Why do advertisers trust a platform more, if they can spend money on it, while readers prefer the non-sponsored version? Don’t advertisers want to deliver on user preferences? I guess that’s a longstanding misconception. Advertisers tell users what they want – that’s the purpose of advertising and that’s why it’s different from marketing.
Facebook, as part of the plan to build an advertising business and generate revenue, is telling users that it is optimising the newsfeed to feature what is most relevant to us, while it’s providing a service for publishers and brands who are paying to have their content shown to relevant audiences in the newsfeed. Facebook puts itself in a predicament; users have divergent interests on the platform than advertisers.
Users are looking for connections (the original intent for Facebook’s existence), rather than news and commerce. Now, we are all to some degree interested in news and commerce, whether we like to admit it or not. So ideally, we find a mix of friends’ private content (status updates, photos etc.) and public content. But Facebook users prefer public content which has been referred by friends and peers. The content is trusted more and it comes with more context. People like to make sense of the world around them and we are all more than ever curious about the content our peers consume, where they discover it and, simply where they hang out in the world of the web. For me personally, this is what made the mother social network so appealing in its prime years, pre going public, pre newsfeed algorithm, pre Facebook Ads, pre Social Graph.
What does this mean for advertisers? We hear a lot about user skepticism towards sponsored content and, more specifically, about being annoyed by promoted content cluttering the newsfeed. Or even, having to administer the newsfeed by telling Facebook that we don’t want to see this and why we don’t want to see this… (That’s a real time suck by the way, Facebook. If you haven’t heard, nobody likes to spend more time than necessary anywhere nowadays.)
That said, we still trust our friends and we like to share our thoughts with our friends. Shareable content is thus the smartest move for brands on Facebook.
Sure, shares and engagement are different metrics and not to be equated. However, for brands to build loyalty and the trust necessary for most consumers to make a purchase, referrals to content are the best way to penetrate target audiences; it just may take a bit longer. The challenge lays in creating shareable content that keeps the promise for the reader, so that s/he stays on the page and engages in further on or off-site action. And that can be both, a snack-able yet meaningful brand message or a long form piece, depending on the target audience.
With money in the game, advertisers often enter the pitfall of wanting quick results and they focus on instant metrics, also known as vanity metrics, such as post likes and page likes. For those who have not noticed, post and page likes do not mean more eyeballs on the content. Money spent blindly on these metrics doesn’t yield engagement with content. Content shared to Facebook from another source will say much more about how engaging it is. By focusing on instant metrics, advertisers risk indulging in clickbait and alienating users. This is dangerous for brands.
While publishers may need those vanity numbers to be higher to pitch to advertisers, these numbers won’t guarantee ROI for neither content, whether it’s the publisher’s own or sponsored. It’s true that brands and publishers will have to spend at least some money in order to be seen at all, but it’s important not to lose the prime purpose of the social network: let the people do the talking. Keeping the focus of your content strategy there will help build and maintain an authentic brand message and wrap it in good (entertaining, informative, inspiring) content that people want to share.
For more information on finding composite metrics that matter to your content, look into how major publishers grade their content.