This month, Facebook dropped a big bombshell on business owners, brands and publishers alike. In a blog post, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg outlined a plan to prioritize content from friends and family in individual newsfeeds, while demoting posts from businesses, brands and media.

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The problem

It goes without saying, but the implications for businesses and brands are enormous. How will they survive on the platform now that Facebook is proactively demoting their content?

For years, brands have been promised that building up their audience networks and followers on Facebook’s platform would reap rewards; in fact, in 2017 this promise helped Facebook capture more than one in five U.S. digital ad dollars. Zuckerberg’s latest proclamation, however, seemingly flushes that investment down the toilet.

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The solution

While there is real cause for concern, it’s no time to panic. The solution is much more obvious — and familiar — than people think. If Facebook is going to prioritize posts from actual people, then businesses need actual people to post about them. It’s really that simple.

Even before Facebook’s proclamation, some studies had shown that content created by consumers has a huge influence on others’ purchase intent when evaluating whether to buy a product. Facebook’s shift reinforces this paradigm, making it blatantly clear that those with the most power to influence any given person are the people within his/her personal network. For business owners and brands, there are three distinct takeaways:

  1. The attention span and appetite for interruptive ads and sponsored content is virtually non-existent. They can’t simply “buy” an audience anymore.
  2. Now, the only surefire way to reach social audiences — on Facebook and across channels — is for brands to inspire their audiences to do the talking for them.
  3. Getting fans to create content that is clearly branded requires enticing, dynamic content creation experiences.

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Brands leading the way

The key to future success is nailing takeaway No. 3. Smart businesses have already begun thinking this way. Take Taco Bell, for example, which shattered records with an augmented reality campaign that turned selfie videos into talking taco shells. The quirky campaign was designed to celebrate Cinco de Mayo and garnered some 224 million views in just one day. But, this campaign’s secret to success wasn’t necessarily that 224 million people wanted to be tacos; it was successful because the company gave fans access and creation rights to some of its most valuable brand assets — a subtly branded taco and the chain’s famous “bong” sound. Of course, using your brand’s best assets for fan-generated content comes with inherent risk — real-time moderation capabilities are a must for brand safety when using fan-generated content — but for Taco Bell, that risk came with huge reward.

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In another instance, MTV used fan-generated content to help promote its annual Video Music Awards. MTV fans were invited to download a hologram in the form of the iconic “Moon Person” award, MTV’s version of an Oscar statue. The Moon Person holograms were designed to mimic popular dance moves like the Dab and the Whip/Nae Nae, and fans could then layer the hologram into photo and video posts that could be shared across any social media channel, offering a more platform-agnostic experience than Taco Bell’s Snapchat-centric one. This is an important distinction, because rather than chasing its audiences from social channel to social channel, MTV was able to create a unified experience for fans wherever they were. On average, users spent two minutes and 35 seconds with MTV’s content; not only that, the holograms were viewed 2.43 million times and they racked up 278,000 engagements on social media in four days. Not bad!

Why did these campaigns deliver such strong results? Because fan-generated content is, by design, more authentic and relevant to a person’s friends and family than traditional interruptive advertising. The premise is simple: If you see a video with your friend walking around as a talking taco or a video of your sibling doing the Dab with a major entertainment industry award, you’re going to want to watch it — and maybe even create one of your own. As platforms tighten their grip on what content users see and define “meaningful social interactions” as the exchange among friends, inspiring fans to speak on your behalf will be invaluable. The businesses and brands that will fare best are those that invest in engaging content creation experiences that can turn run of the mill social media activity into branded social media advocacy.

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