In one image, why all hospitality venues should offer free WiFi NOW!

In a bid for the shortest blog post ever, we bring you this. In a single image, all of the arguments we have over and over with hotels, tourist attractions and similar businesses about why providing no (or chargeable) WiFi is shooting themselves in the foot.

So here’s the picture which is worth a thousand words: it appeared in Kate’s Facebook news feed recently.

If you need it spelling out, here’s the significance:

Why providing free WiFi is the single best piece of marketing spend you’ll ever make

That image was snapped by a contact of Kate’s, and put into a group for dog owners which she’s a member of. Pretty much all of the people in that group are more or less constantly on the lookout for quality places to stay which will also accept their hounds.

That hotel meets both criteria, and because of that post to Facebook has just been advertised, for free, to the most targeted group of potential customers they could ever dream of. Oh, and rapidly endorsed by several other people who all love the place too – social proof, much?!

For any hotel or resort owner, getting such a compelling advert in front of a large and relevant target market has got to be the ultimate victory. And yet the one thing they could do to make it easier – providing great Internet access – is all too often forgotten about or priced at a level which gets nothing but derisory laughter from their customers.

To really put the icing on the cake

Now that Facebook post being out there is obviously a great start. That particular hotel has also established a Facebook page, which allows the customer to tag them (provide a live link to their Page) in her post – even better, as potential customers are likely to click on it to find out a bit more.

If they were really savvy (and we’ve no idea whether there was any followup in this particular instance) they’d be replying to the lady in question and going all out to ensure her stay was as perfect as possible – since she’s just proved with that one post that she’s influential with, and connected to, exactly their type of customer.

It’s not rocket science

It really isn’t, is it? Make sure your customers can get easy internet access. Be present on the social media sites they might be using. Monitor those platforms, respond and capitalise where you can. So why are so many hotels still charging £10 an hour for WiFi and totally ignoring social media?

Of course, if your rooms are a candidate for The Hotel Inspector, you might have good reason to keep that router in the cellar. Real-time commentary on the mould in the shower isn’t going to do you any favours…but then the best plan might be to fix that, before you bother with any marketing at all!

Why Facebook Business Pages are no longer a free lunch

It’s not entirely true that there’s no such thing as a free lunch: sometimes there is, just usually not for very long. And so it’s proven with Facebook.

In the early days, business marketers really did get a pretty delicious free lunch on Facebook. They did all the hard work of developing and managing an infrastructure that would attract pretty much the biggest single audience in human history; all you had to do as a business marketer was show up, and create content that consumers enjoyed.

And  access to that massive audience was free; once you’d attracted some folk to Like your page, you could generally expect the Reach of an individual Post (ie, the number of people who saw it) to bear at least some resemblance to the number of Likers you had.

When is a Liker not a Liker?

Towards the end of 2012, many Pages saw that reach decline. This was down to changes in the Facebook News Feed algorithm (then called Edgerank).

Once a user is connected to sufficient people and Pages that there’s more content available when they log on than they’ll realistically read through, Facebook filters that content to try and present the user with the stuff they’ll find the most fascinating. The News Feed algorithm is the thing that does the filtering, and over the years has prioritised all kinds of different “signals” from the user as to what content they were going to enjoy the most.

The algorithm seems to get tweaked more or less constantly, although of course Facebook don’t give away too many details. But there was another big change at the end of last year.

Facebook says: spend some dosh or forget it

And unlike the last time we saw a major decline in post reach, when Facebook denied that this was a deliberate strategy, this time round they are very explicit that there’s been a deliberate shift in the algorithm in a way which basically reduces Page owners’ access to their Likers’ newsfeeds.

Because the content in News Feed is always changing, and we’re seeing more people sharing more content, Pages will likely see changes in distribution. For many Pages, this includes a decline in organic reach.

