Why I’m Still Teaching My Students to Write For Facebook… Despite Everything

There has been a lot of talk in recent months about the decline of Facebook’s popularity, particularly among teens and young adults. Coupled with that, Facebook announced that there will be a sharp decline in brand page content showing up in News Feeds starting January 2015.This begs the question, should we still teach students to write for Facebook?

A recent article on Bloomberg explores a dip in use by teens. Here’s The Next Web’s take on the purported exodus. Zuck has argued against this in the past when the issue has come up, essentially stating that there isn’t growth in the platform among young people because that market is already saturated. And, while the headlines might be attention grabbing – the reported dip is to 88% usage among teens (down from 94 in 2013).

But there does seem to be something to the declining popularity of Facebook. The students in my classes express growing disinterest in Facebook. They never cite it as their “go to” social media platform. Several this past semester and the one before it cited concerns of privacy in posting too much about oneself online. When it comes to our students, it does feel like we are getting less engagement on our department Facebook page than we did in recent years.

Then there are articles like “Why I would Give Up Facebook in a Heartbeat” by Mandy Edwards who discusses how she finds the site content-boring, overwrought, filled with annoying posts and requests for group games, among other things.

Worse still, and perhaps the most important, is news regarding the decline in reach brands receive on account of their content not showing up in the News Feed of persons who have liked their brand page. Concerns over this issue has been going on since 2013, to my understanding. This article in the Guardian chronicles the decline and asks whether Facebook is trying to force brands to pay to play.

And despite all of this, I’m going to teach my students to write for Facebook in my Writing Across Platforms class this spring semester like I did when I taught it last spring.

When I was considering course adjustments to work on over the winter break, I originally thought about dropping teaching the platform from the social media writing portion of my Writing Across Platforms course.  In the past, I’ve taught Facebook and Twitter in this section. But an email conversation with a colleague made me realize that doing so would be a bit preemptive.

Yes, Facebook maybe isn’t what it was a few years ago. But that doesn’t mean we should jump ship. There’s a lot students can learn from learning to write for different platforms. These are a few of the reasons I’m sticking with teaching professional writing for brands on Facebook (for now).

1) A LOT of people still use Facebook. 88% of young people using Facebook is a lot.  And what about us old people? 🙂 There are 1.35 billion active users, according to Facebook.

2) Over a billion people went to Facebook brand pages in October 2014, according to Facebook

3) There are over 50 million business pages, according to Edwards.

4) Employers are still seeking employees to create content for Facebook.  So students still need to be trained to do write for it. Even among threatening to leave FB, Edwards herself, who owns a social media marketing business, states the value it brings to her clients.

5) The platform isn’t everything – We are training students to be adaptable. So the way I structure my lecture, I’m teaching skills. Facebook is just the platform they are writing for. But the content planning and writing techniques behind them are transferable to… (insert social media platform of tomorrow). In fact, in my assignment, students create a content plan for Facebook and Twitter along with blog posts. They plan and write content across these platforms. We discuss the differences between the platforms, what they afford, and potential audience demographic differences. Which ties into…

6) As a platform to teach, I like the variety it gives as a counter to 140 character constraints of Twitter. I find Facebook to be a good counter-balance to the limits of Twitter in my assignment.

So where will things go in the future? I’m not sure. Maybe I won’t be teaching Facebook writing in a year. But I wont’ be surprised if I am.

So what’s the #1 thing I considered replacing writing for Facebook brand posts for? Well, I was leaning towards teaching writing for Facebook ads to bolster my students’ experience in the Paid side of the PESO model (I’ve taught Paid Owned Earned in the past, but liking the way this model is presented and differentiates content).

Things certainly are moving towards more Paid as part of the mix. Sponsored Tweets and Instagram posts. And now Facebook’s cornering brands into buying ads. Then you’ve got native advertising trends (something I’m going to explore in my Principles of PR this semester). And it seems an area I could do a stronger job in, is covering Paid. But alas, it often feels like teaching is a zero-sum – there are only so many topics and so much time it can be hard to pick and choose.

What changes are you making to what you’re teaching this upcoming semester? Do you agree with my decision to stick with Facebook – Why? What do you recommend? Do you teach paid, and if so, how?

I’d love to chat!

– Cheers!

