Tom Webster, writing and speaking

The Facebook Casino

Added on by Tom Webster.

My friend Jim Tobin (author of the recent book Earn It, Don't Buy It) wrote a provocative post this week about Facebook's recent algorithm changes that appear to punish brand marketers. His numbers add up, and there has been plenty of corroboration on the Interwebs that yes, indeed, Facebook reach for brand pages has fallen precipitously since their latest tweak.

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Here's the rub, though--as a garden-variety Facebook user, I'm happy about this. It means I'll see fewer crappy promotions (and fewer good ones, I admit) and more posts from college buddies, relatives and people with whom I've actually broken bread. Which means that the brand posts I do see will have vaulted over a higher bar--and I couldn't be happier about that.

There is much wailing and gnashing of teeth over these changes amongst Facebook marketers, but here's a helpful analogy: If you go to a casino in Vegas, you have some certainty over the odds of a given game. The players have varying skill levels, but the game is the game, and regulations guard against cheating. Now imagine that you are a bit of a card shark. You could set up a cardboard box on a street corner, and fleece a few people, but the real money is to be made where there are more gamblers aggregated.

So you set up your cardboard box in a corner of a big Vegas casino. You attract more gamblers, because the casino is a big tent for that audience, and you do a little better than you did at your street corner. But you are trading on the halo effect of the casino. Your game might not be as favorable (or it might be more favorable), but the casino looks the other way--until you start to intrude upon the experience of their guests. So the casino tells you to take your game to the parking lot.

Is it fair? Life isn't fair. Is the casino in their rights? Of course.

The casino cares about their guests. Not you. Side games are fun until they damage the guest experience. Then they are politely shown the door.

Facebook is The House. If you try to run your game inside of their game, you will win in the short term--that's arbitrage--and lose in the long term. What is sad about this is that I know a lot of Facebook marketers who add a lot of value to The Game. They are good at what they do. But for every one of those, there are 10 lousy ones. And Facebook needs to clean up the house. This will result in a better experience for the "guests," and it will unfortunately also punish those who have earned their audiences within the house through merit. 

The only thing you can do is to build the kind of game that would attract people to your casino. A fair game. A useful game. An entertaining game. The kind of game other casinos would want to share and talk about.

This is not easy. But it's the sustainable path.