There was a time (although it was never true) that social media was viewed as a free, or at the very least a "cheap" way to achieve scale and reach. We all know that social media is an investment in time, resources, people and, believe it or not, money. However, that couldn't be more true than it is today and will be in the very near future.
Facebook is going public and now has more people it has to answer to, investors. Other platforms like Twitter are working to develop their revenue streams. These platforms need to make money, so their answer is to essentially "break" their platforms for marketers.
Facebook announced that a brand's Facebook posts reach around 16% of its fans despite many marketers’ focus to get more and more fans. What's the answer? Reach Generator. It's a new ad offering that make a brand's posts reach 75% of fans. Why isn't it like this already? Well, Facebook couldn't charge marketers to fix it.
Twitter recently introduced brand pages that offer features traditional profiles don't. Access to these profiles requires a minimum $25,000 investment in the platform. Marketers have to pay to get access to the optimal experience.
Space is Rented
Facebook and Twitter are only two examples. Social networks are established to connect people, but they're also there to make money. A marketer's presence on a platform is rented without a contract, and the landlord can change the rules. We don't own access to the audience, which means they're more than able to limit our success. Facebook's been very smart in its approach to give marketers just enough to want more and pay for it.
Invest and Diversify
There are two key learnings from this shift. First, social media marketing truly isn't free. It can be cost-effective, but platforms are going to want more before they show marketers success. Platforms will continue to build audiences, lure marketers in and then create situations that require marketers to invest more. They'll do it because it works, and these platforms offer excellent opportunities for marketers. It's not necessarily a bad thing. It's just the way it is.
Second, this shows a reason to diversify a brand's social presence. An all-in investment in Facebook, Twitter or other platform may lead to short-term success, but these platforms can change the rules. They can change policies, and they can alter how the platforms work as Facebook has. What if Facebook did away with brand pages (it won't happen, but still...)? The point is to diversify a brand's presence, so it can continue to follow it's own rules, not someone else's. This diversification might mean an owned presence, like a company web page or blog that unifies a company's social presence. Marketers can’t let themselves get trapped.