Managing Facebook pages is big business for a lot of social media agencies. In fact, it is fast becoming a staple activity. Is this something to be encouraged? In my opinion, absolutely not. In fact I would go so far as to say that if you are using an agency to manage your Facebook page, this shows you haven’t yet worked out how to use social media effectively.
There are, of course, many reasons why you might want to use an agency to manage your Facebook page. For a start, Facebook is so darn fidgety – always changing stuff, introducing new things and changing the rules of the game. Keeping on top of what is going on at Facebook is a full-time job – so it makes perfect sense to hire an agency who is already plugged-in to the Facebook world. Secondly, maintaining a regular stream of posting is a burden. Creating all this ‘engaging content’ is not something the average marketing department was set up to do, whereas it is something that writers and other creative folk in the agency world do very well.
Bit here is the rub. Do you really need to stay on-top of everything Facebook is doing? And why do you see Facebook as so much ‘dead air’ that has to be filled with content, engaging or otherwise? Presiding over ‘dead air’ was a criminal offence in broadcast media, but Facebook is not a broadcast medium. The idea of the need for regular posting comes out of the world of blogging, where constant refreshment created Google-juice and visibility in the digital space. But Facebook is a closed digital world, which Google can’t penetrate.
One of the most insightful things I have ever heard about Facebook was said to me by the marketing director of a large retailer in Turkey. She said, “I love Facebook because it tells me what people think about my latest ad.” Unwittingly, or otherwise, she had hit the nail on the head. You don’t use social media to carry messages to people about your brand, you use it to find out what people think about your brand. You don’t use it to create brand ambassadors within your consumers, you use it to create consumer ambassadors within your brand.
I think the most important part of any Facebook page is the ‘post by others’ section – i.e. the part where your customers or consumers want to talk to you. You have to ask yourself the question “why would I want someone else to be standing between me and my consumers?” You can, of course, drop an agency into this slot, but they will never be able to give the best answers. In fact a sure-fire sign that an agency is managing the page comes when you see the response “we are so sorry to hear you think (our brand sucks), please call our customer service hotline on this number and they will be able to help you.” A pretty insulting response if you think about it. You may as well be saying “you can either sit down and listen to what we have to say to you and press the applause (like) button at the right moments or you can sod-off somewhere else and find someone whose job it is to listen to your petty complaints.” I exaggerate – but not by much. This type of deflection response clearly says “you are in the wrong space for this type of behaviour, go away”. And also, if your customers think that you brand sucks, or is great, or could be improved by making some changes – this information should take route one into your organisation, not be filtered through an agency.
I am frequently asked by clients or people in workshops I am running “how do we create more engagement with our Facebook posts?” This is often followed by the supplementary “how do we deal with negative comments on our Facebook page?” To which my answer is always “position your Facebook page as a place where you encourage people to come and complain, so that you can be seen as an organisation which takes its’ customers seriously. Don’t position your Facebook page as some sort of interactive content platform.”
Personally, I think you can forget about the posting space in a proactive, planned sense, because no matter how engaging you make this type of planned content, it will never be engaging enough to compensate for the fact that Facebook (as with all types of social media) is a low reach form of media. Reach 100,000 people via an ad – easy. Reach 100,000 people via a Facebook post – will nigh impossible. Traditional media has reach built into it, social media does not. The only things you should post on a Facebook page should relate directly, in real-time, to the questions that people are asking. Your consumers should define the content, you don’t plan the content in advance. This type of contact is much higher value, both in terms of the impact with the consumer and also the intelligence for the brand, and therefore justifies a lower reach. Facebook may well say, as it has, that “all (brand) content should be as engaging as the posts you see from friends and family”, but that is never going to happen is it? You are never going to have the same relationship with a brand as with friends and family. The only form of engagement worth generating is that which comes from listening and responding to the questions your customers are asking.
None-the-less, lots of agencies are making a lot of money managing Facebook pages, which, in my opinion, reflects the fact that very few brands have worked out how to use Facebook (indeed social media as a whole) effectively. Of course, these brands may have been encouraged to form a view about effective use of Facebook by those self-same agencies and Facebook itself.
Perhaps more charitably, it is form of herd mentality. In any situation that is new, it is difficult make decisions about what to do – because there are no precedents. It therefore often makes sense to do one of two things. The first is the easiest thing and the second is the thing which everyone else is doing. In the new environment of social, the easiest thing is any option which allows you to continue with conventional low engagement mass marketing albeit it with a few tweaks to make it more social. It is easy to understand Facebook as some sort of media platform that needs to be fed with content and thus easy and sensible to outsource its management to an agency. It is difficult to see Facebook as a channel that consumers will use to reach you, partly because it then means you have to deal with this yourself and can’t simply push the problem to an agency. And very soon, the easy thing becomes the thing everyone else is doing which makes it even more compelling.
That is not to say that there isn’t a role for agencies. You can use agencies to do analysis and intelligence – spending time out there seeing what people are saying and thinking about your brand, the competition or the sector. Agencies can listen effectively on your behalf, but they can’t speak effectively on your behalf.