Ask a Rehab Marketer: What the Hell is Going on With Facebook?

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Those of you who have spent time hanging around Little Light Copywriting know that I am a big fan of paid Facebook advertising for rehab marketing. That’s because it works, especially when it’s used in conjunction with authentically valuable content, old-fashioned relationship building, and a sincere inbound marketing methodology.

Here’s the deal: the secret sauce in Facebook marketing is the ridiculous amount of data Facebook has about the 2.2 billion humans who hang out there for roughly 40 minutes everyday.

That data helps you target just the right demographic for whatever you're selling—you can sort people by age, gender, race, location, income, interests, and a ton of other data points. If you’re marketing a men’s halfway house in Michigan, you can target Michigan men of a certain age and income with an interest in sobriety. You can create look-a-like leads based on pre-existing lists you've already compiled through successful list building activities elsewhere. Nothing nefarious, really—and nothing compared to some of the truly shady tactics out there in unethical rehab marketing land—you’re just targeting your ideal customer to get the job done.

To those of us in marketing, the power of Facebook advertising isn’t news.

To the rest of the world? It looks like it might be.

Facebook in The Limelight

Facebook has certainly been in the limelight lately—and it’s not a good look.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s latest apology tour included a two-day stop at a congressional hearing about the Cambridge Analytica snafu.

Many people noted that Mark looked scared. He had good reason to be a bit on edge.

While there, Mark fielded questions about his involvement in things like: influencing elections, undermining our collective mental health, targeting our children for surveillance, and neglecting to educate us about how our information is being used in an unprecedented mass behavioral modification program.

Yikes. Yah, I’d be nervous, too.

What does all this mean for addiction treatment marketing?

Are Facebook ads still a good idea for saving lives and filling treatment center beds?

Yes, Facebook Ads are Still a Good Idea

Despite all the negative press, people are still using Facebook, which means people are still sharing their data with Facebook. I can’t tell you what that means for us as a nation or a planet, but I can tell you that that’s good for addiction treatment marketing. Facebook reports that user behavior really hasn’t changed all that much since the Cambridge Analytica situation or the congressional hearings. Although Facebook use has taken a small dip in recent years, Facebook and Google still control your access to over 80% of the eyeballs on the internet.

It’s no secret that Google Adwords banned addiction treatment advertisements in response to abuses by unethical marketers.


That leaves Facebook as the only logical choice for rehab advertising dollars, unless you’re targeting millennials, in which case you may also want to look at Instagram (...which is owned by Facebook). 

UPDATE: Google actually reversed its decision since I wrote this! Talk about uncanny timing. I'll be posting my thoughts about this change ASAP - stay tuned. The rest of this article is still relevant, I promise.

Now back to our regular scheduled programming:

Things That Actually Matter: Facebook’s New Algorithm  

While the Facebook congressional hearings haven’t changed the playing field much, the new algorithm Facebook rolled out in January 2018 certainly did.

Didn’t hear much about the algorithm in the news, did you? I didn’t think so.

Facebook’s new algorithm re-ordered user news feeds to prioritize and encourage “active connection” with family and friends.

Why does this matter?

It doesn’t matter much if you had a smart Facebook plan all along. Brands focused on building relationships with useful, shareable content can keep doing that and expect to see the same stellar results. Brands running clickbait campaigns and spammy ads, well, they’re going to need to find a new strategy.


Unfriending Organic Reach

For years, Facebook handed out free advertising, AKA “organic reach.” You posted something cool on Facebook and Facebook shared it with all your friends and followers—gratis.

The new algorithm marks the waning of those magical days.

Yes, Facebook still shares your posts for free but the algorithm only shows it to a fraction (between 3% to 30%) of your friends or followers. (Now you know why Cousin Suzie never saw your vaycay pics! It all makes sense now.)

Businesses fare far worse than individuals on this score. Although Facebook claims they’re not trying to make more money by pushing brands into paid advertising, I’m calling baloney on that. Facebook obviously wants you to pay to play.  

It’s worth saying that the more shareable a post is, the more it will be seen. It is still possible for an unpaid post to go viral with organic reach—it’s just a lot less likely now.

Your best bet?

Get Yourself Some Active Connection. Stat.

Facebook’s definition of “active connection” is important here, so let’s take a look at that for a minute.

For Facebook, active connection is relationship-based. Facebook considers commenting, sharing, or reacting to the content to be active connection.

Passive connection, on the other hand, is transaction-based. Clicking, hovering over, or watching content are examples of passive connection behavior on Facebook.

Because the new algorithm prizes relationship-based active connection, free posts only get eyeballs if the content is good enough to inspire Facebook action of some kind. In other words: if you don’t have shareable, likeable content, you don’t have anything worth posting to Facebook.

Repeat after me: clicking the content doesn’t count as active connection. Just having users click through to your website doesn’t cut it for Facebook. In order to count as “active connection” we need users commenting, liking, or sharing. Marketers knew this long before the algorithm change—humans hate spammy advertising? shocking!—but Facebook really drove the point home with these modifications.    

Ok, you understand the limitations of organic reach and passive connection.

Where do we go from here?

Focus on Quality and Metrics

First thing's first: stay on Facebook or get on Facebook if you’re not already there. That’s where the eyeballs are and that’s where the targeted marketing is.

While you’re there, focus on posting the absolute best content you’ve got and forget about the rest—it’s not going to reach anybody anyways.

Get serious and study up on how to create shareable, interactive content or pay a professional to do the heavy lifting for you. (Hi, there!) Make a budget for Facebook advertising and plan your campaign around that number. Always monitor the metrics. Use Facebook insights—Facebook’s free analytics tool—to track all of your posts. There is so much valuable information there to mine. Make note of which posts have gangbusters engagement and which posts missed the mark. Figure out what it is about those gangbusters posts that made them so successful and use that format for new posts moving forward. Rinse and repeat until all of your posts are gangbusters posts.

The Future of Facebook

What’s next for Facebook?

It’s hard to say. Facebook’s empire will surely collapse someday but I don’t think we’re anywhere near that point. Facebook’s closest competitors are either tiny in comparison (Twitter, Pinterest, Youtube, Reddit) or owned in-house (Instagram, What’s App). It will be interesting to see what, if any, regulation hits Facebook. If Congress’ dangerous tech illiteracy continues, I seriously doubt that any meaningful regulation will be possible. Change may only happen after we see a generational shift in government office. Even then, I wonder if we’ll see any significant changes to how marketing works on Facebook.

In any event, I’m going to continue to follow the Facebook situation closely for two reasons.

1 - It’s frikkin’ fascinating. Seriously, we live in crazy times and I want to see what happens next...I think.

2 - I’m committed to sharing the best marketing tools available to ethical, life-saving drug and alcohol treatment programs.

For now, Facebook is still one of those key tools. If Facebook stops being the best paid advertising option for drug rehabs, I’m ready to pivot to a new strategy. I still believe that a multi-channel, diversified marketing approach is your safest bet for maximizing conversion. Facebook should not be the only marketing thing you ever do. But as long as leads are willing to frequent Facebook’s vast 2.2 billion person wilderness, that’s where I’ll keep targeting them.

Facebook’s not dead—not by a long shot.

Erin Gilday