Why the New Facebook Matters for Marketers – and Why it Shouldn’t

(The following post originally appeared on the Velocidi.com blog.)

Remember the days when Facebook would launch new features and then announce them? What a difference an impending IPO makes.

Now Facebook not only tells us what’s going happen, it has day-long events to educate and court marketers, as evidenced by last week’s Facebook Marketing Conference in New York City. And make no mistake: Facebook is all about marketing now. This isn’t a bad thing or a good thing; it’s just the natural order of things. Welcome to adulthood, Facebook.

But perhaps the clearest sign of Facebook’s power is that the decisions Facebook makes as a business have far-reaching implications for other businesses. What Facebook did last week was nothing short of making every other company that wants to advertise on the platform rethink its own business model, not to mention forcing them to dedicate more resources (i.e., money) to “content development” and engagement.

There are three key reasons why Facebook now matters more than ever to brand marketers:

1) A Tougher Sell: Facebook is rolling out more paid products, but the format will make it harder for brands that don’t have compelling stories or “content” to share – harder still for those who just want to sell you something. I’m fine with the latter, as I’d rather have a brand be honest about the fact that it just wants me to buy something vs. a brand that tries to tell me a “story.” Regardless, some brands will need to change how they connect with customers, which leads me to reason number two…

2) No More “Random Acts of Content”: The Timeline format places storytelling and a new narrative structure, the “layered narrative,” front and center – brands can no longer get away with pushing random and reckless pieces of content through the channel.

Layered narratives allow space for interaction, sharing, collaboration and contribution. Every unique layer makes the source material stronger and the story more engaging. Many brands, however, haven’t done this very well. The “early days” of social media marketing — you know, 2005 or so — saw brands simply putting their commercials on YouTube or posting press releases on their blogs. The “stories” were meant to be consumed, not shared. Narrative became lecture and story became content.

The digital world expanded but brands did not expand with it. Facebook is now forcing the issue by treating all content – whether a traditional display ad unit or a comment in a new feed – as related chapters in an overall and evolving brand story.

3) End of the “Ownership” Debate: It’s the number one issue inside most companies and agencies – who “owns” social? Is it PR or Marketing? Is it corporate or the business units? The product teams or the customer service folks?

I’ve said for years and to deaf ears that no one function can “own” social media any more than someone can own the air you breathe. And now Facebook has made it official.

With premium advertising now originating from the brand page, it’s essential that earned, owned, paid and shared media are closely coordinated. Think about it: Facebook page community managers create content but are not the same people who create or buy ads – but ads are now, well, “content.” At the very least these two groups need to talk to each other.

PR, marketing, customer service, creative, product, analytics, corporate – everyone needs to work together or the results will suffer. New models and processes will be needed – for example, creating an “audience engagement team” with people from all these areas represented and led by a “quarterback” who calls the plays and ensures that the team plays as one cohesive unit. There will be many new approaches I’m sure, but what’s clear is that the days of the marketing and PR “silos” are over.

One Reason Why the New Facebook Shouldn’t Matter to Marketers at All

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There’s a classic Chris Rock routine in which he ridicules people for being proud of things they are supposed to do anyway. “I take care of my kids,” he says, imitating his subject. “You’re supposed to take of your kids!” Rock screams in mock response.
Rock was right – you don’t deserve credit or kudos for things you are supposed to do. So why should we praise brands who, thanks to Facebook, are now dedicating themselves to having deeper relationships with their customers?

I have a question for every brand marketer on the planet: Are you so out of touch with the digital consumer that you needed a technology company to teach you how to talk to your own customers? Really?

You needed another company’s advertising products to convince you to tell real stories and connect with your customers? And now you want credit as an early adopter and trailblazer? You’re kidding, right?

Brands should have been doing this anyway, Facebook or no Facebook. The unfortunate reality, however, is that Facebook’s decision to change its own business model will result in a lot of crap being produced, as everyone will try to become a content marketer, err, I mean “storyteller” now.

Do yourselves and your customers a favor: Don’t make the new Facebook a clarion call for creating content, make it a wake-up call for getting back to the basics of listening, learning, and communicating with people as people, not as data.

Do this not just for Facebook or because of Facebook – do this because it’s the right thing to do.

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