Is smart use of Facebook saving the Labour Party 90k per month?

It’s not often that we’re grateful there’s a general election in the offing, but this week it’s provided an absolutely fantastic example of the power of Facebook, when it’s used smartly. The example comes from one of our UK political parties, but the principles absolutely apply to any organisation.

Initially, my eye was caught by a story about the Conservative Party spending over a hundred thousand pounds per month on various advertising and promotional activities on Facebook.

Invoices obtained by the BBC apparently show spends of £122,814 in September 2014, and £114,956 in November:

(Click the image for the full story on the BBC website).

So clearly, that’s a lot of money, but that’s not the really interesting thing about the article. Further down, a digital expert who’s quoted as currently working with the Labour Party on their online marketing, says

“I understand that the Labour party has been spending less than £10,000 a month on its own Facebook presence”.

Now, the spin provided in the article is simply that Labour spend less because they don’t have the resources that the Tories do, due to being linked with fewer (they imply) evil millionaire megalomaniacs stroking white cats in their mountain lairs. Or something.

But then I remembered something that had been very viral in my personal Facebook feed lately, and wondered if possibly the story was slightly different.

I wondered if, perhaps,  the Labour party don’t NEED to spend anything like that amount, because they’ve come up with a clever way to use Facebook which ensures that their content spreads organically, AND they are able to collect voters’ email addresses (one of the elements that there was a line item for in the Conservatives’ invoice) without any additional cost.

Maybe some of you have seen this in your Facebook feed? It’s been anonymised to protect the privacy of the originator:

Clicking on that newsfeed item takes the user to a website which looks like this:

Are you seeing how this is working, yet?

Person A publishes their “how many people have my name” result, and it appears in Person B’s feed, because they are Facebook friends.

Person B fancies getting their result, so clicks on the newsfeed item. On arrival at the website, they’re invited to hand over some minimal but important personal information*, and once they have “their” number, they are able to post that back into their own Facebook feed.

Whereupon, presumably, persons C and D notice it and decide to click and…you get the idea. Viral in its purest form.

And because it’s organic (ie, friends are sharing it with each other, voluntarily, through their news feeds) it won’t be costing a penny. There will almost certainly have been some initial spend in order to get the ball rolling – presumably where that 10k per month comes in – but unlike the Conservatives, Labour aren’t reliant on putting the pounds constantly into the top of the Facebook slot machine in order to get those all important email addresses out of the bottom.

The perfect viral storm on Facebook

All credit to the Labour party here, they have thought through every aspect of this process, and exploited the Facebook environment perfectly.

The basic concept (finding out how many people with your name are registered to vote) is simple but clearly catchy enough for many people to bother engaging with.

The website is carefully designed so that you fill in your details as quickly as possible in order to get your result.

And the graphics and text which go back into the user’s newsfeed with their result, speaks directly to the next batch of contacts (“How common is your name?“, not “I found out how common my name is” or something similar).

Impressive, right?

*re that personal information: here’s the small (really quite small) print from the bottom of that webpage. Assuming you read beyond the big red “get your number” button because, yeah, we all do, right?!

Simple, powerful, unique

If this one example isn’t enough to convince anyone out there of the kind of power that clever use of Facebook can unleash, nothing will.  Let’s look at the resources used:  A simple, one page website capable of collecting some basic information. A feed from publicly available electoral roll data. Some creativity to tap into people’s curiousity about themselves and their names. And access to the single biggest concentration of UK citizens, and their social ties, that has ever existed.

Why IPad giveaways on Facebook are a bad idea

All these people would like an ipad. Does that make them potential customers?


Last week, I was sitting in a traffic jam on one of London’s major roads. To my left is a huge development under way, several high rise blocks being clad in shiny glass and steel.

And around the outside of the site hoardings, a bright banner advertising off plan sales of the new apartments, and inviting me to “follow {the developer} on Facebook to win an IPad!”.

That developer isn’t alone, by any means; most weeks I notice more than one advert offering a similar “bribe”, in magazines, window posters, or even on Facebook or Twitter.

Those companies are not just using their Facebook Competition in a really lazy, poorly thought out way, but they’re actively making trouble and expense for themselves further down the line. Here’s why.

What’s the point of a Facebook Giveaway?

Back to basics, why does anyone give stuff away on Facebook? Unless they’ve woken up one morning blocked into their house by a mountain of unwanted IPads, it’s because they want to attract people to Like their Facebook page.

But that’s where it starts to go wrong. In fact, MOST companies don’t really want “people” to Like their Facebook page; they want potential customers to Like their Facebook page.

