Is Facebook now just “Pay for Display” for brands?

While Facebook’s news feed algorithms don’t generate quite the same level of interest and passion among digital marketers as Google’s SEO metrics, it doesn’t mean they’re any less deserving of our attention.

Yet it appears many brands still don’t properly understand how Facebook’s algorithms work. For example, many brands still believe that almost everything they post on their Facebook pages will be seen by their fans and followers. However, the reality couldn’t be any further from the truth.

Each day, the average Facebook user could be exposed to as many as 1,500 posts from friends and brands that they follow. But because of space, and to avoid clogging up a user’s news feed, Facebook will only display a limited number of these posts. Facebook therefore decides what posts to show users, and where, based on data on both the post and the user themselves.  As a result, very little of what a brand posts on Facebook these days will actually be seen by its followers.

Back in 2012 it was estimated that around 16% of a brand’s organic posts would reach users. By this year that estimate was down to 6%. And with Facebook set to apply yet another update to its news feed algorithm in early 2015, this level of organic reach is expected to fall even further. Strangely, the more fans a brand has, the less organic reach they appear to achieve.

Facebook reach for organic posts

As the above graph shows, the majority of posts from brands won’t ever be seen their fans and followers. So even if a brand has millions of fans, if its posts are not what Facebook’s algorithm considers “quality,” they may reach very few people.

But consistently producing high-quality content, which Facebook deems so good that it merits display on a user’s news feed, is easier said than done. Increasingly, if brands want people to see their content, they’ll have to pay for the privilege. “Pay for display” if you will.

In many ways, this is hardly surprising. Facebook is a huge publicly-listed business after all. And just like any business, it needs to turn a profit for its shareholders.

If brands willingly pay other mediums such as TV, radio, newspaper and websites to carry their messages, why should Facebook and social media in general be any different? Why should Facebook be expected to help businesses advertise for free?

The drive towards “pay for display” on Facebook is also due to competition and the success of Facebook itself. As more and more brands move onto Facebook each year, and more and more users “like” company pages, there is simply less space on the Facebook news feed to display content from them all. As such, those brands that pay for their content to be displayed will be given pride of place over everyone else in the Facebook “shop window”.

Nevertheless, it seems many brands have simply gotten too used to using Facebook as a free advertising tool. Even though Facebook has drastically changed the rules of the game, many still have their head stuck in the sand and have resorted to simply complaining, or continuing to post organic content in the mistaken belief (hope?) that it’ll be seen by enough people.

Facebook did recently update its account settings to allow people more control over what they see on their news feed. The update gives users insight into why certain posts are included and lets people filter posts from specific people and pages. It’s also allowed users easily change their news feed view between Top Stories (based on Facebook’s algorithm) and Most Recent. Nevertheless, like so many Facebook changes, it’s unlikely many users will be aware of this new update or how they can customise their news feeds.

In short, Facebook is still a great way to connect with your customers and market to them. But you’ll need to get out the company credit card and start spending big if you actually hope to be able to reach them all through Facebook in the future.

A history of Facebook's news feed algorithm

#IOU – Twitter enters the payment services market


When Apple launched its latest iPhone in September one of the most talked about features was the Apple Pay service, which will allow iOS users to pay for good and services through their smartphones and has the potential to revolutionise the way we pay for things. And recently it’s been rumoured that Facebook is close to launching a new payment system also that will allow users to transfer money via the social network.

Not one to be left behind, and beating Apple and Facebook to it, Twitter has just launched its own innovative new way to pay for things – by tweeting of course. It’s teamed up with French mobile payment company S-money, a subsidiary of banking group BPCE, (France’s second largest bank), to offer users a new way to send each other money. The service allows anyone with a Twitter account and a bank card to ‘tweet money’ regardless of what bank they use, and without requiring the sender to know the recipient’s banking details.

To make an S-money payment over Twitter, the sender and the recipient must first link their Twitter usernames to their S-money accounts, and the sender must also install the S-money app on their smartphones. After that, it’s as simple as sending a tweet to @SmoneyFR with the hashtag #envoyer (‘send’ in French), the amount in euros and the Twitter username of the recipient.

Although a relatively fun and innovative way to pay, it remains to be seen whether the service will be a success or even expanded outside of France. So far the S-money app has just 100,000 downloads, leaving plenty of room for growth.

In truth, the service isn’t vastly different from the mobile to mobile payment services that have been launched by banks throughout Europe recently. These services allow users to transfer money through their phones by downloading and logging on to the relevant app on their smartphone and then using the recipient’s phone number to send them money, a service which S-money also provides. So what’s the compelling reason to use Twitter?

