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Abusing the Facebook Attention Chain for Negligible Brand Gain

Authors: Jay Baer Jay Baer
Posted Under: Social Media
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Jay Baer Blog PostIt’s now accepted wisdom that successfully getting fans to engage with your brand’s missives on the Facebook platform has a linear impact on impressions due to the EdgeRank algorithm.

When you accumulate disproportionately numerous likes, comments and shares on a post, Facebook shows that post to a larger percentage of your fans. Further, because the EdgeRank framework is inherently a self-fulfilling prophecy, fans that like, comment or share post A will almost assuredly see your subsequent Post B. This creates an attention chain whereby your most loyal fans (in the sense that they habitually “engage” with your Facebook posts) have an ongoing, yet staccato, experience with your company that consists of a series of micro-moments, like holding hands and hopping between lilly pads.

In contemporary social media marketing circles, this is known as “success,” because engagement rate, reach, impressions and even the murky and Valdemortian People Talking About This metric remain high. But there are two problems with this valuation.

Facebook Chum

First, with a few notable exceptions (Oreo’s outstanding Daily Twist campaign, for instance), much of the content being published by brands on Facebook in an effort to keep the attention chain unbroken is of negligible value to the brand. Realize that the goal of Facebook is not to be good at Facebook, but rather to use Facebook to make the brand money, save the brand money, or both. Stringing together an endless series of kitten photos, “would you rather?” false constructs, and fill in the blank exercises that make Mad Libs look like Homeric literature is not creating brand value. This is the garnering of attention for attention’s sake, driven by slavish adherence to metrics that measure whether you’re good at Facebook, not business.

It’s not content about the brand, even tangentially. It’s not content about the brand’s customers, employees, partners, history, differentiating qualities, cultural values, or anything else. It’s just pablum being used as chum to hook the white whale of Edgerank.

Missing Synergy

Second, we’re too often caught in a cycle of editorial isolation on Facebook. The reality – as we found in our most recent research at The Social Habit – is that Facebook is more of a persistent social layer than a social network. Usage of Facebook and integration with it is far and away more pervasive than with any other social outpost. This ubiquity would seem to dictate that Facebook serve as the ignition point and home base for interesting and intriguing social content that can then be tweaked and syndicated out to the brand’s more specific social outposts like Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr and beyond. But the need to preserve the attention chain conspire against that editorial hub and spoke approach. Instead, brands are increasingly trying to win at EdgeRank by posting content that has no purpose or relevancy outside of Facebook whatsoever.

Imagine if brands wholly ignored integration the way it’s often being ignored on Facebook, and other parts of the communication apparatus were allowed to run editorially amok in an attempt to get more attention in each channel. You’d have B2B software company websites dripping with “Keep Calm And _____ On” images, and email newsletters chock full of animated .gifs, hedgehog videos and George Takei reshares.


Back up the bus.

Sure, this kind of meme hunting “works” on Facebook, but how does it tie back to a business outcome?

Likes, comments and shares are only useful if they eventually yield demonstrable brand value. Otherwise, you’re abusing the attention chain and just kicking the can of engagement down a street that will never, ever end.

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