Matt

graphic: Wikimedia Commons

What is The Future of Content Marketing in 2014?

As I discussed on this blog, 2013 was to be the year of content marketing. (Here are all my posts on content marketing)

Recently, Gary Shirr (@ProfessorGary) brought up an interesting point in a discussion post he made to the Teaching Social Media Marketing LinkedIn group I’m a part of. It got me thinking quite a bit.

In essence, he asked what the impact of Facebook shutting down the “Like economy” last December will have on organic social media marketing? (And what the proper mix of paid and organic should be)

Gary (whose blog I highly recommend) also alluded to the problem of a saturated content environment, (What Mark Schaefer calls ‘content shock‘).

While I don’t pretend to have the answers to these questions, I wanted to share the problem here on the blog and put out a few related articles that you may enjoy reading. I hope it helps you jump into the conversation (see the great thread of comments on Gary’s post – cited below)!

So what happened?

Facebook made a change to its newsfeed algorithm resulting in a large decline in visibility of branded Facebook posts in an individual’s news feed.

The impact? Anecdotally, my wife, who runs the Facebook page for an international non-profit, said the change has resulted in a recent decline in her organization’s Facebook page stats.

What’s the Effect?

Gary argues in his post that it is the result of an effort by Facebook to drive more paid advertising (read his post for explanation). As a result, he says, organic won’t be enough to sustain a brand on Facebook.

Mark Schaefer posted a comment in Gary’s blog post that adds further clarity to the issue. In it, Mark is quoting a Facebook exec writing about the change: “On a given day, when the average person visits their News Feed, there are an average of 1,500 possible stories we can show. As a result, competition for each News Feed story is increasing. Pages will likely see changes in distribution resulting in a decline in organic reach.”

In a follow-up post, Gary discusses his recommendations to how businesses should adjust given the change to the Facebook algorithm.

Other Challenges to Content Marketing in 2014

As noted above, Mark Schaefer (@markwschaefer) recently posted about “Content Shock,” his term for the saturated marketplace of content marketing. In essence, he argues that as more people enter the content marketplace, competition for attention increases, and attention becomes increasingly fragmented. This makes sense! But this content is free. So how do you compete with the limitless supply of competition also creating free content? Mark argues that this flood favors those entities with big budgets, and that the cost of social media is rising. Read his post to get the details and more on the why.

Lastly, in a related vein I recently read an article on Shift titled “How Content Marketing Could Kill PR.” In essence, the piece argues that due to the flood of content being created, PR folks are being asked to pitch cruddy content. This may result in a loss of credibility, as those on the receiving end of the pitch are dealt sub par content. In their words, “What could kill public relations is not the content marketing itself, but increasing pressure from brands to pitch mediocre or bad content.”  It is a really interesting read and one I recommend.  So what to do? The simple solution may be “Create Great Content.” But will that really work? Will there be increasing need for PR professionals to help organizations break through this content shocked ocean of content and reach a targeted public?

What do you think? What is the future of content marketing? Is the “market saturated”? And if so, what will the effect be in 2014? How will organizations respond? Is the playing field no longer level for “the little guy?” Will the cost of social media become prohibitive?

Just some thoughts and questions for your Thursday! I hope you have a great one!

-Cheers! Matt

photo CC by Sean MacEntee

 

“Social Media and Mobiles” Social Media and Politics Research Published!

I hope everyone is staying warm! Here in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia, we’ve got some terribly cold weather heading our way tonight!

I want to take a moment to share some news from the research side of my life in academia. 🙂 As you know, I research social media and civic and political participation.

I’m very excited because this past Friday, my latest co-authored study was published online in the journal New Media and Society.

This study, “Social Media and Mobiles as Political Mobilization Forces for Young Adults: Examining the Moderating Role of Political Expression in Political Participation,” is an extension of our earlier articles: “More harm than good? Online media use and political disaffection among college students in the 2008 election” (2013) in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, and 2010’s Mass Communication & Society piece, ““Did social media really matter? College students’ use of online media and political decision making in the 2008 election.”

Social Media and Mobiles really seeks to further investigate the seemingly important role of online political expression (such as posting political videos to YouTube, Tweeting about politics, or posting to Facebook, etc.) in political participation. Particularly, the study looks at what role online expression may play in moderating any effects of political media use on participation. Additionally, this study investigated political smart phone app use, something not investigated in the prior two studies.