Since its launch, Twitter’s profitability has lagged behind that of Facebook and other rivals. It’s considered by many to be a ‘niche’ social media network and it still relies heavily on advertising for most of its revenue. Twitter’s success in developing additional services on its platform, as Facebook has done, will be key to its future profitability and industry observers will no doubt be watching the success of this new service closely.

But do social media users really want to use their accounts for anything other than status updates, tweets, looking at photos, and keeping in touch? Can Twitter and Facebook ever hope to be the new eBay or PayPal? Only time will tell…

Last month, Twitter started trials of its other new service, dubbed ‘Twitter Buy’, which enables an initial test number of users to buy products and services directly from their Twitter feeds from various partners such as Burberry and Home Depot. The service embeds a ‘Twitter Buy’ button inside tweets, and is enabled by San Francisco-based start-up Stripe. Twitter is expected to expand the service to more users as well as increase the number of retail partners in the coming months.

An Irish drag queen, social media and the ability to inspire collective activism

By Daragh Cassidy

The power of social media to inspire political upheaval and social change is profound.

In the Arab world, The Arab Spring was heavily influenced by Twitter, as citizens within areas affected by the uprisings used it as a means for collective activism in order to circumvent state-operated media channels and censorship. In Iran, government demonstrators and political opponents have often used Twitter as a means for collective activism too, so much so that the authorities have regularly banned its use in order to try suppress public dissent.

More recently, in Ireland, the power of social media to effect social change and spark activism was laid bare once more through events surrounding a debate on the issues of equality, homophobia and gay marriage.

It all started when Irish drag artist Panti Bliss (a.k.a. Rory O’Neill) performed on the late-night Saturday Night Show on RTE, the Irish state broadcaster. After the performance Rory was interviewed by host Brendan O’Connor as himself and spoke about gay attitudes in Ireland and the issue of homophobia.

During the interview Rory called the Iona Institute, a conservative right-wing Catholic lobby group based in Ireland, homophobic. His rationale for this was that they actively campaign against equal rights for gay people in areas such as marriage, employment and adoption. Rory also called the Irish journalist John Waters homophobic for similar reasons.

Rory a.k.a. Panti Bliss being interviewed on Irish TV

Rory a.k.a. Panti Bliss being interviewed on Irish TV

Little did RTE or Rory know what the ramifications of the interview would be.

Shortly after the interview was aired, the Iona Institute and John Waters threatened to take a defamation case against RTE, claiming they were defamed for having been labelled ‘homophobic’ on the TV show. Although the Iona Institute and RTE have since released wildly differing accounts of exactly what happened, the end result was that RTE paid out €85,000 in damages to John Waters and five members of the Iona Institute: Breda O’Brien, David Quinn, Dr Patricia Casey, Dr John Murray and Maria Steen, despite some of these people not even being named in the interview.

The reaction from the public was overwhelmingly negative. Many people felt it was wrong of state-funded RTE to pay out taxpayers’ money to the Iona Institute and John Waters and people questioned the impact the decision would have on freedom of speech. As Ireland will vote on the issue of gay marriage next year, people questioned how a civilised debate could now take place on the issue without fear of insults and threats of defamation.

As the furor over the payout escalated, RTE remained silent, no doubt hoping the controversy would die down. Panti, however, did no such thing.

They say a picture says a thousand words. In the digital age it’s a video. A gifted performer and excellent orator, Panti took to the stage at the end of a play in the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, to give a rousing, emotional and thought-provoking speech on the issues of homophobia and oppression.

Panti performing her speech at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin

Panti performing her speech at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin

The speech was filmed and then placed on YouTube. Since being uploaded, Panti’s ‘Noble Call’ has become a YouTube sensation. The speech has already been viewed over half a million times and been applauded by famous celebrities such as Madonna, Graham Norton, Stephen Fry and Martina Navratilova.

The speech has also been picked up by news outlets across the world and been translated into over a dozen languages. The hashtag #TeamPanti began trending on Twitter as people showed their support for Rory and t-shirts emblazoned with the words I’m On Team Panti began appearing in clothes shops around Dublin.

I'm On Team Panti t-shirts on sale in a shop in Dublin

I’m On Team Panti t-shirts on sale in a shop in Dublin

What was so interesting was that the speech, fuelled by social media, managed to provoke a wide-ranging and frank debate on marriage equality, gay rights and the issue of homophobia in Ireland, which in many people’s opinion was long overdue. Indeed, the video became so popular that the topic of homophobia and RTE’s payout was discussed all over Irish prime-time TV, the radio, and by government ministers in the Irish house of parliament.  

Social media continues to be used as an effective channel for marketers to advertise their products and services. As events in Iran, the Arab world, and now Ireland have shown, a far more important use is its ability to drive social and political change and debate.

