant for the folks at FB to expect that.

Agency business models will eventually evolve (I've long said they should), but it won't happen all that fast. It's an even longer timeline for most in-house marketing teams to handle their own ad buys, though many handle their own community management and won’t be giving that up.

Like any business, FB should have spent a little time sussing out the habits and preferences of its prospects instead of thinking it could shoehorn them into its own constantly evolving system.

To Be Fair, FB Has Improved The Ads Platform a Ton

It's true that Google has done a better job than Facebook with training, info and materials, but we should remember that it's still relatively early for Facebook. Facebook's 2013 revenue was a bit under $8 billion. You have to go all the way back to 2005, when Google reported $6.1 billion in revenue (which would be about $7.2 billion after adjusting for inflation) to more fairly compare Google with Facebook in terms of advertising training and support. Google would still win, but not by anywhere near as much as it would today, given it's a much more mature company.

And, to be fair, Facebook has improved - and made much more simple - its ad interface immensely in the last 12-18 months. The targeting is much more powerful, and the reporting, conversion tracking, and ad units are all much more straightforward than they had been.

I think Facebook is on the right path, and hopefully they'll get better at communicating with advertisers and offering support to marketers.

Terry, saying "Facebook ads

Terry, saying "Facebook ads work much better now than in 2012" (something that's true for most marketers) is much different than saying "Facebook ads work much better than the other ads you could buy online" (something that's false for most marketers). Brands report to us (both in survey data and in conversations) that paid Facebook ads are significantly less effective than search marketing, email marketing, and even regular online banner ads.

And for what it's worth, I was speaking regularly at search marketing events in 2003-2006, and Google worked its butt off at every single event to educate marketers. They hosted free workshops, offered lunch-and-learns, sent many speakers to appear on stage and even sent flocks of account managers to answer people's questions at their booths. They were aggressive in creating knowledge about what worked well on their platform and equally aggressive in disseminating that knowledge to marketers. Not everything they did was perfect -and I've had my skirmishes with Google as well (especially regarding the earliest versions of their AdSense network: http://www.clickz.com/clickz/column/2138024/google-s-house-cards) - but they were at least trying hard to make marketers smarter. I just don't see much effort in that direction from Facebook.

Good Point on Google Training

Hi Nate, good point - Google really was doing a lot back then. (All I remember was pretty good phone support, and they sent me multiple Google mini-fridges since I was managing a lot of AdWords spending.) You are right - Facebook has a long way to go in this regard.

As for the efficacy of FB Ads, I do think it's very relevant that the platform has undergone a sea change. Facebook Ads was arguably not a good direct marketing platform 18 months ago. Today, it is. The changes over the last 18 months have made all the difference. And we know that the Facebook Ads platform folks care about what marketers think - we recently hosted 10 FB employees responsible for the next generation of the platform. They wanted to know how they can make the platform better for advertisers and marketers. They are definitely listening.

Whether FB Ads works as well as AdWords - that is very advertiser specific. If you take an auto accessories e-commerce advertiser, AdWords is probably going to be a much stronger channel, since auto-accessories are a well-defined category that people need, and therefore search for. But if you take an advertiser offering a good product that folks are not necessarily searching for - but for which there is a well-defined target audience - then Facebook will likely outperform AdWords.

We have a client that sells a unique kids' educational subscription - Search (excluding brand, of course) doesn't work well for this client, whereas Facebook works really well. For this advertiser, we can spend $20 in Facebook for every non-brand dollar we can spend on search AdWords (ROI target is the same for both channels).

6% is not the correct number

Our organic results are about 3% - 3.3%

Very sad Facebook. We are planning to leave you.

yes Nate, FB didn't work for us either

Thanks for your post Nate, our marketing dept. agrees with you. During the past year we tried many strategies on FB, including paid ads, third party SAAS solutions, contests to gain likes to reproduce our story, and more.
But and at the end of the day from my impartial point of view, our actual ROI is negative. Counting all the hours our company has spent thinking and posting and strategizing, plus the cost of the contests and paid ads, I have to say it has been a very expensive branding campaign, if anything, with almost no conversion.


