Is advertising now absolutely necessary for Facebook brand success?

Answer: Yes.

That’s a pretty bold claim, right?

But, I think it’s pretty accurate. And, it’s exactly what Facebook wants.


This isn’t great news for brands–especially smaller ones who welcomed Facebook a couple years ago. At that point, it was the ultimate playing-field leveler. Now, with the advent of Timeline and Facebook’s decision to go public, all that has changed.

In the blink of an eye.

What am I talking about?

Recent studies have reported that as few as 1 in 10 of your Facebook fans see your posts at any given time (real number Facebook shared: 16 percent). You might doubt the stats, but I’ve found this to be pretty close to the truth. For the handful pages I manage (or contribute to managing) for brands, we only see a small number of likes/comments on “organic” posts.

For example, one page I help manage currently has 2,200 fans (it’s a smaller organization). For organic posts, we typically see 10-15 likes and a handful of comments. But, for one post a week we put $300 of Facebook advertising behind it to spur engagement (and ultimately, page likes, too). The result? North of 700 likes and 50 comments for each of those posts. Pretty big difference, right?

And, that’s where we’re headed with Facebook from a brand perspective. Facebook ads (including sponsored stories and promoted posts) will be the PRIMARY way your fans see and engage with your content. I’ve seen some folks recently suggest that companies should add a line item to budgets for 2013 for Facebook advertising costs (I’m guessing that’s already happening in 2012, too). After what I’ve seen the last few months with my clients, I can’t argue with that suggestion.

Now, I’m not suggesting brands need to promote every post, or turn every post into a sponsored story. But certainly if you want to succeed on Facebook, whether your goals are engagement, reach or leads, you’re going to have to invest monetarily in the tool.

That could be $2,000 a month for smaller clients. Or, it could be $10-20,000 a month for larger brands. Depends on your pockets–and ultimately, it depends on how much focus you want to put on Facebook as a brand driver.

But make no mistake about it, Facebook advertising is becoming ESSENTIAL to success on the platform.

What do you think? Do you agree with that position based on what you’ve seen on Facebook with your clients/organization the last few months?

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16 comments on “Is advertising now absolutely necessary for Facebook brand success?

  1. bigboxcar says:

    Totally agree with your post. We’re also noticing that making a post a sponsored post grows organic engagement as well. Although it’s good to figure out how to get that engagement back, it makes me think Facebook may not be a good marketing tool long-term (Esp for smaller brands).

  2. gregseitz says:

    I think you’re absolutely right. The only thing you didn’t mention is that Facebook will tell you how many people you’re reaching with each post. Posts on one page I manage with 20,000 fans tells me any given post reaches just three to seven percent of its fans. 
    For another page I manage (nearly 5,000 fans), coming up on Give to the Max Day on Thursday, we have some really cool new content we are going to share that day to encourage donations. I just looked into advertising and I think we’re going to pay about $40 total to promote two posts to reach the maximum number of fans that day. I’m quite certain the return on that expenditure will make it worthwhile — just a couple more donations needed to cover the cost, which shouldn’t be too much to expect from reaching five to seven times the number of people our non-sponsored posts reach.
    A lot of pages have lately been asking fans to take additional steps to add the page to an interest list, or sign up for notifications, to not miss any posts. I admire the tenacity, but doubt many people follow through, and you still have the problem of only a small percentage of people seeing the request!
    My approach is to encourage more sign-ups for email newsletters. At least there I can count on about 20-25 percent of people who are signed up actually opening the message and seeing the content. But planning on sponsored content (I like your one post per week plan) also seems like a must.
    Wow, I really didn’t intend to write this much! I guess it’s been on my mind a lot lately.

  3. kmskala says:

    This topic gets me fired up and I’m glad Facebook is making these changes.
    To answer your question, yes, I agree.

  4. KelleeMagee says:

    Arik: I completely agree with your assertions here, if the goal is to achieve “success on the Facebook platform”.  The bigger question remains whether or not “success on the platform” is absolutely necessary for businesses – on that question, I personally suspect that the jury is still out, and the answer is (and should be) varied based on the business asking the question.

