Facebook is changing. If you’re a business on Facebook, these changes have already affected you.
Even if it becomes less useful, Facebook’s relevancy isn’t going anywhere, but it is in our best interest to accept that the nature of the platform has already changed. Instead of the public, free playground it once was, it’s more like Chuck-E-Cheese.
If we follow the trends of Facebook’s development, it’s not a stretch to assume that even this analogy will be outdated sooner rather than later. You’re welcome to disagree (and I’d love to hear what you think), but I think that eventually businesses will get the most value from Facebook by using it more like a traditional interrupt channel as opposed to an inbound marketing channel.
Let’s recap the direction Facebook has been moving in. If you’re already familiar with Facebook’s News Feed changes, you can click here to skip ahead.
Not every marketing love story has a happy ending. In March of this year, food delivery app Eat24 dumped Facebook in glorious and gory fashion.
Their break-up letter was regaled across all reaches of the web, even getting featured on CNN’s website. The reason for the break-up? Facebook had changed, and it was clear that they were wasting each others time (and money). So on Monday, March 31st, Eat24 packed up and moved out; their Facebook presence wiped clean.
For those of you who aren’t entrenched in the social media marketing world, you might be wondering:
With 1.2 billion active monthly users, isn’t deleting your Facebook page like shooting yourself in the foot with a cannonball?
Probably, but Facebook is definitely undergoing a painfully long, awkward puberty phase.
Since Facebook rolled out their Pages feature businesses have enjoyed a symbiotic, highly engaging relationship with both their customers/fans, as well as Facebook itself. Brands could put some time and effort into Facebook’s highly popular platform and interact with actual people; directly. They could further reinforce their brand, refine marketing tactics, or even simply communicate better (I always go back to the example of my gym reliably posting Holiday closures and hours).
Furthermore, users would see what organizations say via their pages, presumably, because they wanted to. The common interpretation of ‘liking’ a page was seen as a vote of confidence that tells the world, Facebook, and the organization, “hey, I can get behind whatever these guys and gals are about!”
Around the end of 2013 and onward, Facebook began to tweak how they display posts from pages on users’ News Feeds. In fact, it was rumored that Facebook plans on slashing organic reach of pages to 1-2%. Or basically, if your business has a Facebook page with 2000 likes and you post something, only 20 to 40 of your fans will see it.
Effectively speaking, Nike won’t have 19 million likes on their page, they’ll have 190,000. Marathon Music Works won’t have 22,000 likes, they’ll have 220. We won’t have 3500 Likes on our Facebook page — we’ll have 35. Or at least that’s the general effectiveness of that number of fans.
It makes those initial numbers hardly seem impressive, much less valuable.
In addition to these developing changes, Facebook continues to take measures to force the filtered News Feed upon users. For instance, a recent update to Facebook’s Android app made it impossible to switch the News Feed from ‘Top Posts’ to ‘Recent Posts’, so despite some users wanting an unfiltered feed showing every single post from their friends and followed pages, they have no choice but to accept the filtered world of Facebook’s algorithm.
Given what we know about Facebook’s focus and heralded success of their mobile ads program, it’s not a curious move. For smartphone users everywhere, there will be some things that Facebook simply does not allow to see. Greater control over what is and isn’t seen gives greater control to serve ads.
Clearly, this is troublesome for any company that has invested in their Facebook presence. This isn’t to say that the sky is falling, though it sure feels like something is collapsing, but many are feeling like Facebook is imposing a ‘pay to play’ rule set.
Facebook has gone on to refute these claims, intimating that, yes, organic reach is going down thus it is only natural that ads and sponsored posts see a bump, but their motivation for the change isn’t to sell adds. Instead Facebook is on record making 2 primary cases for their algorithm changes:
- The amount of content shared continues to balloon like the guy from the Yoshi’s Island commercial in the 90’s. As a result, the News Feed is a competitive, no-holds-barred battleground and only getting more cutthroat by the day.
- The News Feed is designed to show 300 out of 1500+ potential posts shared. They’ve focused on showing high quality, relevant content and reducing spam. Reducing business news feed reach contributes to this.
To Be (on Facebook) or Not To Be?
Given the current progression, it is hard to ignore a crucial decision on the horizon for many businesses.
Is our business wasting time and resources on our Facebook page?
