Stop Trying to Game FacebookI noticed something really annoying on Facebook this past week. Surprisingly, it had nothing to do with politics. Go figure.

Over the past few days a lot of businesses have been using their business pages to post updates asking their fans to do things in order to see more of their content. Everything from urging fans to create special Facebook lists of the businesses they want to see, to pleas for fans to spend more time liking, commenting, and sharing updates. The idea is to beat Facebook at their own game and somehow take advantage of their Edgerank algorithm.

Facebook’s had a lot of bad press lately as the result of changing that algorithm in hopes of getting more businesses to spend money on ads and promoted posts. You see, Facebook needs to make money in order to survive. And while Facebook’s changes trouble me and don’t seem fair, we need to re-recite the marketer’s mantra and remind ourselves:

Facebook is free

We don’t pay to use it, so really, they can do whatever they want, and we don’t have to like it. That doesn’t mean it’s not a bad decision on Facebook’s part, but there it is. So instead, marketers and business folks are trying to outwit Facebook and game the system. But that’s not a good idea. And it’s not smart to ask your fans to jump through hoops for your sake. They are on Facebook to be social and for their own pleasure, not to keep you in business.

For years, there have been those in the SEO world who have worked to outsmart and game Google, but each time, Google responded with algorithmic changes. Google doesn’t want to be gamed because it wants the best possible experience for it’s users. As far back as 2006, Shel Israel and Robert Scoble recognized this in their book Naked Conversations,

“Neither a press release nor a full-page ad in The New York Times will boost your search engine ratings as much as a regularly updated blog. The shortest, cheapest, fastest and easiest route to a prominent Google ranking is to blog often.”

Google’s algorithm has changed a lot over the past six years, but even then it was all about good content as opposed to some of the little SEO “tricks” we would try. And with the latest changes and move toward latent semantic indexing, it’s even more about content.

The same is true on Facebook. While you can make a strong argument that Facebook is not improving the user experience, the fact is, we as marketers and businesses need to focus on content. We need to stop focusing on having our fans do our work for us. By asking them to create lists, we are most likely asking them to use Facebook in ways that are contrary to how they currently use the platform. As my friend Liz Jostes said to me in conversation,

Those who are requesting fans to do that are not thinking about the fact that unless users already use that feature, they aren’t going to suddenly change the way the act on Facebook. Pages are expecting user habits to change in a snap!

Add to this, that if you’re using a status update to tell your users to act in a certain way to see more of your content, the only ones seeing that update are already seeing your updates. You’re not only engaging in a spammy business practice, but you’re spinning your wheels.

I think I saw about 20 of these updates on one day alone, many from businesses with which I never engage. They offered long status updates with step by step instructions on how to see more of their content. Stop wasting my time and yours. Focus on your content. Give your customers a reason to engage with you via likes, comments, and shares, rather than instructing them how to help you. It’s not their job, it’s yours.

Organic is always better.

Trying to game the system will only get you so far, and in the long run, will hurt you. Baseball went through this with the steroid era. The cycling community is going through this right now, and it seems as though more football players are getting caught for using performance enhancing substances. Athletes try to beat the system, and it works for awhile, but eventually they get caught, and penalized, and it hurts the reputation of their sport. This is why Google is vigilant, and you can bet that Facebook will do it’s darndest to prevent the same thing from happening.

Content first

I don’t care how many likes or comments you get, or how many people throw you in lists, you still need compelling content. If I see more of your status updates, they better be worthwhile. Spend more time worrying about creating quality updates.

  • Provide useful information
  • Offer deals
  • Use images and videos
  • Provide links that people want to click
  • Blog and share those posts on Facebook
  • Ask questions
  • Be entertaining
  • Focus on your customer, not yourself

In case you missed it:

focus on content.

Good, consistent, relevant content promotes engagement. Engagement improves your Edgerank. Sure it takes time, but working for the long term is much better than a quick fix.

Consider spending some money

Traditionally, I am not a big proponent of spending money, particularly on things like Facebook ads or Google ads. The click through rates are incredibly low, and I, for one, never click on them. I just don’t. But that doesn’t mean they can’t work. I’ve known plenty of folks who have used Facebook ads and promoted posts well. But there has to be a reason; a goal. Don’t just pay for something without real, measurable goals.

But if you’re going to use either Facebook ads or promoted posts, do it wisely. Just this week one of the pages I follow paid to promote one of their posts. Every time I logged in, there it was, the same post at the top of my newsfeed. Every time. What was once a decent status update and link suddenly became spam. It wouldn’t go away. So I unliked the page.

It’s a delicate balance we need to strike. This is not traditional, outbound marketing. People expect commercials on TV & radio; they expect ads in print publications. Yet they don’t like them. They come to social media to be social, not to be sold to. If your use of your business page starts looking too much like selling, people will tune out.

It can be done

Let me give you one example. My friend Rebecca Cicione manages the social media for a nonprofit called Soles4Souls. She does an incredible job with their Facebook presence, and despite the changes in Edgerank, she is not only experiencing huge growth in numbers (from about 20,000 to more than 50,000 in just one year), but also isn’t seeing the expected decrease in engagement. In fact, in looking at their numbers, they are seeing an increase.

Their secret? A combination of great content, heavy use of images, and small expenditures on promoted posts and ads. They are consistent and work at it. You can’t expect Facebook to do your work for you. It takes time and work.

No one said it’s supposed to be easy. We’ve lulled ourselves into a sense that Facebook is some sort of magic bullet that does our marketing for us. We need to change our mindset and how we use the platform, not the way our fans do.

Your turn

Go for it. If you’re using Facebook, focus on your content. Good content. Relevant content. The kind your customers want.

How are you using Facebook in light of the changes to their algorithm?

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