Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Josh Bernoff, It's Time For Marketers To Take Responsibility

photo credit: IMG_5134 via photopin (license)
Two weeks ago I wrote a blog post that quickly became the most popular I have ever published, "Burn It Down, Start From Scratch And Build a Social Media Strategy That Works." One of the reasons it was so popular is that my friend and former Forrester peer, Josh Bernoff, replied to my post from his terrific Without Bullshit blog, "Augie Ray, can we admit now that social media marketing is dead?"

The dialog between Josh, Forrester analyst Nate Elliott, me and dozens of commenters was vigorous and fascinating, so much so that Josh has now published a worthwhile follow-up, "To be precise, Social Media Marketing is just mostly dead." But where Josh took me to task for not delivering the Last Rites on social media marketing, I believe his latest blog post pulls its punches with respect to blame for declining organic reach and poor social media marketing results. Josh's article ends with:
And if you’re looking around for someone to blame, blame Facebook. It sucked up all the social energy among consumers, then squashed marketing effectiveness. Thanks for crashing the party, Zuck. We thought you might be Miracle Max, but you left us mostly dead all the same.
For too long, marketers have pointed fingers at Facebook. "Facebook lied to us." "They pulled off one of the most lucrative grifts of all time." "Facebook is Machiavellian." As Josh might say on his blog, I find these arguments bullshit.

Brands have lost organic reach not because Facebook took it away but because consumers did. No one blames the television networks for the declining reach of TV advertising lost to ad-skipping DVRs. No one blames Google for the rapid growth of ad-blocking that is reducing online advertising's reach. So why do we let marketers shift the blame from themselves and onto Facebook for the inevitable decline of brand content in users' news feeds?

Yes, Facebook is in a position to profit from brands' struggles on the social network, but the essential factor for brands' poor unpaid reach is not Facebook taking away things people want to see. Facebook implemented and improved its algorithm to make sure that the content presented to users is the content they most want, and that means the things posted by friends and family rather than our bank or toothpaste. Brand content on Facebook simply did not measure up--it could not compete with the content posted by the people about which we most care.

Think of it another way: What would happen tomorrow if Facebook took away content from our closest friends and charged us to see it? The uproar would kill Facebook overnight, of course. So, where is the uproar from consumers for all that missing brand content? Do you hear any consumers clamoring for more brand posts?

Assigning blame where it belongs is not merely a matter of right and wrong--it is vital for marketers to understand the problem so as not to repeat it. If we all blame Facebook for the demise of brands' organic reach, then marketers may be encouraged to give the same strategies another shot on other social networks. Why not Tumblr? Or Periscope? Or Twitter? Or Blab?

But if we instead place blame where it belongs--on the misguided belief that an army of consumers is hungry for brand content--it forces marketing leaders to reconsider strategies. Why would consumers welcome and pay attention to my brand's content on Periscope when they have abandoned it on Facebook and Twitter? Should content marketing really be the most significant slice of my marketing budget given consumers have rejected our marketing communications on television, online and on social networks?

Blaming Facebook may be a salve for marketers' wounded egos, but it is not the least-bullshit, most-truthful message. Nor is it the most helpful in terms of resetting expectations for content and social media marketing in the future.

As I noted in a blog post last year, "Stop Social Media Marketing," there are certain brands and verticals that can make organic social media work, but most cannot. Why not? As I noted to Josh, we each interact with hundreds of brands every week, but with how many do we wish to have a content relationship? How much time will each of us really make to consume and engage with content posted by the long list of brands in our lives?

The first step toward getting marketing right in the social era is to take responsibility for convincing ourselves that consumers who block our calls, skip our commercials and obstruct our banner ads will suddenly embrace brand content in social channels. The last few years were not a grift by Facebook but a healthy reminder to marketers that consumers have never been more informed, distrustful or empowered. If marketers wish to win the millennial consumer, it will require a lot more effort than clever content and free posts.

Want someone to blame? Face facts, not Facebook.