The new reality for marketers on Facebook

An article we posted back in November about Facebook’s announcement that organic reach was going to decline significantly, making the concept of page likes irrelevant, has received a torrent of traffic in the past few days.

As Facebook wrote in a blog post, which spurred the article in question:

“Beginning in January 2015, people will see less of this type of content in their News Feeds. As we’ve said before, News Feed is already a competitive place – as more people and Pages are posting content, competition to appear in News Feed has increased. All of this means that Pages that post promotional creative should expect their organic distribution to fall significantly over time.”

Keep in mind this announcement from Facebook came after a two-year period that had already minimized organic reach significantly, so we and many other publications viewed it as the death of organic reach. Others disagree, but no one can dispute that the days of reaching even a majority of your audience for free are gone and have been for a long time.

The popularity of this article months later underscores the reality that far fewer people than expected understand what Facebook has been doing and will continue to do.

This week, I received an e-mail from someone – who obviously just read the article – that was under the impression that every person who liked the page would see every post. He worried about the audience he had built up. Would all that work go for naught?

Brand page likes have always been a bit of concern. In Facebook’s Wild West days, a number of dubious companies arose that sold likes and those likes were more likely to be from spam farms than actual humans. And even if you ran a like ad campaign through Facebook, there was no guarantee of high quality, as this blogger found out.

The race for likes – fueled by corporate ego to have more fans than the competition – gave birth to quick hitting giveaways and campaigns. A user would like a page to get a free burger or coupon and then immediately wish they never did. For brands that obsessively explored the value of a like, those freebie seekers were worth nothing.

So why has Facebook minimized the amount of people who see any brand post organically is neutered to single-digital percentages of or less?

There are both business and audience development reasons for this. The business reason is obvious – Facebook is a publicly traded company that has very specific and lofty revenue goals, and it has decided  – at least for now – that it will not make that money charging users for the privilege of using the service. This is the expected reason why Facebook is making it harder and harder for your audience to see your posts, regardless of what they say publicly.

The second reason, which does hold some weight, is it claims that users are inundated with content and that it tries to prioritize the content that users want to see. And often times, that’s not branded content. This is within their rights to do, but it doesn’t sting any less – especially for small and medium-sized brands that spent so much time building up their audiences. 

The reality is Facebook has long sought to manage the flow of information to your news feed. From algorithms to the “Pages Feed”, which lives on the left-hand rail and enables you to see all of the content from the Pages you’ve liked, to user feedback, where you can say you don’t want to see certain content, Facebook has policed the flow of information in your feed. This will forever continue and forever be at the whim of the company. 

Why Facebook’s steady march towards neutering brand organic content is upsetting, it is perhaps more so because it kick-started the wrong idea that a new era of “free” marketing was upon businesses, especially small and medium-sized businesses.

Those businesses were told they could trade traditional, costly avenues for promotion like direct mail, classified advertising and local TV for these social media presences that  – with some sweat equity – could provide unlimited free promotion to loyal and new customers alike.

But the reality is stark now. Your posts are only reaching a minuscule percentage of your page likes. The ad tools for marketing to the general Facebook populace are much more robust than your options for even marketing to your owned audience (you can choose to boost a post to “people who have liked your page” or “people who have liked your page and their friends” – which can be broken down by location. If you market to the general populace, however, you can segment by age, gender and any limitless audience interests.

So what does this mean for all brands, especially those in small and medium sized businesses? Unfortunately, the most satisfying action – completely shutting down one’s Facebook page and eliminating every aspect of Facebook actions – is the worst thing anyone can do.

Facebook still has over 1 billion active users, some of which are any businesses customers. So it is a marketplace for any organization’s wares. 

1) Time now enters the equation of Facebook’s value – it’s easy to say you can still chuck content up on Facebook even if it’s only reaching a minute fraction of your audience. If it takes time to draft that message and it takes effort to monitor how it does, that time could be better spent elsewhere like Twitter and/or LinkedIn. The days of putting content up there just because should be over.

2) Audience actions still matter – you should continue to use Facebook share tools on your content. If you’re getting any traffic to your site from Facebook these days, it’s likely because it comes from people sharing or liking that content to their news feeds, which their audience will see. Facebook will continue to drive traffic offsite for the near future. 

3) Facebook ads can be effective – While company representatives may be angry at Facebook and not want to give them money, it’s important to dispassionately face up to the new reality. Facebook has a huge audience that brands want to reach. Find a great promotion or opportunity to try a small Facebook buy with very specific targeting. Whether it outperforms other channels or not, that is a valuable insight to have.

4) Focus on that which you own. You may have seen a number of articles proclaiming that e-mail is back. The truth is it never left, but smarter automation and filtering tools have made recipients likely to be more receptive to smart offers. And if you build that e-mail list, you will own it forever. That is definitely a bonus after the lessons learned from Facebook’s policy changes.

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