For those that work in social media and keep a close eye on brand activity in social media, and in particular Facebook, there has long been a challenge to understand, interpret and report accurately on the figures and results. Naturally, brands are keen to know exactly how their social media activities are performing, at a basic level in terms of fan acquisition and engagement.
Whilst it is still relatively early days compared to other sectors, brand usage of Facebook can broadly be categorised as one of significant investment in acquisition in 2010 (when brands saw significant increase in fan numbers predominantly through Facebook advertising) and a concentration on fan engagement in 2011 (when brands invested resource in actually leveraging interactions and dialogue with their significant armies of fans). Following that, expectations were that 2012 would be the year of commercial return, as an increasing number of brands looked to implement social commerce functionality to finally contribute towards the bottom line, following significant outlay in building these audiences in the previous two years.
However, something has happened. After all the hard work and enterprise of 2010 and 2011, the engagement and acquisition figures in 2012 appear to be tailing off and brands and their respective social media agencies are beginning to look into possible causes, and wondering about the consequences. Whilst those who live and breathe social engagement via Facebook will (or at least, should) be aware of the EdgeRank algorithm and the impact of the Facebook F8 functional changes, that fan growth and engagement has in some instances (and more broadly as an industry trend) slowed so significantly is cause for concern, or indeed investigation.
Finally, in a recent study on Mashable, a number of industry experts finally published a piece of analysis that clearly shows the slowing of growth in Facebook brand page acquisition and engagement. The slow down is significant indeed. Evidence as to why this is occurring is not forthcoming and the analysis is speculative, but the figures do speak for themselves. For those who work closely in monitoring, measuring and reporting Facebook figures, it is refreshing to finally have access to data that shows this is a global trend. Potential causes include the introduction of various Facebook algorithms as it strives to ensure only relevant information reaches its hoards of users.
That these algorithms have been introduced is morally justifiable; with so many brands and pages vying for user attention, news feeds can quickly become clogged with marketing messages and Facebook is acting as a moral gatekeeper, ensuring through the measurement of user interaction that only the most relevant and desired content is served to users. However, there is a potential flip side to that in that Facebook has generated a significant amount of revenue from brand advertising to attract and engage users (reports such something in the region of $4billion). A cynic might wonder whether quite that level of revenue would have been generated had brands been aware that they were buying fan communication for a very finite period and that in time, if those fans were not interacting with their content, the messages would stop being passed through. It is a cynical view, but in the absence of evidence one that I suspect will be neither proven, nor disappear.
What remains surprising is not so much that this trend for decline has actually been evident since early 2011, but that it has taken 12 months for any real dissent or questioning to surface, and as yet they are only whispers. However, with the advent and growth of Google+, which reports indicate passed 90m users this week, it will be interesting to see if any further information or indeed discontent comes to light.