They go on to state pretty categorically that you need to prepare to spend money, recommending that Page owners use

a combination of engaging Page posts and advertising to promote your message more broadly. Advertising lets Pages reach the fans they already have and find new customers as well. The fans you have matter. In addition to being some of the most loyal customers, fans also make the advertising on Facebook even more effective.*

Organic reach decline in pictures

They’re not kidding. Here’s what the change, which looks to have taken effect pretty clearly at the start of the December, has done to one of our clients.

This business has a Liker base of over 10,000, and we’ve been managing their page for over two years. Levels of engagement have been consistently strong during that time, but look what happened to their reach when the new algorithm cut in:

facebook business page reach decline

A quick glance shows that there’s been a reduction in peak reach from 5-6k per post, to around 3k. So yes, Facebook really mean business on this one.

What does this mean for Businesses on Facebook?

There are big implications this time. Here are our top ones:

Coming up with a strategy to gain targeted, relevant Fans is more vital than ever. Facebook paid media is frequently based on promotion to either your Likers or your Likers’ friends, so in either case having a solid Liker base to start with is crucial to getting value out of your paid media. If you’ve been running ill-advised contests which have attracted a huge Liker base of Indian ipad lovers when you’re running a nightclub in the UK, you’re now going to be paying for the privilege of showing your content to those people who will never buy from you.

It’s more important than ever to think carefully about whether you have the time, content and budget to make Facebook work for you. (In actual fact this is a blessing for both users and businesses – the overall quality of business-generated content should go up, as those businesses who don’t “get” the Facebook environment give up and leave, and businesses who were “dabbling” will refocus their efforts elsewhere and stop wasting time on Facebook.)

Relying on “viral” content shares just got even harder. If you don’t pay for visibility, you’re relying on even fewer initial views to generate shares and get your brand seen. Together with the difficulty of creating truly “catchy” content in the first place, your chances of making an impact are low.

But basically, this means that Facebook is now mature in terms of a clear business model: they provide the infrastructure and attract the users, you pay for access to those users – essentially the same as for any other web property. A business can still influence both the reach and impact of their Facebook presence (through a clever attraction strategy to draw in Likers, rigorous targeting for paid media, and ensuring that the content is up to scratch when it is seen);  but without setting aside a regular budget, the majority of organisations are not going to see results.


*full article text from the Facebook blog can be found here

Why the Facebook rule change could help you waste money and build a useless audience

Clown audience

Not every audience is a good audience

Facebook’s hefty Page Terms have been an ongoing source of annoyance for many business marketers. They were Small Print personified, and often seemed to contain rules for the sake of rules, often hard to comply with (no more than 20% text in your page Cover Banner?!) and serving no obvious purpose.

In the last month or so that’s changed. The regulations have been seriously slimmed down, leading to a fair bit of celebration online.

The two main areas of change have been the rules around cover banners, and those relating to contests and competitions.

Cover Banner restrictions removed

First, the unarguable good news. All the rules around cover images have been removed, so that huge list of things you couldn’t do – from including contact details to reminding people to click the “Like” button – no longer apply.

This should allow businesses to use that huge area of page space more creatively and effectively. There is a risk that some will turn it into the equivalent of the advertising section of the local free paper, cluttered and stuffed with cheesy “special offers”, but hopefully most will resist that temptation.

Why the change? Who knows! Getting rid of the rules seems to make good sense, but then so would not having had them in the first place.

Facebook Competitions and Contests – It’s Open Season

…well, perhaps not quite, but the really big news was a similarly radical slimming down of the rules around running competitions.

The most significant part here was that we’re no longer forbidden from running competitions on the Wall – ie, making those “Best caption for this photo / answer to these quiz questions wins a prize” posts which, er, the majority of businesses were doing anyway. However, we do know of organisations whose pages have been deleted, with no warning, for going against those rules; and I bet we aren’t the only agency giving a sigh of relief at no longer having to explain to clients why they really shouldn’t do what everyone else seems to be getting away with!

Other things you’re now officially allowed to do include announcing winners on Facebook, and using certain Facebook functions as part of the entry criteria – for example, “like this post to enter”.

