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.


Unknown said...

I'm mostly in agreement with this. But consider: social media used to be diverse and uncontrolled by anybody -- your blog could compete freely with every other piece of content. Now social media is a monoculture: Facebook.

Monocultures are vulnerable to problems. In this case, the Facebook controls the monoculture, and it's not hospitable to brand content.

Yeah, the brands didn't do a good job of making themselves interested. But the table was rigged, and the other casinos aren't very big. The house always wins.

Unknown said...

This great discussion goes on. I now think brands that made an effort to 'be social' were by and large mistaken. Your points are right, people rarely want to see brand messages period and brands pretending to be 'interesting', funny' or a person is false and now seem just a little creepy.

The Facebook free craze was always going to end and I think Facebook was a little slow to shut that door. They jeopardized their business by maintaining organic brand content.

Brands and people alike are far better off with carefully placed (and relevant) ads rather than random brand messages that seem to have no purpose and designed not to increase business but to game Facebook algorithms.

We all got wrapped in how we, as brands could use Facebook to have conversations with people that have no interest in having those conversation.

Facebook remains a critical tool for brands in that it hosts many conversations that describe a need, a concern, a question. These conversations are largely free to view and analyse and even though they are about you and not to you, this is incredibly valuable.

The next question is just how many promoted posts are acceptable. Facebook is far less likely to shut that door as quickly and excessive promoted brand messages are just as annoying. There is a limit to the ad inventory, shutting down the free inventory actually helps brands in that it creates a little breathing space but I do think people are less forgiving about ads on social platform than search engines - it just feels a little more intrusive.

Thanks for keeping this going Augie

Augie Ray said...

Josh, thanks for the comment. Is Facebook really monoculture? I think that's an interesting assertion, considering how personalized it is to each users' tastes and preferences. I got politicals news and commentary and professional updates on Facebook where others do not; others play games on Facebook and I see none of it. At what point does a communication medium become so flexible and customized it is no longer a single culture or channel but many?

More to the point, whether social has one channel or many, the situation remains the same--consumers do not crave, seek out or even have patience for branded content. (There are, as you and I have both pointed out, exceptions, but they are just that--exceptions.) Whether we're talking TV, radio, online, on one social channel or un a hundred, consumer preferences for communications will remain the same.

I'd advise marketers to think deeply about what consumers really want, when they want it and when they are open to it. Content may be essential, but like oxygen, too much of it is unhealthy and a waste. Right now, the massive budgets chasing the fairy tale of "storytelling" and "content marketing" when empowered consumers are busy erecting barriers is downright silly. This will, I predict, be yet another hard lesson marketing leaders will have to learn the hard way.

Augie Ray said...

Terry, thanks for the comment, and we agree. Because of my writing and public speaking, I often find myself needing to remind people I firmly believe social media is vital for companies--just not the ways most are still using it today.

And you're right--there are only so many ads Facebook can shove at people. While you think Facebook was a little slow to close the door on organic reach for brands, I have to compliment how slow Facebook has moved in terms of increasing advertising interruption. Compared to the way Myspace destroyed itself, Facebook is the very model of patience, and it's why they remain the primary addiction for today's social consumers.

Anonymous said...

Hey Augie!

You make some great points backing up the value social media can bring to businesses. Data doesn't lie, and I love how you bring up so many different resources to drive your point across. I personally believe that every business should take part in every social media channel there is, but focus more on the ones that brings out the most potential. Which brings me to this question, what social media you believe drives the most business engagement? (twitter, facebook, snapchat, linkedin, etc...)