Here is the abstract:

A web survey of college students was conducted to examine whether online political expression moderates the effects of political media use on political participation. Results showed that online political expression enhanced the effects of political mobile apps, traditional offline and online media, and social media on political participation. Implications are discussed for a mobilizing role of online media in the democratic process for young adults.

You can see my other posts on social media research.

Cheers!

Matt

photo CC zoonabar

Say hello to Conversation Advertising: Like a post, buy a Facebook gift

kids-talking

Today, Facebook introduced me to a whole new level of impulse shopping. This move may be more telling than the gift recommendation seems. I believe it is a new type of time-targeted micro advertising. Or, Conversation Advertising.

Let me explain.

This morning I clicked “like” on a filmmaker friend’s post on Facebook who was celebrating positive feedback he’d received on a submission of some of his work to a competition. The following appeared (identities and content hidden).

facebook-like-post-gift

Have you experienced this? Facebook wants to convert my happiness for him into a transaction. Of course I didn’t think this gesture warranted a gift. Is this a guilt play? Would my expression of gratitude mean more if I spent a little money to show it?

In a world of instant gratification and impulse shopping where checkout candy bar purchases and mobile shopping is big bucks, it appears Facebook is hoping to parlay an interpersonal exchange into a monetary one.

Let’s think about this in a different context:

Imagine you are talking with a friend on Skype and you tell your friend that you’re thirsty. How would you feel if suddenly a voice interrupted and said, “Why not go get a Coke from the fridge? It sure is refreshing on a warm spring day!” or a text ad that popped up on my computer screen or mobile and said “Stop by 7-11 on your way home from work and get a Slurpee”

That’s essentially what’s happening here. And maybe it’s time we the audience begin paying up for all this free we’ve been getting for years from services like Facebook and Skype. That’s why I believe what we’re seeing on Facebook may be a sign of things to come. What I’m calling Conversation Advertising.

The use of text or speech recognition to deliver micro-targeted advertising that seeks to take advantage of strategic moments in human interaction to suggest small purchases of products and services to meet immediate needs.

Like so many effective ads, this type of ad helps in a time of need.

In a way, this is happening already on Gmail when Google reads our emails and targets us with ads. The important difference here – and what makes the Facebook suggestions as a result of my minor interaction with a friend special – is a time-targeted ad. Here’s what I mean:

In my previous use of Facebook, I have “liked” a page and soon seen a new page suggestion or ad on the right-hand side. This usually happens in time, after I’ve browsed around a bit from page to page. (Note: I’m trying to emulate this on my Facebook page to see if it occurs immediately, as I thought I remembered it doing that sometimes, but I don’t seem to be able to replicate. Perhaps this happens elsewhere on the web?)

In Gmail, when I send an email or get an email, I see an ad on the right related to some topic in the email.

Both are still somewhat passive. They’re off to the side. In Gmail, we have a human interaction ad going on – but I wouldn’t say it is a conversation ad. This is because the ad doesn’t take advantage of a strategic moment in my interaction where a product or service may offer a solution to a problem I’m facing or need I have.

We are seeing more and more “personalized” ads – such as RFID Mini Cooper billboards and presidential campaigns micro-targeting us by using predictive analytics of the likelihood that our hobbies and purchasing habits predict our voting patterns.

But none of these are quite conversation ads.

Is the idea intrusive? Yes. Annoying? Very likely. Worrisome? Certainly. Will people “go for it?” As a citizen, I honestly hope not. But as a lover of technology, I find the prospect fascinating.

Furthermore, we may not have a choice. Nothing is free. We are the audience. Whether this type of advertising can really succeed will of course depend on how it is done. People do want conversations – they don’t like to be advertised to. Is there a way to make this form of advertising less intrusive, less one-way? I’m sure that there is. Just as there are a million annoying ads out there, there are those that we readily invite into our lives. If done right, this may be another avenue. If not, it could backfire enormously. If the ad helps me in a time of need, I may just welcome it.

Are there legal challenges to be had? Yes. Can they be overcome? Three words: Terms of Service (yes, I am oversimplifying a bit, but I sincerely believe these can be readily overcome).

