DEBATE: Facebook is Not Blackmailing Brands

If you have to pay to send that spammy update, will you still do it?

by Kat French |

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is a point/counter-point response to yesterday’s assertion by Jason Falls that Facebook is Blackmailing Brands.

First things first. Let’s not pretend we’ve never heard of paying a service to deliver opt-in messages.  M’kay?

Over the last week, I’ve seen a lot of business owners and marketers decrying the changes Facebook has made to EdgeRank which have affected the likelihood that your Business Page content will reach your fans.  Some people, including our Editor-In-Chief Jason Falls, equate these changes to Facebook blackmailing brands to use Promoted Posts to reach their hard-earned (or expensively purchased, depending on your methodology) likers with content they opted in to receive.

Not so fast.

Is it frustrating to have to pay for something you’re used to getting for free? Sure. Nobody likes paying for something they’ve grown accustomed to getting for free. But the modern social web was built on freeware that eventually either matured into a paid service, or disappeared. Whining about it makes you sound like the guy complaining that the open bar at his cousin’s wedding closed down before he reached his desired state of inebriation.

Is Facebook deliberately demoting the EdgeRank of brand content to boost their paid service? Maybe, maybe not. Possibly your content isn’t getting served because it kind of sucked. Facebook lives and dies by user satisfaction, and according to Forbes, users are considerably happier with their feeds after the EdgeRank changes. If your content didn’t prompt consistent signals from users that it was content they liked, that might be why it’s getting served less often for free.

Is what Facebook’s doing blackmail? Not even close.

With Promoted Posts, you’re paying for access to a particular kind of inbox. It’s no different than what Feedblitz, MailChimp, Exact Target or any other email marketing tool out there does.  It’s taking your content and delivering it to your list. Period.

Yes, your fans have opted in to receive your business’ content. Yes, you’ve probably worked your butt off and potentially incurred hard costs to build that list. Just like you have to do with an email newsletter. You have no problem with paying an email marketing tool to deliver that content to your customers, leads and prospects, in the channel they’ve said they prefer.

Why is it different if the delivery mechanism is Facebook? Is their technology somehow less valuable than that of Exact Target, when it’s doing the same thing? There’s a reason you send marketing emails through a tool, not directly from Outlook or Gmail. Deliverability. Because if you send out 10,000 copies of the same sales email to everyone in your address book, what’s going to happen?

Exactly what’s happening to your spammy Facebook Page updates. It’s going to get caught in some form of spam filtering system. Also, you’re not going to have any kind of metrics on deliverability, open rates and click throughs.

Kind of like the metrics you get in your Facebook Campaign Insights. The kind of analytics you’re used to paying for an email marketing tool to get, along with better deliverability.

My next thought was “Maybe the problem isn’t that they’re charging to deliver messages. Maybe people are complaining about how much they’re charging to deliver marketing messages.” To see if Facebook was wildly gouging prices compared to email marketing, I did a quick little experiment.

The cost of promoting a recent post from Social Media Explorer’s Facebook Page was $40 to deliver to 9.8k – 18.2k fans and friends of fans (our total number of Page Likes was 11,224 that day).  I compared that to the pricing structure of Feedblitz, which we use to deliver our blog content to subscribers who’ve opted to receive posts by email. It’s not apples to apples, but Feedblitz would charge $75 at the low end (5,000-9,999) and $140 at the high end (15,000-19,999).  A quick look at MailChimp and Campaign Monitor tell me that they’re priced comparably to FeedBlitz.

So no, Facebook isn’t blackmailing brands. They’re not even price gouging, if you’re comparing them to a similar “opt-in message delivery” platform.

Facebook is already giving away a lot of real estate for free, guys. How many small businesses have launched in the last couple of years who’ve completely forgone a business website* because they can claim squatters rights on Facebook? They get their business name in a short, memorable URL; upload as many photo and video files as they want; have them get served as often as their visitors like; and don’t have to pay for hosting or domain registration. Bandwidth and web storage ain’t free, kiddos. Except on Facebook.

But that’s apparently not enough for businesses, brands and marketers. We feel like Facebook owes us the opportunity to spam the crap out of our hand-raisers, even if they’ve possibly been quietly lowering those hands by hiding our stories and submitting them in spam complaints. (Both of which have gone down, according to Facebook, since the EdgeRank changes).

How dare they attempt to charge us a fee to send marketing messages? Who do they think they are? The modern-day newspaper or local TV newscast? The post-Millenial postal service?

Well, actually, yeah. And they’re not wrong.

Maybe in making us think for a second about whether that post is worth paying money to send, we’ll think a little harder about whether it’s worth our hand-raisers time and attention to read.

And maybe if we’d been doing that all along, we wouldn’t be complaining about taking a hit in EdgeRank now.

 *Note: I’m not saying it’s a smart strategy. I’m just saying I’ve seen a ton of small local business decide it’s worth the risk.

About the Author

Kat French

Kat French is the Client Services and Content Manager at SME Digital. An exceptional writer, Kat combines creativity with an agile, get-it-done attitude across a broad range of experience in content strategy, copywriting, community management and social media marketing. She has worked with national brands like Maker's Mark, Daytona Beach Tourism, CafePress and more.