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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Expert Opinion

It’s always nice to have people whom I respect like my work. But it hit an entirely different level today when nationally-known and widely respected economics professor Mark J. Perry wrote a blog post for the American Enterprise Institute to point people at my “excellent” and “insightful” Jones Act corporate welfare article.

That makes one thing I’ve written that Dr. Perry liked and found valuable (as far as I know), so I’ve only got several hundred more to go until we’re even.

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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Give the People What They Want

You may have the perfect policy to meet your population’s needs. But do you know how to give them what they want?

Principled public policy advocates tend to work proactively where they see the biggest need for reform. This differentiates them from politicians, who largely react to public opinion. Taking on the big issues is a good way to go about staying true to your mission, but it can backfire if your advocacy only focuses the need for the reforms rather than connecting it to what people truly want. This doesn’t require a change in policy, but it does call for thoughtful marketing and communications strategy and execution.

For instance, as a fiscal policy expert, you may know that your state needs to shut down its wasteful “economic development” corporate welfare programs. Evidence, logic and principles are on your side and you can explain very clearly how this needs to happen. But most people want a job far more than they want good fiscal policy. While you’re explaining to them why they need these reforms, the interests at the intersection of big business and big government simply contend they’re “creating or retaining” jobs and you lose overwhelmingly.

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