How big the gap is between “people” and “potential customers” does depend to an extent on what your product or service is. If you’re selling multi million pound yachts (or expensive flats in London), it’s pretty big. If you’re selling crisps, it’s smaller – although some people may not particularly like crisps, yours might be so great that they do like them, and at least it’s fair to say that most people have a use for them (eating) and can afford them.

Most companies though, aren’t making FMCG products.

So what those companies are actually doing, every time they have some kind of generic giveaway, is building a big audience of people who like IPads. Great if you’re Apple, less so if you’re building apartments.

And as building that audience is just step one of the process, they then have a hard time keeping that audience engaged; after a few posts about yachts or flats, the “Un-Like” statistics will start going in entirely the wrong direction.

And then the bills start

But as I said at the beginning, there’s even worse news if you’ve built an audience that way. A year or two back, you’d have just wasted the money you spent on that IPad, and probably seen your hard earned audience dwindle over time. Since the Facebook News Feed algorithm changes though, it’s actually going to cost you money to get your posts in front of all those people who are never going to buy your product.

We know that “organic” (free, to you and I) reach has been decimated since the end of last year, so paying Facebook, at least some of the time, to get your Posts out there, is a necessary evil. That’s one thing if you know that your audience is a relevant and receptive one. As soon as you run a “generic” giveaway, you’re building up a mix of “people” and “potential customers” – and there’s no way to separate those once you have to start paying to reach them.

How to improve your Facebook giveways by 100%

To avoid this, businesses need to be a LOT more strategic in their choice of giveaway. In fact, the best possible giveaway item is one that will appeal to the FEWEST people -  but those people who absolutely love your product or service.

This isn’t as hard as it sounds. Going back to my developer, they could have offered the same value as the IPad, but in free conveyancing on your flat purchase. Completely useless to anyone not considering buying one of those flats, but very valuable to anyone who is.

Giving away your own product, or something very closely related to it (like the conveyancing) is usually the best place to start with a giveaway – not only does it guarantee that the Likers are keen on what you do, it’s also likely to have a lower direct cost to you than buying someone else’s product! It’s also a good idea to think about the things you can provide that money can’t usually buy. For example, rather than just giving away tickets to your event or show, provide some VIP privileges along with them.

So, start thinking smarter about what you can offer that will attract your die hard fans. It’ll make the world of difference.

Facebook cracks down on clickbait headlines

Fed up with seeing those blatant clickbait headlines in your Facebook news feed? You know, the “this cute kitten / starving puppy was attacked/ rescued / cuddled by a baby / chihuahua / alligator. You won’t BELIEVE what happens next!!!” ones (if you’re still not sure, spend a few happy minutes with this clickbait headline generator. If nothing looks familiar, you have super-intellectual friends – well done ;)

Apparently, a few Smart Cookies are making megabucks from these sites; this is how it works. They dredge the internet, and other “viral” type sites like Reddit, for content which ticks the shareability buttons, come up with alluring headlines*, and republish that content onto their own websites with the clickbait titles added. Then, they feed those links into Facebook, often with an initial advertising budget to start pushing them into people’s news feeds as Boosted Posts, and wait for the traffic to start flooding in.

Because of the way Facebook’s News Feed Algorithm works (or has until this week), a clickbait rolling stone headline will gather a very large amount of moss indeed. Or to put it another way, every time one of your friends clicks on one of those articles, it becomes more likely to show up in your feed. If you click too, you’re passing on the joy to your friends. So with that initial investment in a boosted post, the article gets traction throughout Facebook and starts sending lots of traffic back to the original Smart Cookie’s website….which they can then monetise by selling ad space on the basis of all those zillions of page views.

So basically, the Smart Cookies have been exploiting Facebook to deliver traffic to their own sites, for their own reasons.

Strangely enough, Facebook aren’t very keen on this, and have now announced that they intend to knock the whole thing on the head.  For one thing, someone else is cashing in on their customer base; for another, all those lovely clicks are departing Facebook and landing on the Smart Cookies’ websites; and for a third thing, some users possibly find those headlines annoying. We’ll leave it to you guess which of those three things are the official reason for the algorithm change they’ve just announced which will reduce the visibility of these articles…

Here’s the full official release if you’d like to read a slightly less snarky view of the whole story: News Feed FYI: click baiting


* alluring in the way that a carrier bag of cheap chocolate is alluring. It’s hard to ignore but will leave you feeling kinda nauseous and grubby if you go there

Facebook Pages vs Facebook Groups – what’s right for your business?

Facebook Groups vs Facebook PagesIn today’s post, we’re going to look at the REAL differences between using a Facebook Group and using a Facebook Page for your business. Not just what Facebook says about the two options, which frankly doesn’t help all that much, but the actual pros and cons in practice – from your future Facebook community’s point of view as well as yours. And there are some huge implications which most people aren’t aware of.

