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Is Facebook Polluting Itself From Within?

By now, if you’re on Facebook enough each day, you’ve probably noticed the persistent presence of some people who think you should know about them. They aren’t your friends and they aren’t Fans of your business page.

No, instead these special un-invented guests to your Facebook News Feed belong to a category of what’s called Suggested Posts. And if they’re any indication of how Facebook “knows” you, its brain isn’t looking so smart.

In any given week, I get posts polluting my Facebook stream pertaining to lowering my bills (with a picture of the ugliest senior citizen you have ever seen), annoying Multi-Level-Marketers, political figures I would never support and more. You’ve undoubtedly run into them too.

Sometimes we want to help our social media channels get to know us better, but we have to be convinced that the networks we choose really “get us” within a very short period of time. If Pandora can help us discover better new music based on our preferences or Amazon can find us better book recommendations, the bar of every channel’s “brain” is going to be raised in terms of speed and accuracy. We’re only going to demand more.

But here’s the thing. I don’t want to help Facebook know me. It’s not even a privacy thing as much as my believing Facebook can’t make better recommendations than they currently do without a lot of work – and it shouldn’t need to come from me.

After all, I have “Liked” 267 things online that Facebook could monitor and learn from as is. It would not take a rocket scientist to understand many of my major passions in life: Branding, the Chicago Bears, Mexican food, craft beer, Apple and more. This isn’t guesswork. Anybody can see it.

If it’s truly a suggestion based on my preferences, the fact that these suggestions are, more often than not, just plain awful doesn’t give me a great deal of confidence. And call me lazy but do we need much more than a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” voting mechanism? Do I need to choose from about 6-7 different reasons to tell Facebook why I didn’t like the suggestion?

I think Facebook underestimated one thing about these Sponsored Pages – they’re a prisoner of their own genius in that people have a fascination with checking their stream multiple times per day – anything that interrupts that action, even temporarily, causes a reaction between mild annoyance and downright anger. Especially when it’s something intended to blend in and clearly doesn’t. Therefore, while they might’ve thought “friends of friends” equals instant results for an advertiser, the fact that 5 of your friends might’ve liked that page actually still gets trounced by the fact that it’s still your stream and you want control over what you see.

Natural human behavior beats functionality of technology. Oh wait – a Big Datahead just told me that the Math Men of data were defeating the Mad Men of advertising. Oops. Just maybe not in this case, then.

Facebook Ads a better way to go?

If you want to run a true ad for your business, then run an ad. I don’t know how to say it any plainer than that. Don’t make it a wolf in sheep’s clothing by making it look like a post that belongs in a news stream. Run an ad and don’t apologize for that. If there’s room for it, tell them what you want them to do.

Not everybody has had glowing reviews of Facebook Ads but I’ve actually been very happy with the results for clients thus far. When appropriate, it can work very quickly for generating an audience in a matter of weeks.

Know what I really like about them? I know they’re ads. I know where they are and what they’re trying to do. They’re not masquerading as posts. So I know they’re not trying to barge into my Facebook conversations like an obnoxious drunk guy at a dinner party.

Are we trying to get someone to like a single post or build relationships for the long haul? I assume the latter. So why not put more energy into getting them to Like our brand by clearly defining ourselves or a compelling call to action/offer in ad form – and then having them feel rewarded for that Like with ongoing messaging they want and have asked for?

We have to remember we’re still living in an opt-in world that doesn’t merely pertain to eNewsletters. It’s not just about e-mail sign-ups or RSS feeds. It’s about respecting the circle of friends that person has constructed. It’s something your brand needs to earn.

That takes work. That takes smart content. That takes a manner of writing in a way that tells the person, “It’s like I wrote this with just you in mind.”

These latest avenues from Facebook are shortcuts. It’s all too easy to pay to get into the party. But if the organizers realize they didn’t invite you, your brand will be tossed out quick. Instead, show you know the room or act like you do. What does the audience enjoy reading about, what are their current challenges, what do they love to share with others and if they comment, what are they saying? No matter what mechanism you use, Facebook or otherwise, laser focused targeting of your audience has never been more crucial for placement and messaging.

Still think just talking about yourself works?

Sorry. That’s an idea I just can’t sponsor.