Marketers haven’t been too happy with Facebook in the last few months. The gradual, brutal dismantling of all things related to organic reach has left us feeling hopeless. It really was mean, wasn't it? Knowing that no matter how witty the copy, how beautiful the image, or how imaginative the idea, your post is simply going nowhere without any spend. 'Facebook Zero' has taken over, even the value of likes and comments has dropped due to the new update last week.
As result of all this, you have most likely heard people talk about how Facebook is dead for brands; you've also read cool stories like this one; and you've asked the question, “Why stay if I don’t have a big budget?” At first, I was frustrated too. But, as I contemplated it more and more, a realisation occurred and now I sulk no longer.
These changes are just a small step in Facebook's grand transformation. There was a time when Google dwarfed Facebook in terms of numbers and data, but the tide is turning and Facebook is becoming an all too real threat to the assemblage of search engines.
All Facebook’s small changes are interconnected and pointing towards its long-term direction. There’s been mentions of how Facebook could vanish completely within a couple of years – where else can they go/what else to do/which services are left to integrate. But how naïve we’ve been to even think it! In my opinion now, not only is Facebook here to stay, it has barely scratched the surface.
And here’s why:
It Will be a Better Search Engine
The Facebook Graph Search function has been quietly implemented across the globe since 2013, but not to everyone. Whether you have it depends on where you are in the world (for Ireland & UK based, change your language setting from English UK to English US and it will update). What is it? A basic search function on the site that gives you semantic search results; related to you and your connections. These search results are specifically tailored to you personally and are possible due to the large amount of data built over the time you have spent engaging and connecting with people, brands and communities.
Just as it has transformed into a complete advertising platform, Facebook will continue to develop this product and implement it to the masses. Facebook knows exactly who we are. It has major advantage over Google with its function based on real people and not the cookies Google relies on.
In the future, search results through Facebook for your ‘favourite burrito bar’ will depend on where your friends have recently visited; how they personally ranked that spot; their posts and timeline activity; and maybe even their Instagram pictures of their favourite beef classic with salsa. WhatsApp could have a part to play in all of this too. Its search is far more related to you with every search being related to people you know, where they go and what they think. It is our human nature to choose peer recommendation over experts’. That’s what makes this so valuable. And that’s why search will become a much more influential ‘pillar’ of the entire Facebook platform.
But Google Has Its Own Social Network too, right?
Can’t this help with their own personalised search? I haven’t talked to a marketer that has used Google+ for anything other than SEO... Relentless posting with no engagement = people simply don’t engage or share with Google+. Google do alter your search results depending on who and what is in your Google+ circles, but people aren't taking part in its communities. Facebook is a social network that’s slowly becoming a search engine, which is its advantage. It has our profiles and information already. Google has to go the opposite way, search to social, which is very much swimming against the tide.
It could be said that Google is almost trying to blackmail us marketers to use Google+ due to the social proof they are giving the +1 in search results, Youtube, etc. It has made it the heart of its products and that is what has given Facebook the edge. Without this blackmail we wouldn't be there. Google announced last month that it’s breaking its Streams and Photos into standalone products, this implies that Google+ might not be around, as we know it, for much longer.
The Key Battle for Asia
Asia holds the pair of aces. With over a third of the world's population residing in India and China alone, how could it not? That’s around 800 million active internet users. Both Google and Facebook have had strong growth in India. According to eMarketer, the region will surpass the US to lead the global total of the largest Facebook user-base on mobile by 2017. Asia now has over 426 million active monthly users on Facebook, dwarfing its recent rate of growth in Europe and the US. Google has shown promise in India too, even designing the Android One specifically to meet needs of the Indian market segment.
But where it all gets interesting is China.
We tend to forget that Google and Facebook aren't everywhere. Both have been wrestling with the Chinese government to lift censorship and gain access to 18% of the world’s population. However, both sides’ approach here has varied. Google seems to be fighting a losing battle, as every one of its product it has been blocked or censored. The Chinese internet authority and Google even had a public dispute over website certificates of trust last month, leading to news titles such as 'Google and China are at war over the internet' - which doesn't sound too promising!
Where is Facebook’s advantage? Well, it already has social media networks in China, through WhatsApp and Instagram. WhatsApp has a tough challenge taking on WeChat – China’s app of choice with 400 million users – however when Zuckerburg is meeting up with the likes of Lei Jun, the billionaire founder and CEO of China’s fastest growing smart phone maker Xiaomi, it is safe to say he has an idea or two up his sleeve. Instagram is gaining 100,000 new users in China every week and is a valuable tool for expansion. You can see how Facebook is slowly breaking down the bricks of China’s famous firewall, it even has an established locally based team. There is potential here for Facebook to develop a version of the platform that Chinese authorities will be happy with, and people have been talking about this very thing too.
“Each month, 16% of China's adult internet population say they use Facebook, with millions of Chinese networkers turning to Virtual Private Networks and Proxy Servers in order to bypass the government's restrictions," Jason Mander, GlobalWebIndex's Head of Trends
Zuckerburg himself is publicly getting more involved in China’s tech landscape and he just happens to now also be fluent in Mandarin. If you haven’t watched him, you should. Love or hate Zuckerburg, you can’t but admire such dedication to gaining the winning hand.
A Change in the Wind
The signs are there. I don’t think Google has as much power over Facebook as people think, I believe it is Facebook that now have the upper hand. Yes, Google still compete in mobile ad revenue and will always be a global powerhouse. It is not going to lie down and let Facebook develop a new superior personalised form of search without reacting; its top minds will counter punch. But Facebook sees a much bigger picture, more than we give it the credit for. The battle is underway even though both parties will deny they are in one. The fascinating war of these two giants is only beginning.
My view of Facebook has gone 360 degrees since its formation, but I think now is a time to sit back and admire its ambition and intelligence. With all these changes people are annoyed and doubting it, but I feel it is simply one step back to go two forward. For those marketers out there still mourning the death of Facebook's organic reach, I feel your pain but I say: don’t get left behind.
‘The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.’
And for those Marketers who have left? Brands like Eat24 that publicly left Facebook with their creative open breakup letter? In the short-term, I think that it was a good decision for them, it went viral and they got some good publicity from the story, but in the long term, they will be back. One of the quotes was ‘You lied to us and said you were a social network but you’re totally not a social network.’ Social networks were established originally with an emphasis on people, not brands. Facebook has taken a step back in that direction.
I think Facebook will begin to put more attention on its search function, ultimately building a search results landing page that Google can’t. Many choose to believe Google will always be the go-to search engine but, if I were a betting man, in the long term scale of things, I might just back Team Zuckerberg. What about you?
About the Author
This article was written by Ciaran Neilan, if you would like some information on Marketing jobs contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org