September 21 2012: The day the social media dream died

  • Voices
  • September 21, 2017
  • Paul Catmur
September 21 2012: The day the social media dream died
Facebook

September 21 marks the five-year anniversary of the day when Facebook turned social media into just plain ‘media’. This date is probably worth noting, if not necessarily celebrating, as it marks the end of the dream of brands having unlimited conversations with their fans for free.

It was a classic switcheroo. Having convinced brands that they needed to purchase fans and then Likes, Facebook cut off the free access and started to charge brands to speak to the very fans that they had just paid for.

It started when Facebook first allowed businesses to have pages in 2007 and created a wild west for canny marketers. Brands could build their own page by using incentives (Like us and get a free T-shirt!’) to hook in ‘fans’ (or merely the shirtless) who were then reassigned as being ‘brand lovers’. The popular wisdom was that these fans were now happily settled in a community where they could chat forever about their shared favorite subject, say, a toilet cleaner.

It soon turned out that people didn’t have a whole bunch of things to say to each other about toilet cleaners, but this really didn’t matter. The brands had corralled together some unwary consumers who, having expressed a passing interest in the brand, could now be reached by any number of messages, all sent for free.

Although it wasn’t quite free, of course, because somebody was needed to keep the hastily assembled fans in line and stop the malcontents from getting bitchy about the toilet cleaner that had brought them together in the first place. No such skill-set existed, but a bunch of geeks who liked the sound of being paid for being on Facebook all day blinked in the sunlight as they left their darkened bedrooms and became the first ‘social media managers’.

Marketers, being creatures of discipline, were a little distrustful of the laissez-faire norms of social media and instead of the fast response that Facebook encourages were keen that their posts be as tightly controlled as any other of their brand communication. This naturally added another layer of work and meant that production costs, although relatively small, were unavoidably seen as out of proportion to a zero media cost.

This state of affairs existed happily for hundreds of years. Well, hundreds of years in digital terms, in reality, just a couple. Then out of the blue came the meteor that killed the dinosaurs. Facebook decided they’d had enough of providing free media to their friends in brands and pulled what has been called ‘one of the most lucrative grifts of all time’*. Having sucked in companies to invest in building their fan base, Facebook then changed the algorithms so that brands would no longer reach their fan base at will, and the organic reach melted away like teenagers at washing-up time. Facebook didn’t explain, they didn’t apologise, they just turned off the pipe and waited for someone to complain. They didn’t.

Instead of turning on Facebook, the brand owners shot the messenger instead. That they were no longer reaching their consumers for free was generally misattributed as being their agency’s fault. It was taken as a tacit demonstration of how all agencies really wanted to do was make TV ads. As if to confirm their guilt, agencies politely pointed out that they would now need a bunch of media money to reach the same people that they had been reaching before for free. This message was as well received as most agency requests for additional funds required to achieve the same results.

It took two years for Time magazine to notice and in 2014 they ran an article announcing that ‘The Free-Marketing Gravy Train Is Over on Facebook’. A Facebook spokesman came out with the disarmingly frank admission that “if businesses want to make sure that people see their content, the best strategy is, and has always been, paid advertising”. So there we had it. Facebook was not actually about having conversations with consumers it was about putting paid ads in front of them like every other medium. Ever get the feeling you’d been had?

This wasn’t a grand Machiavellian scheme by Facebook. The algorithm was switched in answer to a growing number of teens leaving Facebook because of the preponderance of posts from brands rather than friends. How did the all-knowing Facebook get into this problem in the first place? Well, Chaos Monkeys, the recently released book by Facebook insider Antonio Garcia Martinez, gives an interesting account of what Facebook is like behind the door of the Zuckerberg bunker. The key lesson from the book is that however smart its leaders may be, and however much testing they do, in reality, Facebook knows little more about what will work than the rest of us. Their difference is that the whole company is set up not just to cope with failure, but also to actively court it. The company motto of ‘Move fast and break things’ gives them the freedom to change their mind whenever they feel like it. And if one of those things that they break is the social media dream, then so be it. Facebook is currently valued at US $500 billion.

PS: By coincidence, our digital team has found a way to get close to 100 percent organic reach for brands. We realise that it’s only a matter of time before Facebook swoop in and knock it back again so we’re keeping it under our hats.

*James Del. Gawker.

  • Paul Catmur is the founder and CEO of Barnes, Catmur & Friends Dentsu.

This is a community discussion forum. Comment is free but please respect our rules:

  1. Don’t be abusive or use sweary type words
  2. Don’t break the law: libel, slander and defamatory comments are forbidden
  3. Don’t resort to name-calling, mean-spiritedness, or slagging off
  4. Don’t pretend to be someone else.