And when you have a drag queen added to the mix that helps too I guess…


Thou shalt tweet responsibly!

By Daragh Cassidy

We all know of The Ten Commandments but how many of us know The Nine Twitter Commandments?

A Church of England diocese has made a first by issuing a list of Twitter ‘commandments’ to its staff and clergy, such as urging them to consider God when tweeting to the masses!

The Bath and Wells diocese said it had compiled the nine rules to help “spread the word of God in the most effective way”.

The guidelines range from practical security advice to more faith-based instructions, such as asking would-be religious tweeters to ask themselves: “Would I want God to read this?” before they type anything.

The diocese also advises staff not to hide behind anonymous profiles and to always reveal their identity. Other rules stipulate that users shouldn’t divulge too much personal information when tweeting, that they should always respect the law, and to remember that tweeting can leave a permanent digital footprint.

Diocese’s nine Twitter commandments

  • Don’t rush in
  • Remember tweets are transient yet permanent
  • Be a good ambassador for the Church
  • Don’t hide behind anonymity
  • Be aware of public/private life boundaries
  • Maintain a professional distance
  • Stay within the law
  • Respect confidentiality
  • Be mindful of your own security

In fairness, it all sounds like pretty good advice, which anyone could do well to consider, regardless of their religious affiliations! Although compared to The Ten Commandments some of the rules do seem a bit on the dull side, no? And whether God approves of the new rules we’ve yet to be told!

However, the Church of England should at least be given credit for recognising (like any other organisation should) the importance of a well-defined social media policy and the value of educating staff on how best to use the medium.

So what next for the Church and digital marketers…The Eight PPC Google AdWords Commandments?

Might I suggest the first?

“Thou shalt not waste copious amounts of money bidding ridiculous sums on everyday keywords!”


The tweeting Great White sharks

By Daragh Cassidy


Authorities in Western Australia have found a novel way to warn people about the dangers of swimming in the country’s shark-infested waters. They’ve created a Twitter account for sharks which automatically posts tweets whenever they come into close contact with beaches!

Scientists have attached small transmitters to hundreds of sharks in the region, including Great Whites, to monitor their movements near public beaches. Whenever the sharks swim within about a one kilometre distance of a beach, the transmitter triggers an automatic alert which is picked up by a computer. The computer then sends out a tweet from the Surf Life Saving Western Australia’s Twitter account (@SLSWA) to warn surfers and beach goers about the potential dangers.

Screenshot 2014-01-14 12.11.14The tweet even gives the size and breed of the shark, and its approximate location. Each transmitter can last up to a decade so they also provide a huge amount of invaluable scientific information about the behaviour and migration patterns of sharks.

Sharks are common around most of Australia’s shores and the country’s love of surfing and the outdoors, combined with its great weather, means people spend a lot of time in the water and more and more surfers and swimmers are coming into ever closer contact with the fish. The unfortunate result is that shark attacks on people are on the increase around Australia and Western Australia is now the world’s deadliest place for shark attacks. In November a surfer, Chris Boyd, was fatally attacked by a shark and became the sixth person to be killed by a shark in the region in just two years.

Recently there has been huge debate in Australia about how to tackle the problem of shark attacks. Some Australians have called for the widespread culling of sharks to be reintroduced in order to control their numbers; a practice outlawed decades ago in order to protect the once endangered species. However environmentalists and animal rights campaigners have vigorously opposed any moves to reintroduce the legal killing of the fish, calling the idea senseless and unwarranted. But with shark attacks on the rise, something needs to be done.

Authorities in Australia have long patrolled beaches for sharks using helicopters and boats but there was often a delay in relaying the information to beach goers. The recent spate of attacks has prompted local government to try think of new, and more efficient ways, of warning people about potential dangers and preventing incidents. Using Twitter, which warns people of the dangers almost instantly, and leaves the sharks alone, seems like the perfect way to protect the lives of beach goers…and save the sharks too!


Banner ads on Google…a step too far?

By Daragh Cassidy


Google has come a long way since it was founded by Larry Page and Sergey Brin in 1998.

The small company that once provided just internet search results has turned into a behemoth of a corporation involved in almost every area of digital life: social media, email, online advertising, mapping, cloud storage and much much more. Google now even provides (a pretty decent) language translation service!

The Google search site has also come a long way since it first appeared in 1998. The simple, uncluttered look and feel of the site has gradually been replaced by an increasingly ‘busy’ looking site over the years. These days, whenever anyone searches on Google, paid search ads take up an ever increasing amount of space. And if a company that you’re searching for has a Google+ profile page, then expect that to feature prominently too.