Another major issue and turnoff is privacy. There again, while this may seem an overly invasive advertising method, keep in mind that we are readily giving away so much information about ourselves on sites like Facebook. We know Gmail is monitoring our emails. We know Facebook is reading not only what we like, but what we post and share. We know, though we may not want to admit it, that cookies are tracking us across the web and collecting every piece of info about us as possible. So really, is it much of a leap? We are more and more accustomed to this type of intrusiveness and seldom blink at it.

While Facebook’s move to suggest I buy a friend a gift is a bit clumsy (does it help me? Not really – No offense to my friend, but in no way would I consider buying him an impersonal gift because he heard positive feedback), I believe it does signify the beginning of something we should expect to see more and more as technology advances and individuals continue to live a digitally-tracked lifestyle. Like it or not, I believe we are witnessing the development of conversation advertising. What shape or form it takes and whether it becomes useful or not in the eyes of the consumer will depend on many things: such as how it develops and is used, whether it is truly helpful to the consumer, legal issues, and how the public reacts to it.

What do you think? How would you feel about this type of conversation advertising? What is your reaction to the Facebook “gift suggestion” discussed above, if you’ve experienced it? Where does my idea need improving? What am I missing? I’d love to chat about it.

Cheers!

– Matt

More on Facebook: Related Posts

I’ve been talking a bit lately about how “uncool” Facebook is becoming among young adults.

The recent move by Facebook to charge us to email someone we are not friends with through the service.

photo (top) CC Burning Image (bottom) CC Marco Trezza Photography

As the teenager goes, so goes Facebook.. so goes the social media professor?

FB_logo

Back in January I posted the below Tweet.

My Communication & New Media class was talking about the boom and bust of Web 1.0, Web 2.0, and the “cool hunt” – the tendency of young folks to jump from one trend to the next. (Yes, of course MySpace came up. Interestingly, students this semester hadn’t heard of Friendster).

I have asked the same question every semester since 2008-2009, when I began teaching new media as a grad student at Washington State University. “What is the most popular social network?” The answer has always been Facebook.

This semester the answer was clear. Facebook is on the way out.

Is there a shift coming to social media?

A great article posted to CNET last week titled “Why teens are tiring of Facebook” offers an in depth look as to the social networking giant’s troubles. Many of those same troubles were echoed by my students. They can be summed up in this Tweet I posted to a question I got from @richelecole to my original Tweet as to what was in:

In other words, Facebook:

  • Lacks exclusivity – “Everyone” is on Facebook – and yes, that means Mom, Dad, and the grandparents. There could be nothing less cool.
  • Is too cumbersome – Facebook, the social network that built itself on being sleeker and less chaotic than Myspace, is too complicated for the fast-paced on the go lifestyle. It takes too much time to maintain and participate in. Students said they just didn’t have time for all Facebook demanded of them. Twitter is quick and easy. Instagram is too, and the bonus is – pictures!

It seems my students aren’t the only ones thinking about unfriending Facebook.

As social media professors, are we always part of the cool hunt as well?

In a way. Trying to keep up with changing trends while balancing the many other responsibilities of being a professor may feel sometimes like an unwinnable race. That’s why it is so important that we keep our focus on what truly matters. Teaching students to think.

The tools will change. New trends will emerge. The fundamentals are much less fickle.

I think of them as:

  1. Monitoring: Strategies for identifying, cultivating, monitoring, and analyzing information on the social/real-time web.
  2. Metrics: Strategies for setting goals and what to measure on social media. And measuring them.
  3. Optimization: Strategic use of optimization strategies to maximize potential exposure to communication content online.
  4. Engagement: Strategies for targeting and engaging potential publics online.

When we teach new media, we should always keep in mind that the tool we’re teaching may be gone tomorrow.

It isn’t the tool so much that counts, as understanding the underlying concepts and strategies – the Why. If students learn only two things in my classes they should be: Be Adaptable (apply what you’ve learned to new situations). Be Lifelong Learners. These are platform agnostic skillsets.

Is a shift coming to social media and what does that mean for educators? As an educator, how do you stay current with changing trends in the classroom? What do you emphasize to your students?  Do you disagree with my approach? I would love to hear your thoughts and discuss this important topic further. Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Like this post? Please share it.

Cheers!

– Matt

image creds: Facebook logo. This version hosted by MarcoPako Flickr page.