  5. bigboxcar says:

    @KelleeMagee Actually, I think it all boils down to “reach”. If my client has 50k fans and I only reach 2,000 of them with an organic post, I have a problem. I’m in the camp that I STILL have a problem even if I can reach triple that by promoting a post. Also, I don’t see the pricing for reaching 100% of my client’s fans, which seems wrong. Imagine if your email sending service told you that your email campaign would not be delivered to all the email addresses in your list? Wut?This will sort itself out. We’ll move to a solid strategy being successful on Facebook when Facebook stops tinkering with Edgerank and gets their pricing figured out.

  6. KelleeMagee says:

    @bigboxcar Good question – if they’re going to sell outcomes (reach) then why don’t they sell 100%?  Your last 2 sentences are interesting, though – I haven’t seen a lot of ‘stop tinkering’ in Facebook’s past, so it’s hard to imagine it in their future. If they do get it all sorted out, I wonder how much of the community will still be actively engaged there (and thus worth purchasing reach for). Is the decline in interaction levels causal or coincidental as other interactive communities become vibrant? Will be interesting to watch unfold, that’s for sure!

  7. arikhanson says:

    @KelleeMagee Right, agree. But, many brands are using Facebook successfully as a key brand and lead driver at this point. Now, to continue that in the year ahead, it will require advertising dollars (although many of the brands using Facebook successfully to date, I suspect, are already using advertising heavily).

  8. arikhanson says:

    @gregseitz Email still trumps Facebook, in my view, from a marketing perspective. But, Facebook still has a spot (for now). And, with that spot, comes dollars (for now). I doubt what you’re observing above about people asking fans to add pages to interest lists will have much impact. That’s asking far too much of people. From what from I’ve seen, it’s very, very difficult to get any fan to do anything more than click like or leave a very simple comment.
    Thanks for the comment Greg!

  9. ScottMeis says:

    Great topic my man. Enter the “slush fund” era where community managers need to be able to have available funds to drive beyond organic reach and light up promoted posts in real-time. Can’t really blame Fbook, a glance at their stock explains it all. The stark reality brands now face is battling for attention against your fans’ friends. Cute baby pics, wedding photo albums, stunning sunset shots…you name it, brands now go toe to toe against content we’re far more inclined to trust and pay attention to posted by our nearest and dearest. For PR/marketing folks, will be an interesting time as we lay our claim and need for those slush funds to be segmented out from ad agencies.

  10. KelleeMagee says:

    @arikhanson I suspect you’re right! I’m not a marketing expert, but it does affect so much of the operations/customer interaction side of things. Some of my clients (on the nonprofit/events/small business side) are seeing dramatic dropoff in what Facebook used to deliver (partly due to EdgeRank, I suspect, and partly due to user fatigue/crowded platform/shiny object syndrome).  $2000 – $5000 ++ per month is real dollars and likely more smartly spent in other ways to engage their current and potential community.

  11. gregseitz says:

    @arikhanson  @gregseitz Absolutely agree about email, though as you’ve said elsewhere in the thread, brands need to decide if Facebook is a channel worth pursuing and, if it is, think about allocating funds to increase engagement. In both of the cases I mentioned above, we do email and Facebook, and are considering promoting some FB content. I have no intention of bothering to ask anyone to go through some convoluted process on Facebook to see our posts — especially since it will probably change soon anyway! Thanks for the post.

  12. Thank you for writing this. It’s bad enough that companies consider social media ‘free’ to begin with (yo, time costs money), but now that once ‘free’ channel ain’t so free. We’ve seen it coming – Pages I used ads for grew at a rapidly faster pace than Pages I didn’t have ads for, despite posting similar content/frequency. In fact, I’ve worked with clients who had ads running and stopped, only to see the engagement, reach, likes, etc on the Page come to pretty much a complete halt. It’s amazing. 
    We need more people like you admitting that Ads/Promoted Posts are no longer an option. We need that advertising budget not to just be an optional, ‘maybe someday’ line on the budget, but something that is factored in from the get go. 
    – Danielle Hohmeier, Online Marketing Manager at Atomicdust