Brand Publishers Are Ditching Facebook in Favor of Microsites

They want to own their data, content

Brand publishers are more aware that they’re really just renting social media space on Facebook and are moving resources away from the social network.

One agency said its clients are pulling away from Facebook in “dramatic numbers”—reallocating their resources to microsites and alternate social channels like LinkedIn—after the agency’s social media managers saw a “dramatic dip” in reach for their messaging over the last 16 months. They attributed this decline to Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm, which curates the content users see in their News Feeds.

“Brands don’t own what happens on Facebook, and as organic reach has been absolutely eviscerated, they remain aware of that,” said Forrester analyst Nate Elliott, adding that marketers have been telling him that they no longer see Facebook as a viable marketing channel.

Facebook’s complete control of content on the platform can also wreak havoc on brand campaigns developed specifically for the social network. In March 2012, Elliott said the mandatory Timeline layout change wrecked some custom brand page experiences. “Just changing one pixel can ruin the entire thing,” he pointed out.

When it comes to rented social media space, there are also concerns about "platform popularity and general unpredictability," said Brooks Thomas, AT&T’s director of digital and social media. But Thomas isn't anti-Facebook—AT&T is on Facebook, but Thomas said he uses it as a way to maintain the brand’s reputation and for transactional and operational messages. 

“Brands will always have more control over owned spaces than rented ones,” Thomas said. “By and large, I view owned spaces as the farm and rented spaces as the market where you sell the crops—you can personalize your stall, but you can’t design the market.”

As a result, marketers are now using social efforts to lure people to their own sites. Jun Group reported that clicks that led people to brand-owned-and-operated sites doubled between 2012 and 2013 from 28 percent to 57 percent—while the segment of clicks that ended at Facebook dwindled from 31 percent to 10 percent.

Some brands are already seeing success with owned efforts. In order to get millennial fans excited about Madden NFL 15, EA Sports skipped a big Facebook push in favor of launching microsite The Giferator, which allows people to customize trash-talking, shareable GIFs. It used Facebook only to drive traffic to its microsite. “It’s not about what platform I’m on anymore,” said Anthony Stevenson, EA Sports’ vp of global marketing and brand. “It’s can I cultivate shareworthy content?”

Maintaining ownership of all the data is another big plus, Stevenson said, and has allowed EA Sports to tap into user insights and determine preferences that can inform targeting of ads. While The Giferator only got 200,000 unique visitors on the NFL season’s Sept. 4 opening day—a fraction of Facebook’s massive audience—each consumer stayed on the site for six minutes and looked at an average of eight pages. “Any brand that focuses myopically on one platform, they’re missing [a marketing opportunity],” Stevenson said.