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When Facebook Became the World’s Biggest Billboard

When Facebook Became the World's Biggest Billboard

February 2, 2018

By Amber Kemmis

When Facebook became the world’s biggest billboard, what happened? People became unhappy with the amount of advertising and promotional content they receive on the app. In response, Mark Zuckerberg made an announcement that the billboards will come down in an effort to ensure “that time spent on Facebook is time well spent.” His vision for 2018 is to fix the newsfeed by de-prioritizing news from media publishers, brands and businesses while prioritizing posts from friends and family.

In other words, Facebook has become one of the world’s biggest billboards. Instead of cruising the road in your Subaru and seeing billboards along the way, we now cruise Facebook and see post after post of ads, opinions, and memes. For some, more of their day is spent on Facebook than their commute, which means they spend a lot of time being exposed to a feed full of “billboard ads”.
Although very similar, there are a few key differences between a roadside billboard and a Facebook post. A Facebook post:

  • Is free to advertise
  • Provides a closed-loop measure of performance
  • Can have no geographical limits
  • Is in a crowded space due to the above

Because there are so many pieces of content fighting for attention, the real human-to-human connections are getting lost, which is why Zuckerberg is determined to fix the Facebook experience. But, let’s think about this. Is it truly possible for Facebook to eliminate all the “billboards”, speaking metaphorically? And, do the billboards (the business, brand or publisher posts) have an influence on making Facebook time, “time well spent”?

 Check out this post - The Facebook Apocalypse is Here: What You Can Do to  Survive

Can Facebook Fix Facebook?

Mixed Signals

As part of this announcement, Zuckerburg states that the focus of Facebook product teams will change from “helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful social interactions.” But, how can Facebook completely accomplish this while leaving its ad platform exactly as it is? Mari Smith makes a good point in a recent Adweek article when she says, “The lack of inventory in mobile News Feed was a factor in this decision: 90 percent of users access Facebook via mobile.” So, it’s a crowded space with limited real estate, which means Facebook will prioritize posts that create “meaningful social interactions” at the same time that it makes money off of those who may or may not be creating these same “meaningful social interactions.” Although the announcement seems to come from only the best of intentions, a lack of mention on the impact to the ad platform, aside from banning scammers, is a bit of a mixed signal.

Network Marketing and Pyramid Schemes

Although I love to have a big network and keep connected with people of the past, I don’t love that at one point or another people in my network may try to sell me something. I’m not sure if it is because I am a mom, friendly person or just seem like an easy target, but it seems like my inbox and timeline are always filled with someone selling me something. Seriously, I have been pitched everything under the sun including make-up, protein shakes, exercise regimes, teeth whitening kits, hair growing magic, wine, cookies, cleaning supplies, purses... you name it.

Although we can all hit the unfollow or unfriend button after receiving a message like this, will Facebook ever really be able to control network marketing to make Facebook truly live up to the notion of “time well spent”? After all, these people do tend to create interactions, even though the intention is to sell something.

Opinions, Politics & Personalities

In a 2015 study, researchers found that what people post actually correlates to personality traits. For example, someone who posts a lot of pictures of their kids is more likely to be conscientious and someone who posts a ton of pictures of their abs correlated to a narcissistic personality. When it comes to the Facebook news feed, it is inevitable that you will encounter social interactions that don’t constitute “time well spent.” From someone’s take on the officiating of the SuperBowl to political opinions, you will inevitably encounter posts that aren’t the best experience. Facebook, although it is making big efforts and strides to improve the platform, is a long way from “being good for people’s well-being” because opinions, politics, and personalities will still land in timelines.

Where Do We Go from Here?

What happens as Facebook changes the algorithm this year and beyond for marketers? Will we be able to use Facebook as an avenue to help grow companies or brands? Yes, but in a very roundabout way. Mark Zuckerberg’s message was clear, and although I’m not convinced they will totally accomplish what they set out to do, I do think that the change to focus on interactions can happen, which means marketers must focus on engagements first with Facebook. Business growth will be a byproduct of creating “meaningful social interactions.”

Within the Facebook announcement, Adam Mosseri, head of News Feed gave the advice to brands to:

  • Stop with the “engagement-bait”
  • Use Live Videos (citing that they get 6x’s more interactions than regular video)
  • Use groups to help generate discussions around public content
  • Ask your audience to prioritize you via See First in News Feed Preferences
  • Check to see if your posts are getting reactions or comments. If they aren't, it might be time to change tactics
  • Be selective on the type of content you're sharing to ensure things you do post see high interactions 
Facebook became one of the world’s biggest advertising playgrounds and now Mark Zuckerberg says he’s going to change the park. It's time to re-visit our social and advertising strategies, and step up our game a bit.

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Topics: Marketing Strategy