By Michael Stubel and Rachael Gresson
Last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg formally announced a seismic change to the platform’s News Feed that had long been anticipated (and feared) by media organizations and digital marketers alike.* In his statement, Zuckerberg cited community feedback in justifying the company’s decision to demote content, including posts and videos, from publishers, brands, and other businesses.
As marketers who have come to rely on social media platforms as vital channels, the thought of our content being downgraded on Facebook can be daunting. Businesses will likely see their reach, traffic, and engagement ratings decrease. This is no small shift, either — there are more than 65 million Facebook business pages that must grapple with these changes in the coming months.
But doesn’t Zuckerberg’s call for content that encourages meaningful interaction sound awfully familiar? As content creators and publishers, we’ve always needed to add value for our audiences. We’ve always needed to distribute content that actively contributes to the conversation. Such principles have been the underlying foundation of quality, shareable content for years (even if the standard has slipped of late).
If we take Zuckerberg’s comments at face value, that isn’t changing. While you should expect that content posted to your Facebook page may see a drop in reach and engagement, content that is shared and talked about among friends — even if it’s from a business page — will continue to receive favorable treatment from Facebook’s algorithm.
So, what can digital marketers do to better insulate their business and content marketing strategy?
Take it from Axios CEO Jim VandeHei, who offered his thoughts in a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal:
“People should chill out: Facebook is a public company that controls its own decisions and destiny … Publishers should do the same damn thing.”
It’s a bitter pill to swallow for marketers who went all in on video or Instant Articles, but VandeHei is right. The alterations coming to News Feed illustrate why you can’t rely solely on a platform-based publishing model for your content. Rather, the places where you control the message and delivery remain the strong, reliable pillars of any marketing strategy. For many of us who work in mid-size companies, that is primarily your website and email marketing campaigns.
Publishers have learned that any partnership comes with its share of complications.
Not long ago, distributed content was the name of the game. For context, here’s a good working definition from The Daily Beast’s Taylor Lorenz:
“Distributed content is any content that a publisher creates to live ‘natively’ on an outside platform without directing any traffic back to your domain. This could mean allowing Facebook or Google to host your articles through Facebook Instant Articles or Google AMP. But it more generally means content you create specifically to live off-site on certain platforms.”
What’s not to like? Small and mid-sized publishers leverage giants like Apple, Facebook, Google, and Snap Inc. to get articles, reports, and videos in front of millions of new eyes. At the same time, tech companies add a strong mix of content sources to their feeds, allowing them to serve more relevant items to individual users. Everyone wins.
Unfortunately, the transition hasn’t been a smooth ride. Publishers have raised a number of concerns, leaving social media companies scrambling to build solutions and assuage lingering angst. It should come as no surprise that at the core of these issues lies the ultimate question of control. From advertising boycotts to pushback over brand visibility to questionable analytics reporting, publishers have learned that any partnership comes with its share of complications.
Let this latest episode serve as a reminder that your website should be the foundation upon which every other digital property rests — it’s the sun around which your constellation of social media feeds, paid search campaigns, and email campaigns revolve. For better or for worse, you own the design, user experience, subscription or monetization options, and troubleshooting.
All too often, the default response to the proliferation of social media platforms and other third-party publishing tools is to jump on anything and everything. “We have to get on [insert Vine, Tumblr, Google+, etc.] before it’s too late!” However, you and your audience would be far better off if you focused more time and energy on your home base, avoiding the familiar dynamic of a marketing strategy spread too thin.**
Your Email Marketing
Email remains the most underrated marketing channel. In fact, emails are approximately 40 times more effective at acquiring new customers than Facebook or Twitter, and every dollar spent on email marketing produces a return on investment of $44!
Sure, email isn’t a new or particularly sexy outlet for content distribution. And while the hurdles to get started are surmountable, the fact remains that few have mastered the art. If you’ve diverted resources away from email over the last few years, it may be time to reevaluate that balance.
Here are a few considerations that should be top of mind when you take a fresh look at your email marketing efforts:
- Have you identified the best metrics to measure success? Where and how often are you documenting them?
- Could you go deeper with your list segmentation — by demographic, by website history, by location, etc. — so that your emails are more valuable to your audience and thereby more likely to get stronger engagement? Targeted emails generate 58 percent of all revenue.
- Have you reviewed the different mechanisms you’re using to capture audience email addresses?
- When was the last time you reviewed your trigger-based campaigns?
- What language are you using to remove the appearance that your campaign is nothing more than a form template? Personalization is still a proven way to improve open rates.
- The importance of mobile-friendly design isn’t limited to websites. A 2017 study found that 54 percent of emails are opened on a mobile device.
If you’ve diverted resources away from email over the last few years, it may be time to reevaluate that balance.
For many marketers, investing in email marketing won’t be about sending more emails — we are consumers as well as marketers, we know spam gets annoying! Rather, it will be about fully utilizing the data and opportunities that are already built into to our existing systems. After all, sending the right content, at the right time, to the right audience adds that meaningful value we discussed earlier.
A Balanced Approach
Don’t get us wrong: we aren’t calling for the complete abandonment of third-party platforms. They should retain have their rightful place in every marketing strategy. But there are dangers of being beholden to external parties that can fundamentally change the way they surface publishers’ content.
Finding the balance between capitalizing on third-party sites to meet current and prospective audiences where they are, and prioritizing your own properties to attract users to come to you will be the great challenge moving forward. Those who can pull it off will reaffirm what it means to market on your own terms.
* Left unsaid in Zuckerberg’s public comments was the degree to which the 2016 election and its aftermath did or did not impact this larger pivot. Of course, Facebook has come under intense pressure in recent months to address what critics see as its role in fueling the rise of misinformation and widening America’s political divide by fostering filter bubbles. The jury’s still out on this story, but the News Feed change is certainly an indicator of what Facebook’s top leaders think of the “media company” label they’ve been reluctant to accept over the last few years. For more on the move, read the FAQ guide posted by Facebook’s head of News Feed, Adam Mosseri.
** Do you have a website overhaul in the works? A word to the wise: don’t let desktop wireframes dictate your decisions when it comes to navigation or user flow. Building, testing, and optimizing for mobile visits is imperative. Nearly three years after they announced that mobile searches had surpassed desktop queries, Google is making the move to mobile-first indexing and will soon crawl and rank your site with little regard for experiences catered to the stagnant desktop demographic.