Facebook’s Paywall Test is an Unpaid Advertisement for Marketing Strategy

The Guardian reported yesterday that Facebook was running a test in small national markets that created two news feeds, one that had posts from friends and another secondary feed that had posts from pages users had “liked.” The catch was that promoted content – the posts page administrators had paid to get to an audience – showed up in the former feed. This meant that organic, non-paid content was unlikely to reach its target audience, and many pages saw their non-promoted content reach drop by as much as two thirds with no warning.

Most who heard of this assumed that Facebook was testing something many marketers have long feared, which is a full pay-to-play barrier between brands and Facebook users. This isn’t a new concept – most advertising throughout history has required marketers to pay for all access to an audience – but for organizations that depend on organic Facebook content for their marketing reach the implications were sobering. Left in place, this change would have completely rewritten marketing plans and budgets, as well as the ROI calculations for all the work those organizations had done to build their organic Facebook followings.

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They’re Aware. Now What?

Any time you’re told someone wants to “raise awareness” of a policy issue or topic, your immediate response should be, “OK, and then what?” Just as if you were trying to sell pickup trucks, hamburgers or prescription medication, awareness of a policy topic is only the first step in a marketing funnel-based strategic process that gets your target audience to the point where you can close the deal.

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