Well i cant avoid the feeling that more than questioning facebook effectiveness...
this post is about the disappointment some marketers feel for not being
interesting enough as social entities.Yes...i dont want content from my bank.
And if do...i dont need more content and engagement from coca cola, or Mazda.

You know...i have a life...and i cant go through my organic feed any way
cause it filed with so many new born pictures...

So none of us really want to "engage" with "brands"...
and skittels social activity is a nice example for using social
but most brands are boring as hell.

So marketers, and facebook, and us....few years later after that social revolution promise...
woke up..and realized.. facebook is another place we visit during the day, we check whats going on..
and move on.

Its not that holly private anymore.
Its just "another" feed of info.

And thats one reason why regular advertising is working so great on facebook.

Don't know whats your experience with advertising on facebook...
but there arent any other mass media channels that can get you what facebook can.

1. Targeting - if your'e looking for women, you'll get women.
and if your'e looking for women age 33 thats what you'll get.
no one else can give you that.
And search is ok. its great. but it has its cap.
Thats why Google changed their pitch few years ago, from Display is old news..its dead,
to actually by DoubleClick...do GDN...and pay comissions to agencies for promoting their
"non working" premium display advertising.

2. Attention - If you want to get your message without below the fold/non viewable/clustered/blindness symptoms..the news feed is a crazy native placement.

3. If you want to re-target cross devices..for the exact same user..
that's the only platform you can do so (website custom audience)

So...failing who....?
The ones that looked for the love of the people?
We don't love most of the brands.
We just need them so we can buy.

And facebook is doing a hell of a great job in driving leads, sales and all other DR campaigns.

Not to mention their reach block...page post video..
that actually put your TV spot in a crazy reach...
a one that puts youtube mastheads in a very bad position...not to say miserable.

I got nothing to do with facebook,
im just a media buyer...and facebook is doing crazy.
Google is in a big danger.Facebook might eat them on the mobile arena.

My 2 cents.

All about ROu

Oh Amit... It's all about the price...it may target and retarget but it DOES NOT work for the money. People ignore those paid ads. It is not your 2 cents, it is much more than that.


Well..again..im not sure how or on what these comments are based on...but the news feed ads...are ads that cant be ignored.
you see it in CTR, you see it in CPA....

Again, your mileage may vary

More than a million companies pay to advertise on Facebook - so of course some marketers will find it works for them, others will find it doesn't. As such, both of your experiences are possible and valid.

But my point here is twofold: 1) For the average marketer, Facebook delivers much less business value than other digital marketing channels, and 2) In everything it does (reducing organic reach, failing to control 'like fraud,' etc), Facebook seems intent on making life harder for marketers rather than easier.

Very interesting. Although I

Very interesting. Although I have to disagree at one point, it's not that facebook is failing marketers; it's just that it takes skills to forecast what the consumer wants. There is that thought, and it is a fact, that there are many fake accounts, but there are still many genuine consumers inside the websphere who uses Social Networking sites to look for products and services. Let's put it this way, social networking sites can be compared to a website, only with real-time updates and consumer relatability. Some marketers who claim that social networking is an unreliable strategy may not know how to forecast their market's behavior.

'like' farms and year-on-year drop

First off, I've got to say this is the most informed, involved set of blog-post comments I've read in a long time! And I thought blog commenting was dead...

There's been a few mentions about "like fraud" and "like farms" etc. While no one's come out and said it, who is behind this? Is the implication that Fb is actively swindling their advertisers? And if not, who would stand to benefit from these phoney likes other than Fb?

I'm a wedding photographer and my bookings are very seasonal. January-March is the most active time of the year for new bookings, and I've focused much of my marketing on this quarter. In 2013, I did a big push in January with Facebook advertising, and the result was 1/4 of my bookings were a result of that advertising. In 2014, I decided to ramp things up and spend about 3x the previous year. The result? ZERO bookings from Facebook. So even their paid advertising seems to have taken a dive.