Everyone who signs up for Facebook is promised “it’s free and it always will be”.
But those who use the giant social network for their internet marketing are discovering that free can have a price.
Social media is great for businesses big and small. Customers like to know who they’re dealing with and you can give your business a real personality with clever use of sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Plus there’s always a chance some brilliant post or picture could send your message viral – the holy grail of internet marketing.
A recent Facebook post from the mother of an autistic child, who’d had wonderful treatment from the staff at the local DIY superstore, got nearly 150,000 likes in just four days. It even reached me, and I’m as likely to go to a B and Q (for it was them) as I am to make the next England squad.
Virals can work in reverse too, the holy fail of internet marketing.
Odeon cinemas and Ryan Air recently found themselves on wrong end of social media complaints that went viral. A well-written rant about the poor service at the local multiplex tests the theory that no publicity is bad publicity but Ryanair’s colourful boss Michael O’Leary responded to his customer’s complaint about exorbitant costs for printing boarding passes in his inimitable style.
Essentially he told her, in four letter language, to sling her hook.
But particularly for small businesses, social media marketing is free, and can even be fun.
Or is it?
Facebook’s idealistic promise to stay free to users is now bumping up against the most unforgiving of masters: the investors who bought into the biggest share offering in years and now want a return.
Mark Zuckerberg’s baby might just have passed a billion users, but turning all those people into cash without breaking various countries’ privacy laws or alienating users is proving difficult.
So, while your personal account is still as free as when you signed up, businesses (and it should be noted, fan sites, blogs, good causes and campaigns) are starting to find that free isn’t always free for them.
If you use the site you’ve almost certainly seen one of the plaintive messages from a shop, record label or band that you ‘like’. It’ll explain that not all its posts are being seen by all its fans and ask you to jump through a relatively simple set of hoops to ensure that they do.
The thing is, people don’t use Facebook to jump through hoops and the complaints from small businesses of dropping traffic via the site are all over the internet.
Some go so far as to accuse the network of a “bait and switch” or ransom demand. What was once free is still available but now you have to pay to get your posts “promoted” to your fans.
Should you be on the lookout for an investment for the future, you might want to consider the Chinese equivalent of Facebook, Qzone. That site learned from their western forebears and charged users (nearly 500 million of them) a very small fee from the off, something Facebook can never, openly, do.
What does this mean for internet marketing? Beyond proving again the cliché that “if it looks too good to be true it probably is” it may lead to small businesses focussing their efforts away from Facebook and on to Twitter while that remains free for all.
That will be a shame for all those business people who’ve really enjoyed their social media marketing experience.
They may find it worthwhile to invest in professional advice or try a product like Adobe Social which claims to be able to put a real value on this form of internet marketing.
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