At first glance this is all good, BUT….there definitely is a “but”.

Will the rule changes help businesses?

It’s pretty obvious why Facebook have made this particular change; firstly almost nobody was keeping the rules anyway, but more importantly, those who were keeping them were often doing so by running the competition somewhere other than on Facebook. So they’d announce the contest in a Wall post, but then provide a link off to their website where the competition was actually happening,

From Facebook’s point of view, they have just shot themselves in the foot. They want their users to spend as much time as possible within Facebook, so that they can charge advertisers to promote their “stuff” to those users. If something as alluring as a good competition is taking them off onto another organisation’s website, that’s counter productive. So encouraging businesses to build the competition into their Facebook Page makes a lot more sense.

But looking at the likely consequences of this from a business marketing perspective, there are still a couple of significant risks, we think.

Firstly, there are a few sneaky “gotchas” embedded in either the rules or the practicalities around competitions, which are likely to leave unwary businesses still falling foul of the new rules.  While you can use some Facebook functions as part of the entry criteria, those which impact on personal timelines are still off limits. So you may not require a user to Share a post, or to tag themselves in an image which isn’t actually of them (do I see lots of self portrait photo competitions on the horizon?! Only time will tell!).

The other issue is that although you’re no longer prevented from announcing a contest winner on the Wall, that isn’t going to work well most of the time – you’re just relying on that particular post making it into the winner’s news feed, and them bothering to read it.

As Business Pages can’t tag individuals except in very limited circumstances, and can’t write on a Profile’s Wall or send them a message, some way of collecting contact details is still needed. Which, in practise, will mean you still need an entry form – either as part of an App on a separate tab, or on your own website. In theory you could ask users to post their email address or phone number on your Page as part of the entry, but as that’s totally public it seems unlikely that many users would be keen!

Poorly designed contests = poor marketing results

The biggest risk though, is that making competitions look easier means that many businesses will be tempted (or poorly advised by bad agencies) to run super-popular giveaways “in order to increase their Likers“.

That is a Very Bad Idea.

Why? Because in the era of online Comping resources, word spreads very quickly about any giveaway worth having. Sounds good? It’s not.

What you will actually end up with is a bigger “Liker” number, sure, but that number will be made up of a lot of people who wanted to win an Ipad. What you want to happen, really, is for that number to be made up of a lot of people who are interested in your product or service.

So there is the big “gotcha”: just because your giveaway is now compliant with Facebook’s rules, that doesn’t mean it will be a constructive marketing tool. With very many of the contests we see on Facebook, it’s obvious that this hasn’t been thought through – the competition itself is generic (“like this page to win”) and so is the prize. More contests will very likely mean more costly, but potentially pointless, giveaways.

There are also knock-on effects which last the lifetime of your page. Any time you want to create an Offer or boost a Post to your page likers, you can’t distinguish between “useful” ones and the useless ones you picked up through a set of bad competitions. So that means, you’ll be paying Facebook to market to both sets.

How to make good use of the rule change

Our advice is, be really careful about designing your contest. At every stage, you must be able to explain how it will attract the right kind of people, and ideally how the more right they are, the more likely they are to win. Here’s our bonus example of how that might work….

Let’s say you’re marketing a camera shop, and want to increase the number of serious (professional or semi-professional) photographers amongst your Likers. Instead of asking for a “Like” or even a comment as the entry mechanism, make the entry criteria uploading an image. But not just any image….one  created using a particular piece of kit – a camera or lens which doesn’t appeal to “point and shoot” users. Immediately your entries should be self selecting – and that’s before we get on to what the prize might be!

It’s not that difficult really, but as with launching on social media itself, the less hassle and cost is involved, the less thought many organisations will put into it. Don’t be that guy!


What the latest Facebook news feed changes mean for your business

Another day, another Facebook tweak! Last week, Facebook announced a number of changes to the way that the Newsfeed works. This time, it won’t look any different; but the coding underlying what each user sees has changed, so the content of the news feed will be a little different.

