Checkmate – Facebook’s influencer marketing gambit

Mark Zuckerberg made big news last week when he announced that Facebook is changing the way its algorithm works. Zuckerberg positioned this as a move aimed at maximizing user well-being. There may be research to back that up. But it’s also a canny move that will give Facebook a way to capture an ever-bigger slice of the influencer marketing pie.

Let me explain.

The algorithm change will prioritize posts by people – especially close friends and contacts – in users’ newsfeeds. This will deprioritize brand and publisher content, relatively speaking.

If posts from people you know are prioritized, it’s reasonable to assume this could mean a relative rise in importance for influencer marketing. So this could mean that brands find it more effective to reach people through influencers than through their own branded pages. Influencers are people, after all.

This is already the case, to a great extent. Organic reach on FB has petered out to next to nothing since the “reachpocalypse” of 2012.

But as we’ll see, Facebook has already taken steps to ensure that they get a big slice of the Cambrian explosion of those influencer marketing dollars.

Enter the Branded Partner feature

The real kicker here is Facebook’s other move: the Branded Partner feature, implemented in the latter half of last year. This feature allows an influencer to tag a brand that is sponsoring a particular post. The post then shows up in newsfeeds marked with a special ‘sponsored’ tag, thus satisfying FTC regulatory requirements. For the brand’s part, the brand then gets analytics access, and the ability to boost the post with paid spend.

With this functionality in place, Facebook could strangle reach on sponsored influencer posts, as well. Now, we haven’t seen any direct evidence of this yet, but it would be consistent with their moves so far . . . not to mention completely logical from a commercial point of view.

Facebook is closing the trap

With the Branded Partner feature, theoretically any influencer, no matter how small their following, can have their content boosted to whatever targeted audience you want. So selecting influencers based on reach is less important.

However, this comes with a really important implication.

That’s because the Branded Partner feature is only available to influencers who have set themselves up as a business page.

Legally speaking, any influencers active on FB in a commercial capacity need a business page for legal compliance reasons.

But the algorithm change is probably going to strangle the reach on those, too.

Checkmate

So where do we stand?

Brand activity on Facebook won’t show up in users’ newsfeeds often, if at all.

So, brands now need paid spend to reach people at scale on Facebook.

Influencers creating authentic content will show up in users’ newsfeeds relatively more often, now brand content has been deprioritized.

However, influencers in commercial partnerships with brands are legally mandated to use the Branded Partner feature.

Facebook can strangle reach on this feature too, requiring brands to pay more for targeted support.

This boils down to is checkmate: to reach their audiences through Facebook, it seems brands may soon have no choice but to pay.

Unless . . .

. . . unless you can generate genuine word-of-mouth.

To do that, you can’t focus on big-name super-huge influencers who are big enough to be brands in their own right, like Logan Paul.

What you need is to understand and work with the ‘upstream’ influencers – the real subject matter experts and connectors who drive discussions before the big amplifiers get involved.

This is why sophisticated influencer discovery and analytics methodologies are more important now than ever. Unless you can map the actual dynamics of online conversation – or partner with someone who can – your social and influencer efforts boil down to a brute-force paid reach play.

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