To Pay or Not to Pay, That is the Question

To Pay or Not to Pay, That is the Question

Posted on October 06, 2015 0 Comments

Todd van Hoosear talks us through an interesting exchange between the marketers at Eat24 and Facebook, after Eat24 made the unconventional decision to write Facebook a break-up letter last year.

So you’ve been asked to develop a social media plan for your company. Or perhaps you’ve been tasked with heading up a content marketing campaign for a product. Have you set aside any budget for sponsored content and other paid promotional tools, techniques and platforms? Here’s a short story to explain why you might want to do this.

In my 2014 Progress Partner 2-Part Social Media Series: Part 1 and Part 2, last year I highlighted a fascinating exchange between the well-regarded content marketing team at Eat24 and Facebook. Eat24 wrote Facebook a break-up letter on their blog, complaining that the reach of their organic (unpaid) content was in a constant state of decline, and that the only remedy that Facebook was offering was to spend money to promote their content – something Eat24 was reticent to do.

Facebook wrote back to them (on their Facebook page of course), saying, essentially, that “food porn” (the kind of content Eat24 specializes in) is not necessarily the top thing the average Facebook user is looking for, even if it is humorous too.

Hey Eat24, this is Brandon over at Facebook. I was bummed to read your letter. The world is so much more complicated than when we first met – it has changed. And we used to love your jokes about tacquitos and 420 but now they don’t seem so funny. There is some serious stuff happening in the world and one of my best friends just had a baby and another one just took the best photo of his homemade cupcakes and what we have come to realize is people care about those things more than sushi porn (but if we are in the mood for it, we know where to find it Eat24!). So we are sorry that we have to part this way because we think we could still be friends - really we do. But we totally respect you if you need some space.

Eat24’s content, as clever as it was, wasn’t keeping up with the overall content scene at Facebook. They faced three options: hire a new content marketing team, spend money on Facebook to make up for the “quality gap” (I understand that this is an unfair and simplistic characterization), or move the conversation. They chose to move the conversation. Given that they mostly moved it to Instagram, also owned by Facebook, it was no real skin off of Mark Zuckerberg’s back. And frankly, Instagram is a better place for food pictures anyway.

While they decided not to spend more money by buying ads or hiring new writers, there was a switching cost involved. They lost about 71,000 followers when they switched their page off. Whether they were the right followers or not is hard to tell, but I don’t think they’ve returned to Facebook since then.

Eat24 did a brave thing. They didn’t fall victim to the “sunk cost fallacy” and hold on to Facebook as a channel just because they had already invested so much time into it. And they no doubt weighed the softer switching costs against the harder salary and ad buy costs and decided to go all in on the organic content play. They made a reasoned decision that was right for them. It might not be right for you, though.

We’re all facing diminishing returns on our content marketing investments. This is simply because there is a lot more content now than ever before, and that trend is not likely to slow for years to come if ever. Paying for sponsored content should be considered a necessary evil. It is an important part of any overall content marketing campaign, and not because Facebook is changing their algorithm to force brands to spend money with them, but because we’ve looked at all of our options and we know that Facebook (or whatever your channel of choice) is the best option for us.

If, after carefully considering your options, you find another prospect that may provide better returns, don’t be afraid to switch. Be brave, just like Eat24 was.


Todd Van Hoosear

Todd Van Hoosear is vice president of public relations for Eric Mower + Associates' Boston office, where he helps clients in the engineering, mobile, cloud, networking, consumer technology and consulting spaces bring new ideas – and new takes on old ideas – to the market. He also teaches new media and public relations at Boston University, and serves as a Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Find him on Twitter at @vanhoosear. 


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