Without notice to its subscribers, Facebook suddenly changed its algorithms, essentially reneging on its basic brand promise. Remember, the brand promise is not so much what is made by the brand owners as it is the expectations of the brand’s customers, what they have come to believe about the brand, and what it stands for in their minds. The brand owners can’t suddenly change it and expect their customers to continue to be loyal. It’s seen as a violation of trust and can damage the credibility of the brand.
Facebook was introduced as a social network that would, among other things, provide distribution of our posts to our following for free! Now they want to charge us for it. That’s understandable in itself, but the way they went about it was damaging to their brand image.
Many companies have put up commercial pages on Facebook with the expectation that their posts would show up dependably in the feeds of all their followers. That’s why we decided to have a commercial page on Facebook. Around February this year, we began to get complaints from our followers who were depending on Facebook to provide them with our weekly informational blog posts on entrepreneurship and brand building. They said they weren’t getting them in their feeds anymore and wanted to know if we had stopped writing. At first we thought it was something we did on our end and we reviewed our procedures. It wasn’t.
When we contacted Facebook to see what the problem was, they would not address the question but said that we could boost our posts’ reach for a fee. We went out on the net and found a big discussion going on between Facebook subscribers about this very issue. Unexpectedly, they all experienced a drastic reduction in the reach of their posts. In our case it was well over 50%!
This is how it became clear that Facebook was going to charge subscribers for what they previously offered for free. What we had was built by our own efforts to increase our following. Commercial subscribers told everyone on their websites, business cards, PowerPoint presentations, and marketing materials “Follow us on Facebook.” Would they have done this so enthusiastically if they knew that they would later be charged to access their own following? Commercial subscribers are already substantial paid advertisers on Facebook. Because Facebook is “the only game in town” (at least the most powerful social network to access the general public), many feel tricked and trapped. The discussions going on are less than complementary toward Facebook.
Obviously Facebook, since its public offering, is under a great deal of pressure to turn a profit; but this tactic seems crude and counter-productive. For one thing, they have created a demand among their own commercial subscribers to get back what they lost. This demand will not go unnoticed by the market. Facebook, like any other brand, is subject to the number one rule of brand building: Your customers own your brand – not you!
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Who Are We.
Having built and sold a bestselling national brand, we appreciate the value of brands and everything it takes to make them successful. Companies are valued by their brand equity. Achieving and maximizing brand equity requires tremendous respect for all your customers, from your wholesaler to your end user.
Starting in our laundry room with no money and no knowledge of the industry, we built the famous Barefoot Wine brand. We learned a lot they don’t teach in school and much of it the hard way. Although our success was in consumer products, our real world experience will be helpful to anyone looking for information and advice about brands.
We have written the New York Times Bestselling Business Book, The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand, which chronicles the history of the famous brand from its inception through its acquisition. Our book is now required reading in schools of entrepreneurship across the country. We hope this book will provide inspiration and encouragement for all those contemplating starting a brand or wanting to improve their existing brand.
Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey
-Barefoot Wine Founders