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In-depth: Is the concept of virality for marketers dead on Facebook?

Last year when the platform had made a few changes in its News Feed, brands did know how drastically it will lower the engagement for them. Whether it is the change in the policy or explosion of other platforms, organic reach on FB is surely dying. BestMediaInfo.com speaks with industry experts to know what other platforms can provide marketers an identical reach and why they ought to have diverse marketing strategies

Marketers currently debate whether or not to rely on Facebook any longer for advertisements or promotions as the engagement rate for such posts is on a steep decline. Many say the ‘meaningful interactions’ update of Facebook over News Feed last year has led to this. As brands struggle to find space for their ad content and engagement, the concept of viral posts is almost dead on the platform.

The marketers needed no more assurance when Casey Newton, Silicon Valley editor at The Verge, censured Facebook’s low engagement and took it to Twitter, sharing how his post among 117mn users saw just 0.5% engagement rate.

Is it the changed algorithms or the walled gardens? BestMediaInfo.com spoke with industry experts to gather a better understanding of what exact reason can be attributed to the dying organic reach on Facebook. If not Facebook, what other platforms can provide marketers an identical reach and why they ought to have diverse marketing strategies?

Facebook was always designed to be a platform for friends, family and conversations. The News Feed update from Facebook was a step to keep the heart of the platform intact. A necessary step, to ensure user stickiness.

Gurpreet Singh

On the flipside, this impacted the organic reach for Facebook pages tremendously. This metric dipped close to 10X over the last few years and now stands at 2%. This is a concern for brands that rely on their fan base for sustained brand exposure at zero costs, said Gurpreet Singh, Divisional Vice-President, Marketing, United Breweries.

The tendency of ‘average’ content going viral on the platform is largely dead with the change in the newsfeed algorithm. Some brands are still pushing one-way conversations in the form of their TV ads onto various social media sites without even adapting to the screen size or how the screen is viewed; those brands will increasingly struggle in the current environment.

GD Prasad

With a focus on ‘human connections and greater well-being’, the platform had intentionally reduced visibility for branded (or public) content. However, the role of the platform in users’ lives, given competition, has drastically changed in the last few years. And Facebook is a retirement home for millennial content, said GD Prasad, Associate Vice-President at Dentsu Webchutney.

One reason for the decline in engagement is definitely the News Feed policy. However, over the last few years, with great competition and varying user interfaces, other platforms have become more popular for most core audiences. Gen Y and Gen Z are seen more actively contributing on Instagram, Twitter and even TikTok. Facebook is no longer the only go-to app for connecting with people or brands. The platform itself has nothing tremendously unique to offer its users any more, Prasad said.

In India, for product and service offerings, user engagement is either price enquiries, product enquiries, complaints or comments about their love for the product. 

Sharing his experience, Prasad said, “Something we've noticed on most brands we work for is that the same posts get relevant engagement on Twitter despite Facebook having a larger number of users (platform-wise). However the quality of interaction is low and almost sometimes irrelevant. For instance, one of the brands we work on does very well on Instagram and Twitter. On Facebook, their content is selective — RTMs, information about launches and other news-related communication. Sometimes we even avoid posting on Facebook and reserve it mostly for mass reach for some of our films.” 

However, according to Prasad, the decline in engagement for some brands could be attributed to their content, which may not be relevant to the platform they are on or the different expectations their audience may have, but not to its nature of being a walled garden.

Brands go where people go. Most audiences who take the effort to have quality engagement with brands have moved on to Instagram and Twitter to a certain extent. Brands have realised this and re-aligned their social strategies accordingly. Virality is a thing of Instagram and TikTok these days.

In short, to some extent, virality on Facebook is pretty much dead.

However, Facebook is still a great option for paid marketing. The reach is far greater, leading to better engagement especially for audiences in tier II-III cities. So, this is a call that brands have to take basis where their audience is. Organically, however, there are so many brands already leveraging TikTok, Instagram and YouTube/Twitter to some extent purely for engagement, he said.

