A Quick History of How Marketers Have Adapted on Facebook

Facebook has changed a lot since it launched in a dorm room almost 12 years ago. What started as a humble social network for Harvard students has now become the most powerful platform on the Internet, with plans to eventually consume the Internet as a whole.

In the beginning, there were no pages, no ads, not even a News Feed. All three features, however, were added quickly after the site’s initial launch. Today, they’re the social network’s defining features.

For most marketers over the age of 25, this is what their first Facebook experience probably looked like:

old Facebook design

Now, it looks something like this:

Facebook mobile UX

I chose that image for two reasons. For one, it shows the platform on an iPhone. Secondly, the image features in-feed ads. These get at two of the biggest transformations happening at Facebook: the movement from organic to paid advertising, and the shift from desktop to mobile.

From organic to paid

In marketing lore, there hasn’t been a bait-and-switch technique quite like the one Facebook employed in the early 2010s. Whether it was nefarious or not is still debated, but either way, its ramifications are still being seen.

Starting around April 2012, organic reach started to plateau at around 16 percent, a fact the social network acknowledged in an update encouraging people to sponsor its posts. By 2014, Ogilvy was publishing a white paper dramatically titled “Facebook Zero: Considering Life After the Demise of Organic Reach.”

So what happened? Facebook had begun to slowly taper off organic reach for brand pages around the same time it began to restrict posts that made use of tactics such as like-baiting, reposting content, and anything it considered spam.

By the time Ogilvy published its report, organic reach on the network had dropped to about six percent; for large pages with more than 500,000 likes, the number was two percent. Facebook organic reach

Simultaneously, Facebook started directly telling agencies and brands they’d have to pay for the same reach. Brands bristled, but there were plenty of legitimate reasons for the move. The spam had gotten out of control, and the social platform had an obligation to optimize its News Feed to show content that people most wanted to see. Still, it was a hard pill for marketers to swallow.

Even with organic reach all but cooked, Facebook has emerged as one of the best ad platforms out there, much to the delight of the marketing world. A recent Forrester report named it as marketers’ favorite social ad platform by a wide margin.

The site’s other big shift of the past few years—from desktop to mobile—is one of the main reasons why.

From desktop to mobile

Though the first iPhone hit stores all the way back in 2007, it wasn’t until a few years ago that the mobile revolution reached its zenith.

As Mary Meeker’s “Internet Trends” report makes clear, vertical viewing (i.e., time spent with content on mobile) has grown from five percent of the total in 2010 to 29 percent this year. As that number continues to grow, desktop media is stagnating and TV is declining.

Facebook vertical viewing

Facebook has been well aware of the where the Internet is headed. For years, the company has been focusing almost entirely on its mobile app and its mobile advertising business.

Facebook revenue growth

As the above chart from Business Insider makes clear, Facebook’s revenue growth has come almost entirely from mobile. Now when a marketers want a mobile ad that will actually function well, they turn to Facebook.

“I think it’s a really great mobile platform,” said Deacon Webster, CCO at digital agency Walrus. “It seems to me that Facebook is the first place that properly cracked mobile. Mobile video on Facebook does incredibly well in terms of engagement. I don’t really see any other mobile ads doing the same sorts of things that Facebook ads do.”

Mobile video has been yet another huge pivot for Facebook as the company continues to monopolize all video content under the banner of its native video player—undoubtedly another huge part of Facebook’s plans for the future.

From referral to native

Despite some controversy, Facebook’s native video player, first introduced in 2014, has been an unbridled success. Beyond the big numbers (4 billion views a day!), anecdotal evidence is enough to demonstrate this point. Go on Facebook and count up how many videos are posted via Facebook’s player versus YouTube’s. I’d be surprised if you found more than one that wasn’t a native Facebook video.

Facebook video shares

Brands have slowly but surely adapted to the trend. According to Socialbakers, a social media analytics company, the number of Facebook videos uploaded by brands increased by nearly 50 percent from May 2014 to December 2014. That’s the most updated number out there, unfortunately, but that percentage has likely grown exponentially since. The 4 billion daily video views reported in April 2015, for example, is up from 3 billion in January of this year, and from 1 billion in September 2014.

In case you needed more proof of how seriously Facebook is taking video, take a gander at this juicy quote from the company’s ad product lead, Ted Zagat: “A year or two from now, we think Facebook will be mostly video.”

Video isn’t the only kind of content folded into the product. Instant Articles are quickly taking over the News Feed as media publishers like The New York Times, BuzzFeed, and The Atlantic, among others, post their own content, and native ads on behalf of publishers, directly on to the platform.

Just a few months after its initial announcement and test run earlier this year, the Instant Articles product is on its way to making referral links obsolete, much like Facebook video did with links from YouTube.

This could have big implications for marketers. For those who use the site as a publishing platform, referral links may become less effective since people are drawn to high-quality content that loads instantly; for those who use it as an ad platform, Facebook will only become more powerful as users stay on the platform instead of going elsewhere.

This is an excerpt from “The Marketer’s Guide to Facebook.”

Image by grafiz

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