My name is Kevin, and I’m a Facebook marketing addict.

Starting in 2012, I worked with brand managers who paid for fans and paid for their brand’s content to be seen. It gave me great joy to report back to those brand managers that our fan bases were growing. It gave me greater joy to report that our sponsored posts were breaking records for the most “likes” of any post in the brand’s history.

My clients loved me, cheered my efforts, and sang praises to my agency overlords.

I now know that I was living a lie.

Get ’em hooked

I recently took a look at the fan base for one of the brands I managed. (Left the job a year ago; still listed as an administrator. Pro tip: Remember to update those when employees leave.)

Among the top five countries where people “like” that brand are Iran, Egypt, and India. This brand’s product is not available in those countries. I repeat: You cannot purchase this product in those countries, and yet several thousand people in those countries have given permission to this brand to post its marketing messaging in their news feeds.

Permission marketing used to mean something on Facebook. It used to mean that if I “like” your page, your brand’s posts are allowed in my newsfeed. That’s not even close to being the case on this platform anymore, with EdgeRank killing reach and ensuring that in order for your post to be seen you have to fork over thousands.

The biggest lie when it comes to Facebook marketing is that the fans you’re paying for are actually fans. Nope. Not even close. More likely than that, several of those fan bases are made up of people who sit at a computer all day clicking things on Facebook.

A couple of fantastic videos from Derek Muller of Veritasium recently showed just how ludicrous this phenomenon is:

In the video, Muller does a great job of explaining exactly how these fake “likes” happen, and what that does to your engagement numbers. Every experience I have had with paid advertising on Facebook backs up these claims.

Establish demand, decrease supply

The problem for marketers is we’ve become addicted to our precious key performance indicators (KPIs), which on Facebook boil down to “likes,” comments, shares, link clicks, and reach.

As social media managers have learned over the past several months, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to get your content seen by fans who have opted into consuming your marketing messaging by virtue of “liking” your brand.

For a few years now, we’ve been building fan bases for our brands into the millions. And when a VP can tell an executive, “We have millions of fans while our competitors have just tens of thousands,” everyone is happy. When those conversations turn to engagement, they’re thrilled to see that 5,000 people “liked” a recipe for homemade whatever in the shape of something trendy.

When I first started working with Facebook reps to start advertising on the platform, we were advised to put money behind our strongest content, and the message would be amplified. The rest of our content would reach fans who have interacted with the brand in the recent past.

This is no longer the case, and it’s getting worse.

A recent Time article highlights an Ogilvy & Mather study that lays out the issue marketers are facing:

Over the past several months, Facebook has been reducing the organic reach of Pages. A recent study found that companies' posts dropped from reaching 12 percent of their followers in October to just 6 percent by February.

Brand managers have taken notice, and are starting to flee. The folks at Eat24 recently penned an open letter in which the brand “broke up” with Facebook. Facebook’s response? A cold good riddance from “Brandon at Facebook.”

Meanwhile, Priceline has said that Facebook ads “failed to deliver results.”

Kicking the habit

Facebook’s business model resembles that of a neighborhood drug dealer. Get ’em hooked young on something cheap, and then make your clients pay big time for something stronger when the cheap stuff doesn’t work anymore.

Brand managers will continue to flee from Facebook because they’ll realize it’s stupid to pay to have a bunch of fake fans “like” your sponsored post. It’s a modern version of Shakespeare’s “tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

When brand managers flee the platform, to whom will Facebook turn in order to make money, keep the stock price high, and please their board? I can’t be sure, but my guess is the user.

You can already pay to ensure that more of your friends and family can see that photo of the pork shank you overpaid for last night or your spoiled child’s derpy face. But when you have to pay for more people to see that? Welcome to MySpaceville.

So, perhaps we all need to go to Facebook rehab, take a hard look at what the hell we’ve all been doing, and spend our social media marketing dollars more wisely.

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