Why the Newsfeed changes?

The number of Friends and Liked Pages an average Facebook user has is increasing all the time. Whilst that’s good for Facebook on the one hand, it also gives them a problem; that being less discriminating about who you are linked to, may lead to a less interesting News Feed in the longer run. Here’s Chris Cox, Facebook’s VP of Product:

“The average person today has about 1500 stories they could see, ranging from one of your good friends getting married, to bottom of the barrel updates like your friend from high school who you haven’t heard from in years became friends with someone you’ve never heard of.”

Remember, Facebook’s financial future is dependent on lots of users, logging on a lot – that way they have lots of lovely potential consumers to “sell” to advertisers and business users like you or us. If users start to get bored and log on less frequently, that’s bad news for Facebook’s bank balance.

How do you solve a problem like 1500 stories?!

Facebook have a whole team of people who do nothing but work on trying to make your news feed more alluring. Chris Cox again:

“The goal of the Facebook News Feed team and algorithm is to figure out what stories out of those 1500 will delight and fascinate you.
When the News Feed team succeeds, you see things you care about, have a good time on Facebook, and use it more. When it doesn’t, Facebook seems like a boring waste of time. This team makes or breaks Facebook’s engagement level.”


So, Facebook has just updated the algorithm which sits behind users’ News Feeds, determining what they see. Here’s what we already knew about what influences how likely a post is to turn up in a particular user’s News Feed:

“The News Feed algorithm responds to signals from you, including, for example:
  • How often you interact with the friend, Page, or public figure (like an actor or journalist) who posted
  • The number of likes, shares and comments a post receives from the world at large and from your friends in particular
  • How much you have interacted with this type of post in the past
  • Whether or not you and other people across Facebook are hiding or reporting a given post.”

We actually think this already creates a problem: that the News Feed algorithm works in the same way for every user. This would be fine if every user interacted with Facebook in the same way, but they don’t.

Just one easy example: the older a user, the less likely they are to “interact” (like or comment) with a post from one of their friends – no matter how interested they were in it. The fiftysomething generation just doesn’t see the need to pepper the web with Thumbs Up symbols! So for them, what Facebook is likely going to do is to deprive them of seeing content they were actually interested in – just because they don’t behave like a younger user, who is very inclined to interact.

The new News Feed developments

Anyhow, Facebook has introduced a couple of new features to the algorithm: Story Bumping and Last Actor. Here’s what they do:

Story Bumping:

With Story Bumping, Facebook doesn’t just look at what stories have been published since a user last looked at their feed, but at all the recent stories they hadn’t seen (ie, which Facebook had previously not displayed!) — not just “new” but “new to that user”. Facebook says that  “This way, you see more relevant stories, even if they’re a little bit older.”. Which is true…and presumably it also helps cover up lean times when hardly any of your friends have posted anything!

From a business point of view, we might assume that Story Bumping would be good news. Since it’s fundamentally harder for a Page post to compete with big news from a user’s closest friends, Story Bumping gives your Page a second bite at the cherry – the opportunity to get more visibility during times of lower competition. And that would seem to be true, looking at Facebook’s own analysis:

“Facebook has rolled Story Bumping out on the web and is starting to push it to mobile. Initial tests showed the Story Bumping led to 5% more likes, comments, and shares on stories from friends, an 8% boost in interactions for stories from Pages and public figures, and an increase from 57% of potentially visible stories read to 70%.”

Last Actor:

“Last Actor” looks at the 50 people a user most recently interacted on Facebook (so activities such as viewing a profile or photos, or liking  feed stories). Facebook then shows that user more from those people (or pages)  in their feed in the short-term.