Facebook Page vs Facebook Group – Definitions

So, let’s start with what Facebook has to say.

Facebook Pages:

…allow entities such as public figures and organizations to broadcast information to their fans.”

Whereas Facebook Groups are for

“..members… to connect, share and even collaborate on a given topic or idea”.

So, here’s the first point about the difference between the two, and it’s an important one: Pages are intended primarily for one-to-many broadcast. You run the show, your Likers join in. That’s not so say that discussions can’t take place between community members, they can, but it’ll be within the context of a post that you initiated.

One of the things that many people are unaware of with Pages, is that if a user posts on your Page, only you and anyone directly visiting that Page will actually see it. It will NOT appear in other Likers’ News Feeds, UNLESS you choose to share the post. Depending on the type of organisation you are, and what you’re trying to achieve with Facebook, that may be an advantage or a disadvantage – more on this below.

The key word in the Group description is collaborate. Groups are much more about a many-to-many discussion; think of them as all the members sitting in a big circle in a room, rather than classroom style with you at the front!

What that means in practice, is that when any group member posts to the group, that post will go into all the other members’ news feeds (News Feed Algorithm notwithstanding) without any kind of involvement, or moderation, from you. You will still have the ability to delete inappropriate posts and so on, but the basic assumption is that all members are of equal importance in terms of creating content.

Pages vs Groups – pros and cons

So hopefully you can already see that there is a distinct difference between Pages and Groups. They’re definitely not just interchangeable. But beyond the basic structure, there are some additional pros and cons which you need to be aware of when choosing your Facebook presence.

Facebook Page Pros

With a Facebook Page, you get access to a whole host of enhanced features which aren’t available to Group owners. These include:

Promotion. The opportunity to promote your content to a wider audience, via Promoted Posts, Advertising and so on, is only available to Facebook Pages, not to Groups. If attracting new members, or promoting specific content or offers in a short time frame is important to you, then this is going to be a deal breaker and you will need to use a Page.

Analytics. The facebook Insights package, which is included free of charge with all Pages, is very powerful and is continuing to be actively developed by Facebook – so it’s likely to get even better in the future. Insights can show you all kinds of valuable stuff from who your Likers are (where they come from, what age group and gender they are, and even when most of them are logged on to Facebook) to which of your Posts are most effective. You can even compare the performance of your Page with that of a competitor, without the competitor knowing about it. So again, this is a huge plus for Pages over Groups.

Visibility. When you’re in Admin mode for your Page, posting on other Pages creates a nice live link back to your own organisation.

News Feed. Liking another Page while you’re in Admin mode will pull that Page’s content into your Page’s News Feed (not your personal feed). This allows you to automatically collate content from partners or businesses which are complementary to yours, for example wedding photographers or florists if you’re promoting a wedding venue. That not only helps you keep in touch with those businesses, but it will often provide a good source of content which will be valuable to your own Likers, too.

Facebook Page Cons

Community spirit and engagement. Tthere are exceptions, but the majority of Pages find creating a real spirit of community – where Likers actively request and value other Likers’ opinions – an ongoing challenge.

You will be fighting the News Feed algorithm. Although we’ve not studied this scientifically, our own experience and those of our clients suggests that Facebook is far less generous when deciding how many Page posts are going to reach Likers’ newsfeeds, than they are with Group posts.

Moving on to Groups, there are pros and cons here, too. (Sorry – we never said it would be an easy decision!).

Facebook Group Pros

The major advantage is the way that Group posts work, in terms of the visibility of all posts to all members, and the higher probability (we believe) of a Group post showing up in a members’ News Feed vs an un-Boosted Page post.

Privacy options. The other Group-only function is the ability to make the group Closed. This means that a group administrator has to approve every new member before they get access, and group discussions are not visible to non members. Of course, if you’re aiming to build visibility on Facebook, this is a bad thing. But if you’re dealing with a sensitive topic / product / service which your users may not want to be seen discussing in “public”, this is the only way to go.

It’s also worth considering making a Group Closed in other circumstances, though. With an Open Group, each time a member comments on a post, that comment is likely to be included in their friends’ news feeds. If the Group discussions are on a fairly niche area, and it is (or is likely to become) a very busy group, members may actually prefer it if that wasn’t the case. That’s not necessarily because it’s a sensitive topic, but just because their friends may not share their avid interest in tropical fish breeding! So by Closing the group, you’re removing the issue of members self-limiting the amount they engage because their friends are telling them they’re sick of hearing about Guppies.

