The Facebook discussion recently has centered on our shock and irritation over how hard Facebook is making it to secure non-paid media. That should be a good thing. Facebook is a media property, and the best media properties demand the best stories for their users. What Facebook’s (and, for that matter, Google’s) technology looks for is no different than what an editor at a top news site might require: Is this content on a topic that people want to know more about and discuss, and is it accurate, authoritative and of sufficient quality that people will then want to share it?
When you’re considering Facebook for branded content, it’s really a two-part discussion: First, understanding why Facebook must be treated as an important earned media platform rather than a pay for play, and second, strategizing how to get your content in front of the right eyeballs so you can earn engagement.
Working with Facebook or any social media is about appreciating how to tell a good story and about seeing which angles of your story will interest various audiences most. Creativity is very much a part of that, but it goes beyond coming up with clever content and memorable images; it’s about anticipating how that content will then be affected by engagement with your audiences and how the content and you may have to morph with that engagement. The social audience is now part of your creative team — a nuance of content creation for social often missed by brands and agencies.
Each segment of audience will respond to different angles of your story — and if not, you are unlikely to get the engagement or have the impact you desire. It’s not that different from the kind of two-way relationships public relations professionals have developed with journalists over the years. You wouldn’t necessarily pitch The New York Times the same angle as a trade publication, even if the basic story is the same.
How should brands use Facebook as a non-paid platform? In most cases, they probably shouldn’t. Social media has become so vast that to get the kind of engagement necessary for success, brands should be paying to get to the right audience for each story they want to tell, not throwing untargeted content against the wall to see which ones stick.
So what’s the difference between paying to reach the right audience and paid media? It’s not just semantics. Any successful Facebook campaign, outside of pure direct marketing, will be one that is ultimately measured by earned media — content that generates likes and shares and stimulates audiences to engage and even change their opinion of the brand. The only role for paid, when it comes to social at this point, is to put content in front of the right audience so that the real action, what your brand earns from the media, can kick off.