The “short term” wasn’t specifically defined, so we don’t know how long this effect works for. However it is certainly something that businesses need to note, especially if you’re having a big recruitment drive such as paying for boosted posts, providing a special offer or even just advertising,

Someone Liking your page for the first time is likely to have been directly to your Page to check it out, and maybe read and /or interacted with a few Posts, so your business Page is very likely to fall into the Last Actor category for them. So, you better make your next batch of content shit hot – because that’s the point at which it’s most likely to be seen by your new Likers.

To sum up: Businesses could well get a boost from these changes; but careful, detailed campaign planning will become more important and effective than ever before.



Uh yes, you WILL be providing customer service on Facebook

Customer service on Facebook“But, Facebook’s not a customer service channel for us…”

What was your primary reason for being on Facebook? For most organisations, it’s all about visibility and reach – selling more, and more often.

But, here’s the thing: If you’re a consumer-facing company, and you set up a Facebook page, there will be a customer service dimension to what you do.

Consumers come in many colours, and if they have a question or a problem, they will use the communications channel that THEY prefer – not the one that you do.

So if you’re going to be present on a social media site, you actually have only two choices: to provide great customer service, or to provide bad customer service. But either way, you will be engaged in a customer service dialogue.

Doing it badly often takes the form of  putting up the equivalent of a “Talk to the hand, cos the social media team ain’t listenin‘” sign on the Facebook page.

For example, Page usage guidelines stating that the Facebook page is not a customer service channel, or a pinned post with alternative contact details. Score some points for at least trying to set expectations, but here’s the thing: a proportion of consumers will ignore it, and ask anyway. Then they’ll be disappointed at best, or angry at worst, when you either don’t respond or (as they see it) fob them off with a phone number.

Give them great service instead

So, if you’re going to be there, be prepared to be brilliant instead. Yes, dealing with customer service queries can be resource intensive, but generally only for larger businesses – if you’re running a local shop it’s unlikely that you’ll be getting queries hourly. And if you are – hey, that’s a whole lot of potential purchases you’re able to move along!

It’s really not that hard to do a great job; in the time it would take to type “sorry, we don’t actually help with anything here, please phone this number instead” your staff could be creating real customer loyalty.

Here are the key things to consider:

Knowledge is power

Make sure whoever takes care of your Facebook Page has at least a working knowledge of the basics around your business. Whether that’s a staff member or an agency, you need to spend the time to build a “frequently asked questions” list for them and ensure that they understand it.

Plus, they need to know where to go for answers to anything more complex, and what kind of turnaround time they should expect on questions. While we’re on that subject:

Facebook is your Batphone

Your Facebook page is the closest thing you’ll get to a Batphone for your customers. It’s the place where you’ll find out first when there’s a problem brewing with your product or service, or if a new launch is about to be a huge success. So response times are crucial if you want to keep that customer intelligence flowing.

Most users will have forgotten what they wrote within a couple of days, and an unhappy customer will be seething within a single one.  Monitor your Facebook page as frequently as you can (it’s not hard; have email alerts set up for new posts, or use Hootsuite or similar on your mobile to keep a quick check on things) but as a minimum twice per day.

Mind your language

We’ve talked about this before in the context of a company who do get it brilliantly right on Twitter, but striking the right tone for the Facebook environment is really important. It shows that you “get” the platforms and are engaging with your customers on their level.

Be friendly, helpful and not “corporate”, and if your customers are using informal, conversational language then make sure you do too.

Reap the rewards

Now, the massive payoff to doing a great job. Obviously a happy customer is great in itself, but by interacting with that customer via Facebook you’ve radically increased the impact of your excellent service.

If a customer calls you up on a telephone customer service line with a problem and you not only fix it, but also apologise and send them a bouquet by way of compensation, only your customer and the service agent knows about it. But conversations on Facebook are visible to that customer’s friends, and to the general public via your Page.

So suddenly, instead of just one happy customer, you have a happy customer plus a bunch of really impressed people who now feel really confident about doing business with you. And what might that be worth in future sales?

Rose McGrory Social Media offers private, tailored Facebook training courses just for your organisation. So if you’d like to argue with us about this in person, do get in touch!