For instance, Swiggy's Voice of Hunger campaign used the new voice notes feature on Instagram to re-create shapes of popular foods. While it was amplified with influencers, the idea itself went viral enough to break Instagram and nearly increase the page following by 40% over one week. Similarly, Flipkart's Big Billion Days Sale ran an activity on TikTok that went viral and had crazy amounts of UGC.

So, where should brands promote for better engagement?

Among platforms beyond Facebook, Instagram provides a reach base large enough and targeting capabilities wide enough for most Indian brands. TikTok is growing leaps and bounds in terms of platform friendliness for viral content.

In all of this, let’s not forget the opportunities being offered by various OTT platforms such as Hotstar, which have become essential to utilise when building a brand’s media plans. In fact, making a media plan without considering OTT platforms like Hotstar or a YouTube would be flawed, especially for urban-centric brands targeting the youth audiences, Singh said.

With this, it is high time for marketers to opt for diverse distribution strategy without relying on just Facebook.

He added, “There are clear demographic affinities emerging for different social media channels. Similarly, platforms have developed their USPs, with ardent following. For example, Instagram has a higher proportion of female users compared to other social platforms. For any brand looking to leverage augmented reality integrations, Snapchat is a must-have in the repertoire. Twitter provides a strong foundation for brands looking to shape up their persona through topical strategy and unique tone of voice. Facebook as a platform will give you the maximum reach, if your TG is 45+. Giphy-based engagement seems to have caught up really well on Instagram.”

Brands need to play to the strengths of the platform in reference with their audience and objectives. 

Pawan Sarda

“For videos, we don’t depend on Facebook, because the completion rate is not more than maybe 2-4 % of any video. Brands need to see what platform is meaningful to them. Whether it's advertising, whether it's a post with certain algorithm, engagement is a function of what goes in the platform and not what brand wants to showcase,” shared Pawan Sarda, Group Head Digital, Future Group.

MA Parthasarathy

MA Parthasarathy, CEO, Mindshare South Asia, said, “Brands need to leverage the best they can of any platform. OTT has become the one platform to reach out to the audiences, so are the other platforms, including WhatsApp and Instagram. The trick is to be absolutely open source and agencies being the brand’s custodians we have to think neutral of platforms.”

Can open internet provide a good platform?

Transparency has been a worldwide issue with the chatter around the big duopoly in digital. Most brands still rely heavily on information provided by Facebook / Google vis-a-vis audience information, size, interests and so on. But Facebook has then also deterred brands from advertising organically on these platforms. So, brands pretty much are forced to pay to be seen. 

India’s digital footprint stands at over 550M today. Prominent among platforms that provide 200M+ reach include Facebook, DailyHunt, InMobi, YouTube and Google Ads. The count of options drastically increases as we go to the 50M+ mark.

The investments that go into building a community and sustaining that community are immense. Brands cannot really take on that burden. Brands can't rely on this scale to achieve their objectives, especially those with investor pressures, and scale is served best by platforms that have reach and appeal, Prasad said.

“It is for this reason that brands choose platforms for specific objectives — most brands use Facebook for the scale and reach in mass advertising (it’s the TV of today), Instagram for fun engagement and influencer dissemination, Twitter for meaningful conversations, YouTube for pretty much everything and LinkedIn for professional conversations. Therefore, brands will have to keep hopping to platforms that offer them the best combination of scale and engagement. It’s just like how TV dollars moved to digital a few years back. A few years down the line, if there's some new technology that will help brands reach customers, brands will have to move ahead with that. Brands will also need options and not rely on one platform to achieve all their objectives – so that’s perhaps the only area where the open internet will be relevant,” he added.

Singh said most brands should work on a bouquet model – with a choice of digital channels suitable to the audience being targeted.

Jaskaran Kapany

Closing the debate, Jaskaran Kapany, Marketing Head, Paytm, shared that the platforms are incidental, and brands’ own conviction, insights and the proposition that they take to the customers has to be really strong. Engagement rates will go up and down basis this. Even today, there is nothing that can overpower the power of an insight and quality of the output based on it, that any company needs to make. 


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