If we find you doing these things, your comments will be edited without recourse and you may be asked to go away and reconsider your actions.
We respect the right to free speech and anonymous comments. Don’t abuse the privilege.

topics
Beneath the Surface
Beneath the Surface
In this series, brought to you by Microsoft, we talk to a conceptual photographer, illustrator ...
Insight Creative
Insight Creative
Insight Creative specialises in shaping business stories out the core insights that often lie under ...
20/20 (tele)vision
20/20 (tele)vision
Media consumption is changing. But by how much?
The Hot List
The Hot List
Our rundown of the hottest shows, brands and creators in New Zealand media. 1. magazine ...
Cannes Lions 2017
Cannes Lions 2017
All the winners, the shortlists and the drama from this year's edition of advertising biggest ...
Merger Mania
Merger Mania
All our stories on the nation's two failed mergers in one place
Bauer Beyond the Page
Bauer Beyond the Page
When it comes to creating branded content, there are few better in the Kiwi market ...
The Indies
The Indies
Over the course of this series of articles, we look at how always-nimble indy agencies ...
AdRoll on automation
AdRoll on automation
Marketing automation is tipped to eventually become the only way advertising is traded in the ...
Game Changers
Game Changers
It’s all about PEOPLE. Join us as we discuss global insights, ideas and innovations from ...
TVNZ-NZ Marketing Awards 2015
TVNZ-NZ Marketing Awards 2015
Celebrating all the winners of the 2015 TVNZ-NZ Marketing Awards.
Future Tense
Future Tense
In a new series, StopPress talks to a range of newsmakers currently trying to shine ...
Beyond the Page
Beyond the Page
In conjunction with the MPA, the Beyond the Page series shows how some of the ...
Up Country
Up Country
In conjunction with News Works, the Up Country series talks with some of New Zealand's ...
Sounding off
Sounding off
As part of a content partnership with MediaWorks, we've asked a few of the company's ...
StopPress Podcasts
StopPress Podcasts
We sit down for a chat with industry leaders to find out what they're up ...
Beyond the Page 2018
Beyond the Page 2018
In conjunction with the MPA, the Beyond the Page series shows how some of the ...
Sponsored content

A winning approach: how modern day magazine editors have adapted to the digital age

The modern media environment is characterised by new tools, new channels, new metrics, new audiences and new opportunities. But it’s also characterised by less time, less resource, less expenditure and, in many cases, less readership of the traditional print products. So how has the modern-day magazine editor had to adapt? How are they using their influence and harnessing opportunities? Findlay Buchanan talks to some of the country’s best.

voices

Icebreaker steps into sharky waters for latest ad

  • Advertisement
  • April 17, 2018
  • StopPress Team
Icebreaker steps into sharky waters for latest ad

Icebreaker has released ‘Shark Scientist’, the first of three ads for its latest 'Human Nature' campaign with Motion Sickness. The two-minute spot focuses on marine biologist and shark enthusiast Riley Elliott.

Read more

How is this still a thing: the eccentric advertising underbelly of skywriting

  • Advertisement
  • April 17, 2018
  • Findlay Buchanan
How is this still a thing: the eccentric advertising underbelly of skywriting

The rise of digital advertising alongside traditional print forms feeds off consumers keeping their eyes on the page or screen, but what about those who extend their gaze to the sky? It too is an area for advertisers to make their mark and checking in with Fletcher McKenzie, a feigned Kiwi skywriter and a man fanatical about aviation, it's clear the weather-dependent medium still has its place in the marketing mix.

Read more

Never say 'Never' again

  • Voices
  • April 17, 2018
  • Regan Savage
Never say 'Never' again

Regan Savage reckons there might be something modern brands can learn from the evolution of one of pop culture’s most enduring characters.

Read more
Sponsored content

Walking in their clients' shoes: Culture & Theory's creative collision

There might not be any art on the walls yet, but Culture & Theory is making its mark on its new ninth floor home in Auckland’s CBD with plenty of Post-it notes. What appears to be patterns on the wall are, at closer inspection, carefully considered strategies laid out to tackle the unique problems of clients.

G.J. Gardner Homes aims to go local in new campaign

  • Advertisement
  • April 13, 2018
  • StopPress Team
G.J. Gardner Homes aims to go local in new campaign

G.J. Gardner Homes has launched a new brand campaign ‘We’re locals like you’ via 99’s content production unit, The Workshop. The campaign includes six TVCs shot across the country in a range of community settings.

Read more
Next page
Results for
Topics
Jobs
About

StopPress provides essential industry news and intelligence, updated daily. And the digital newsletter delivers the latest news to your inbox twice a week — for free!

©2009–2015 Tangible Media. All rights reserved.
Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our Privacy policy.

Advertise

Contact Vernene Medcalf at +64 21 628 200 to advertise in StopPress.

View Media Kit