Facebook See First: Death for brands or a marketer's dream?

A couple of weeks ago, Facebook released an update called See First, aimed primarily at giving users greater control over their newsfeed. Predictably, as with any Facebook update, plenty of posts were published proclaiming this a powerful new tool in a marketer's armoury, along with a few predicting the end of days for brands. Now there's been a bit of time for reflection, what, if any, are the implications for brands.

The update itself is simple; an acknowledgment that Facebook doesn't always know best when it comes to curating the news feed. Facebook invites users to select their friends or pages who will always appear top of their news feed. The push comes from the mobile app but affects every platform. If you're in you're front of mind, if you're not, then you're further down the list.

But what does this mean for brands?

There's a very good chance that if See First is widely adopted, organic reach could drop even lower than it already is for pages. If you're not front of mind in those initial See First selections then you're naturally going to drop down further.

Pages Likes (although not necessarily content likes) will become even more irrelevant. Sure, you may have a community of 500,000 but it's largely irrelevant if none of them want you in their See First list and you only get a handful of engagements with your content.

What we'll also probably see is a slew of brands pleading and cajoling fans to add them to See First. It's happened when Facebook has rolled out similar updates. Again, this is a bit of a counter-intuitive move that doesn't think about the needs of the user. If you're not front of mind for that top set of friends and pages, then pleading looks unsightly. 

If people do put you in and the content isn't good enough then you risk damaging the long term brand relationship for a short-term goal of maintaining reach. Remember, people only have so much space in their life for updates from a page they once liked to win a free toaster. You may have driven a large number of likes but this will be a meaningless number.

On the flipside, I'd expect some superfans or passionate brand advocates to become even more valuable and these will be the people most likely to share your content and extend beyond the basic organic reach. 

And, of course, if you want to get in front of people, brands are still going to have to pay. So if Facebook is going to be an integral part of your campaign, you'll need to plan in your budget and forecasts tighter than ever before.

Is it all doom and gloom?

Potentially not. Firstly, it depends how much Facebook really wants to push this update. Some time ago they pushed an update to group friends into lists (See First is a bit of a logical extension of this), which never really gained traction. If there isn't mass take up, don't expect much to change.

In addition, Facebook has always pushed the message that good content will win through and that's still the case, albeit your content or ideas needs to work harder outside the platform.

For brands, this doesn't necessarily mean content on Facebook. It could just as easily mean content outside of the platform that's inherently shareable, whether that's videos or articles or other such similar content. If it's good, it'll get shared, no matter what the platform. Defining good is another question altogether though.

Brands that have strong niche communities who already share content outside of Facebook or have a strong community who are willing to add them to See First will probably be ok, as will those who have a mature paid strategy that delivers tangible ROI (and has a healthy budget).

Publishers too will probably be fine, although it may take a bit of time to adjust to the changes. Given the prominence Facebook gives to news publishers in the news feed and its ambition to become the world's news gateway, it's hard to imagine they will be discarded completely. 

Finally, brands who have a good reputation for customer service through social will still act as a destination for queries and complaints, although this may not necessarily translate into positive engagement with the content.

And the losers?

One obvious one here is small businesses. Unless you have a good connection to your community, you may struggle to get any cut through at all. A recent report from Social Media Examiner said that 59% of small business struggle to see ROI from their social media channels. Unless SME owners are able to afford to channel budget into promoting their activity, building a Facebook page from scratch just got a little harder.

Conclusion

See First isn't the end of days for brands, but neither is it an awesome marketers tool. The main thing to consider is your brand or page something that a user would naturally add to See First? If it isn't, then no amount of pleading will get you onto that list.