Google has also been giving personalised search results for several years. This means that two people searching for the same thing might get very different search results depending on their past browsing history and what Google perceives their interests to be. This is despite that fact that in 2005, Marissa Mayer, the then head of search and user experience, wrote that Google would never provide “biased” search results.

However, another more sacrosanct promise now seems to have been broken. Mayer, who worked at Google for 13 years before moving to Yahoo! as CEO, also vowed there would be: “…no banner ads on the Google homepage or web search results pages. There will not be crazy, flashy, graphical doodads flying and popping up all over the Google site. Ever”.

Until now that is…

Because Google has confirmed that it is testing a system with about 30 advertisers in the US in which it will show banner ads for these companies when people search for topics that include them in web search results. Google declined to say how long the test will run for, when it might be extended outside the US, or what the criteria for success – or failure – would be.


For advertisers, this must seem like a marketing dream. Google is the world’s most-used search engine and one of the world’s most visited sites. And while AdWords provides a way for advertisers to target internet search users, the format hardly allows for a brand to communicate any type of rich, engaging or creative message. Banner ads (or better still, rich media, GIF animated banners!!) would provide a fantastic way for advertisers to get their message across to the hundreds of millions of people who use Google’s search engine every day.

But is the idea really right for Google itself?

Advertisers have been less willing to pay for ad space recently, forcing Google to increase the overall volume of ads that it sells. The banner ad tests come amid a push by Google to move from purely text-based ads to ones that feature videos, photos and other forms of visual information. This is understandable given the increasingly “visual” age in which we now live.

However, one of the major reasons why Google gained so much attention when it started in 1998 was because its opening search page, and following results page, were uncluttered by adverts and other elements such as banner ads. Users adored the clean look and feel of the site and this was one of the main reasons the company quickly overtook the Yahoo! search engine in so many markets – just compare the Google home page to that of Yahoo! But with AdWords and now banners ads clogging up search results, this uncluttered look and feel is quickly being eroded.

In the short term, banner ads may seem like a great way for Google to maximise revenue and make even more profits. But in the longer term, people may view all Google’s advertising as an annoyance and start moving back to simpler search alternatives.


Not another social media #fail

The perils of social media were laid bare once more when a planned question and answer session on Twitter with the American investment bank JPMorgan Chase & Co backfired badly for the company.

No doubt attempting to appear au courant with all things marketing and digital related, the bank asked Twitter users to send in questions via the network to its vice chairman Jimmy Lee with the hashtag #AskJPM. Jimmy was there, as the PR agents put it, to “answer your questions on leadership and life”.

However, the idea soon descended into farce with most people using the upcoming “event” as the perfect opportunity to mock the company and make their hostile feelings about JPMorgan well known.

A woman who said she was a community organiser and “next gen freedom fighter” asked if Mr Lee thought it was “ok to outright lie, cheat and steal”. “Matt” wanted to know Mr Lee’s favourite type of whale, while another user known as “Guerrilla Educator” asked if anyone in Mr Lee’s family had ever been foreclosed upon.

The user “Wu- Tang Financial” pretty much summed things up nicely when he loudly asked: “IS IT A FAIR ASSUMPTION THAT YO SOCIAL MEDIA TEAM DID NOT PROPERLY PROTECT YA NECK?”

The event, scheduled for lunchtime today, was quickly cancelled by the company before it had even officially begun, who admitted that it was a “bad idea” (well at least they were honest!) 


Ironically, JPMorgan was an underwriter of Twitter’s recent initial public offering of stock so one would have presumed they knew exactly what they were getting into. Besides, banks are hardly the most loved of institutions at even the best of times so the level of hostility directed towards JPMorgan should hardly have come as a surprise. 

A Q&A session with British Gas in October unleashed a similar level of loathing by the public and made world headlines for the company for all the wrong reasons. And who can forget last year, when a McDonald’s Twitter promotion using the hashtag #McDstories was hijacked by customers who used it to spread their horror stories of the fast food giant across the social networking site.

The British Monetary Policy Committee (who?) also had a Q&A Twitter session recently. Thankfully this passed off slightly better, presumably because no one really had a clue what to ask about monetary policy or quantitative easing.  

The lesson? While Twitter and social media have powerful benefits for companies it needs to be remembered that social media is also a two-way conversation between a company AND its customers and it can be a very public and easy place for companies to get things wrong. The seemingly best of ideas can quickly turn into the stuff of PR nightmares.

A company always needs to have clear social media objectives and to have a well-defined plan in place too. Having a well resourced team of social media experts is also important. And remember, just because everyone else seems to be doing something on social media doesn’t mean you need to too!