Group disadvantages

Apart from missing out on the promotional and analytical functions you get with a Page, the other issue we see with Groups is futureproofing. Group functionality hasn’t been actively developed by Facebook for a while, and unlike Business Pages they aren’t a direct revenue generating area. So in theory, there may be a higher risk that Facebook bins the Group function in the future.

However, good Groups definitely make a big contribution to Facebook’s “stickiness” – the frequency with which users log in, and the amount of time they spend on the site. So we don’t think Facebook are likely to kill off Groups altogether, but they may miss out on function enhancements in the future.

So, when do I use a Facebook Group?!

Hopefully you can analyse the pros and cons of each option above in terms of the impact on your own organisation type and objectives, as there really isn’t one right or wrong answer here. In general, if your Facebook strategy is quite strongly commercial – for example, you want to use it to sell directly, make special offers, reach out to a targeted audience quickly – then a Page will likely be the right choice.

On the other hand, if your product or service would benefit from a much “softer” approach, and/or you’re in a very niche area, then a Group might work better for you. For example, let’s say you’re selling Dog Agility equipment, and the community of people who own dogs and do agility with them is quite small – but extremely committed and interested in sharing knowledge. In those circumstances giving up some control in favour of hosting a very active community (to which you then have access for sales purposes!) might well be worth it.

Have we missed anything? We’re still realising little differences in the way both options work which can make a big difference, so if you’re aware of anything else please do comment below.

Page reach throttled? Get over it. 3 reasons why Facebook marketing is still a bargain

There’s been plenty of coverage over the last few months about the massive decline in Facebook Pages’ organic reach. In case you missed it: If a page with 5,000 Likers was regularly getting 1,500 sets of eyeballs on their page posts last December, as of now they’re probably getting more like six or seven hundred.

And yes, it’s deliberate; Facebook have been very open about their change to the News Feed algorithm. They’re a little less open about the reasons, pleading “improved user experience” (which doesn’t really hold up, as if a user didn’t want to see a Page’s posts they’d not have Liked them in the first place; or could just go and Unlike them) rather than “need to make a return on investment for our shareholders“.

It’s a shame they don’t feel they can be totally upfront about this: Facebook, and its shareholders, have invested millions of dollars in creating a concept which has changed the world and the way millions of people socialise. It’s not, in our opinion, at all unreasonable that they should start to ask for a contribution at some point. Charging for user accounts would be suicide, (Friends Reunited, anyone?!) so making a levy on businesses using Facebook as a marketing platform is the obvious way to go. And make no mistake - each and every post a business makes on Facebook is, and always has been, an advert!

Anyway, in some quarters there has been a somewhat hissy overreaction to this, with a few brands swearing that they’ll never talk to Facebook again. We think this is a mistake, and here’s why.

3 reasons why marketing with Facebook is still a bargain

One: The Targeting

The ability to ensure that your post or advert hits the exact people who are most likely to be interested in it, is still unequalled, certainly for anything with an audience the size of Facebook’s. (We’re not counting advertising your Pink Widget in the Pink Widget Monthly magazine, readership of 35!).

Compare the mainstream alternatives of billboards, magazines and papers, and even radio advertising: you are paying for access based on the size of their total audience, regardless of whether half of them are male and you’re selling a new type of pregnancy test.

Facebook allows you to target by criteria (geography, gender, age and many more depending on the type of content), and to pay only for access to that exact audience. Or, you can use what should be the best targeted audience of all: friends of your existing Likers. Provided you’ve built your audience the right way, to attract people who’re genuinely interested in your organisation, this will be great. If you’ve tried any of the shortcuts like buying followers….not so much. But you didn’t, right?!

Two: Trackability

Again depending on which type of content you use (ads vs boosted posts etc), you will get feedback on who’s seen your content and interacted with it, ranging from great to fantastic. Again, with traditional marketing you get almost none: yes you could use a tracking code in a print ad, but that will only capture those who take one particular action in response to it. You don’t know who’s read it and then had a bit more of a look around at your facebook page, or clicked through onto an article you included. Short of handing out the names and addresses of everyone who glanced your way, this is still as good as it gets.

Three: Cost

Yes, you are now being asked to pay something. But do you know how the something in question compares to the alternatives? We were genuinely surprised, not having had a great deal of contact with other advertising mediums. So here it is, from a recent (very useful!) study by Moz.com :

Facebook - cost to reach a thousand people

Facebook is WAY out in front for that one thousand eyeball fee, and print advertising, in particular, looks like pretty poor value.

So yes, Facebook has been a free lunch for organisations for a long time, and now it isn’t. But that lunch still isn’t being charged for at market rates, so it’s only likely to go up from here. Our advice is to appreciate the benefits, get smart about using Facebook’s many paid for options, and go get them!