The Era of the Algorithm and Leased Social Spaces

Photo by Bill Lapp from Flickr

Do you remember the pre-social media era?

Think about all the things that have happened in your life in the last ten years. How did you find out what your friends were up to in 2002? How did you learn about new products back then? How did marketers promote new products without Google AdWords and social media networks?

Fast-forward to 2015. As a society, we face an unparalleled daily volume of messages to filter out. Put yourself in the shoes of the Facebook team — how do you encourage people to continue using your platform now that over 42% of marketers report that Facebook is critical to their business. According to Facebook Investor reports, they have 1.44 billion monthly active users, and 1.25 billion of those are on mobile devices. It is likely safe to assume that most people did not join Facebook to hear about products — they joined to keep up with their friends. So how does the Facebook team deal with the noise?

The only way to deal with such a massive volume of messages is to develop an algorithm that helps filter out the noise in search of relevant content for each person. Since you and I both have different interests, the algorithm has to be smart enough to recognize patterns in our behavior using available data. Think about what Facebook has to work with to filter this content — our interests, the types of links we share, the text we write, and the websites we visit. Compare your experience on Facebook to the experience of Twitter. Without an algorithm or filter, it is much too difficult to keep track of all the incoming messages you could receive on Twitter. Expect to see Twitter shift their business model to improve their curation ability over the next year now that Jack Dorsey is at the helm as CEO again.

The development of algorithms has created an unwelcome result for marketers — fewer people see their posts now that posts are being filtered. How does a marketer deal with these changes now that their reach has decreased? Remember that marketers are accountable for driving bottom-line results for businesses. The more people that see a marketing message, the greater chance that someone will take action and buy the product or service. Now is the time for marketers to change their tactics. Instead of using a B2C-style “one to many” approach, marketers are being forced to a model adopted by B2B-model companies — “one to one”. Relevance is the new reach.

An unexpected consequence of the social network algorithms is that companies can only reach a portion of their fans. Facebook has shifted from a free marketing model to a freemium business model. Facebook Pages is the free product, Boosted Posts are a premium ‘sampler’, and Ads Manager is the paid product. Welcome to what Jay Baer coined “leased social,” where you are renting space from huge companies to reach your target audience.

As a marketer, you do not own your page, or the algorithm that Facebook uses to determine the relevance of your posts. You can also expect to see similar relevance-sorting mechanisms on Instagram and YouTube in the future. Remember that these are companies that need to make money — and they are in the same business as you. Facebook is a publishing company now, powered by the advertising dollars they can receive by harnessing personal information about its users. However, you can develop digital assets that you do ‘own’, such as a website or mobile app — these are “Owned” media channels.

Here’s where the opportunity kicks in: since there’s so much public data available, you can use third-party tools to research what’s relevant to your audience. You can even use the paid media products from Facebook, Google, or Twitter as a brainstorming tool to help you invent products or campaigns that matter to people. I know many app developers who use iTunes to find new product ideas, just by sifting through the top 50 paid apps, reading the product descriptions, and reading all the 2–3 star reviews from users. We have more data now than ever before, and we can create almost any digital product from any location.

Luckily, we live in an age where quality is beginning to trump quantity again. The era of the YouTube ‘viral video’ dumpster is ancient history. Virality is planned, and usually not accidental. My mission is to help marketers and creators make less — less garbage content, regurgitated and posted less often.

I read a smart quote from some wise person on social media, who said that the world needs the right content to reach the right people. I think she’s right.

Originally published at on October 15, 2015.