How Brands Are Getting Lost on Facebook

Did the Social Network's Algorithm Turn Your 'Sponsored Story' Into Spam?

By Published on .

Brad McCormick
Brad McCormick
As you might have heard, Facebook recently announced the launch of sponsored stories, a new ad product that will allow marketers to insert certain user updates into paid advertisements.

This is yet another blurring of the line between paid and earned media. But its another signal that because brands are stumbling in their quest to be heard on the world's most popular social network.

First, let's agree on one thing: Not all friends are created equal. This is something that each of us inherently knows, but is a principle that social networks have struggled to properly put into practice.

Facebook actually attempted to correct this with the recent rollout of the "Top News" vs. "Recent News" system. "Top News" features the news and updates from your friends that Facebook's secret Edgerank algorithm thinks you will be most interested in. And since it is the default view of a user's Facebook page, a brand's presence within a user's "Top News" is as good as gold.

"Recent News," on the other hand, is fast becoming the spam folder of Facebook. This is where you will find an overflow of updates from "friends" with whom you rarely interact or whose news simply isn't that popular. More and more, this is where branded updates are appearing.

Facebook's own materials surrounding sponsored stories attest to this:

"The dynamic nature and unique algorithm behind each person's News Feed means ... that some of the people who like your Page do not see your valuable Page posts ... in their News Feed."

The key word here is "valuable." While Facebook's marketing department may tell Starbucks that another customer's affinity for a Double Espresso Venti Mocha holds value to its fanbase, Facebook's Edgerank algorithm may be saying something entirely different. Otherwise, there would be no need to "ensure your fans see the content that your Page publishes" via purchasing sponsor stories ads.

More than anything, Facebook's announcement shows that is still necessary for brands to pay for a customer's attention. While that's not astonishing, for brands to truly leverage the power of Facebook, they need to find better ways to earn it.

Brad B. McCormick is global digital director at Porter Novelli. He can be reached at @darbtx
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