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


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!”


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.


Smile…you’re on Google!

Anyone with an active Google+ account might want to take a closer look at their profile picture going forward as it could end up appearing in more places than usual.

From 11 November, Google plans to incorporate people’s profile pictures, and their comments about products and places, into more of its adverts.

Under the new terms of its shared endorsements policy, the name and photo a user has on their Google+ account could be included in search ads. For example, if someone searches for ‘spa resorts’ and a Google+ user has reviewed or commented on a spa resort that has a PPC ad appearing for those keywords, their review (along with their name and Google+ profile image) could show up as part of the ad.


In response to this apparent invasion of privacy, some Google+ users have launched a protest against shared endorsements by replacing their profile photos with pictures of Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt.


Google has responded by saying users can easily opt out of the new policy but many will be unaware that the change is even taking place. And unless users choose to opt out, Google will reserve the right to use their name and photo in ads for products, services, and businesses whose pages and content they’ve interacted with in some way.

While some people are outraged over the new policy the simple fact is that using people’s data, especially for advertising, is how social networks and internet giants make their money. So if we +1, like, tweet, upload, review a product, or leave comments on a social network site, we should accept that the information could potentially be used in all manner of public ways.

Facebook faced strong criticism over a similar system called sponsored stories which it rolled out in 2011. Legal action following the criticism eventually led to Facebook paying out $20m in compensation to people whose images it used without permission.

It’s possible that something as serious will happen to Google. Indeed, American senator Edward Markey has already sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) asking the agency to investigate whether the shared endorsements policy change violates the terms of Google’s 2011 privacy settlement with the FTC over its long-dead Buzz feature, in which Google promised not to change its privacy settings without explicit permission from users. Watch this space. 

Think before you ‘like’

Facebook might know a little bit more about you than you think.

A recent study has shown that personal information such as a user’s sexuality and even their drug use can be correctly inferred by studying their ‘likes’ on Facebook.

The research from Cambridge University into 58,000 Facebook users in the United States found that personal and sometimes highly sensitive information about a person such as their race, sexual orientation, political views, drug taking habits and even their IQ could be correctly inferred by simply studying the pages that the person had ‘liked’ on Facebook – even if the user hadn’t chosen to publicly publicise that information.

After running Facebook ‘likes’ through a sophisticated algorithm, the researchers were able to tell with 88% accuracy whether a man was gay or straight for example. What’s important to note is that fewer than 5% of the gay men in the study had clicked obvious ‘likes’ such as gay marriage, so the researchers were able to tell a person’s sexuality through far less revealing ‘likes’ (such as the No H8 Campaign and Wicked the Musical for example).

In addition, 75% of the time the researchers could tell whether a Facebook user took illegal drugs and 95% of the time they could tell the person’s race. The researchers could even tell whether users’ parents had separated by the time they were 21 or not!

On the one hand, this could be positive news for Facebook users as it means Facebook should be able to target them with more relevant ads and news content in the future. On the other hand, it shows once more how dangerous the use of social media can often be from a basic privacy point of view.


Happy birthday to you…

On 3 December 2012 the humble text turned 20 years old.

Back in December 1992 engineer Neil Papworth created history by sending the world’s first ever text. The message simply read ‘Merry Christmas’ and was sent to Neil’s friend, Richard Jarvis, who worked as a Vodafone director at the time.

Unfortunately, Richard couldn’t return the festive greeting from his clunky Orbital 901 phone as it had no way of inputting text.

Indeed, it wasn’t until one year later that Finnish phone-maker Nokia debuted the first mobile phone that was capable of sending texts.

Early text messages — which had to be painstakingly entered on numerical keypads and typed out fully — were free, but could only be sent between two people on the same network and this would remain the standard for quite a few years.

Today, over 8 trillion text messages are sent around the world each year, no doubt aided by the success of reality TV shows, where viewers are asked to vote by text for their favourite contestant.

Although once viewed as mainly the preserve of younger users, texting has increased in popularity to become the de facto mode of communication for almost all age groups.

Over the years the SMS (short messaging service) has been hailed for its efficiency and ease of use but also blamed for everything from sore thumbs to the decline of conversation and writing standards! At just 190 bytes and 160 characters, the modest text message isn’t the most glamorous or elaborate form of communication, and that’s probably a major reason why it’s become so widespread.

Nevertheless, although the number of texts sent each year continues to grow worldwide, there are signs that in more developed markets at least, its usage is beginning to decline. The widespread popularity of social media and the increasing adoption of smartphones has given people a whole host of new ways to communicate with each other. Why send a text when you can tweet, iMessage, BBM, WhatsApp, or post a status update?

So even though the humble text is only 20 years old, will it live to see its 30s? Indeed, what other ways will we be communicating with each in another 20 years’ time?

Did you know…

According to the Guinness World Records, Melissa Thompson (UK), holds the record for sending the fastest text message on a touch screen phone.

The phone used was a Samsung Galaxy S, with SWYPE technology. The text consisted of 160 characters or 26 words and she sent the following text in just 25.94 seconds on 22 August 2010.

“The razor-toothed piranhas of the genera Serrasalmus and Pygocentrus are the most ferocious freshwater fish in the world. In reality they seldom attack a human.”