In the near-term, a massive paradigm shift isn’t happening.
As someone who manages a number of social media accounts, I have to admit that after the News Feed changes, part of me wants to tell Facebook ‘peace out‘, but I’d be blind to not see that there is still plenty of utility from our little nook in Facebook’s universe. Besides the obvious gripes, I believe that an overlooked reason why marketers & promoters are so frustrated with the changes is that the way the public uses Facebook will always lag behind how Facebook wants us to use it.
Basically, people have a current idea how brands use Facebook. Facebook yanked the table cloth from under everyone. Of course, we notice that there’s not a blasted table cloth anymore, but everyone else at the table sees all the silverware and fine china still in place. The table cloth won’t even cross their minds until dinner is served and things are getting spilled.
As an inbound channel, it’s getting less appealing for us to use Facebook. At USImprints, I get suggestions for things to put on our social accounts, which always summarize to: “Put that on Facebook”.
Generally harmless, plus with social media tools like BufferApp and HootSuite it’s trivial to share something across multiple networks, but if I’m looking to run a small contest, of course the idea of using Facebook isn’t going to appeal to me — not if I want the contest to have any participants.
Anyone who isn’t in a related field doesn’t know this yet, thus the de facto, “put it on Facebook!”
It’s awkward for brands because we suddenly look rather inept at social media on top of simply not being able to reach people as easily as we once were. It’s potentially inconvenient for users because the former expectation of following organizations they liked has drastically changed.
Organic Reach: Then and Now
Examples are always good, so let’s play with some numbers using the USImprints Facebook account as a source.
Now, when I started working here, I inherited a Facebook account with a little north of 3000 Likes, no real unified direction on any of our accounts, and sporadic updates.
Since then, we’ve slowly dial-in with our strategy for each network, increased activity, and tried to create and share content that people would be more inclined to positively react to as opposed to posts that basically say, “Check out X product, they’re great! Click here!”
That said, we’re not yet a social juggernaut by any means, but we definitely aren’t starting from nothing. Using the 3000 Like figure as a baseline, let’s feel out the actual impact of Facebook’s News Feed algorithms by looking at how our total reach (the number of unique people who have been exposed to a post) has fallen.
We’ll look at our organic reach on a per post basis starting from 2/23/2013; the date our Facebook page hit 3000 likes.
We’ll end the range at 3 different points, looking at the following 3 periods:
- 2/23/2013 – 11/30/2013
- 2/23/2013 – 1/31/2014
- 2/23/2013 – 6/9/2014 (present day)
Why segment at the end of November and January? We know that Facebook pushed algorithm updates targeting the organic reach of pages in December and February, so we’ll cut off before those months to get a rough idea of the impact.
|ORGANIC REACH (users)||Pre-November 2013 News Feed Update||Pre-February 2014 News Feed Update||Present|
|2/23/13 – 11/30/13||2/23/13 – 1/31/14||2/23/13 – 6/9/14|
No surprises with the downward trend in reach. Considering the big chunk of time we have without any drastic News Feed changes, that dampening looks pretty serious.
To really see the impact on the two algorithm updates, let’s isolate the numbers from the two updates.
|ORGANIC REACH (users)||Pre News Feed Updates||Post News Feed Updates|
|6/1/13 – 11/30/13||12/1/13 – 5/30/14|
I think the most telling number is actually the difference max reach. There is a 77% drop from the old max reach of 1403 to 322.
Granted, the 1403 max is related to a small Instagram contest we did for Halloween, which will have higher engagement by nature, but the 322 figure is well below the average reach of posts before Facebook’s changes!
Facebook has flat out stated that they expect the organic reach of pages to continue to decline. They’ve done nothing but back up that claim so far, so it’s a fairly safe to assume that, in the future, these numbers will be even lower.
The average number of people who saw anything we posted after the December update is 112 — that’s roughly 4% of our potential audience. If we’re to believe the rumor that Facebook is planning on cutting that down to 1-2%, then we can plan for those numbers being cut in half or worse in the future.
For the best social media minds, these updates have yet to cause a noticeable drought. This is especially true in cases where brands already focus on virality such as BuzzFeed, UpWorthy and their army of clones.
For instance, Dr. Josh Axe is a wellness doctor and public figure in the enormous wellness field who has enjoyed plenty of success via Facebook. While skimming through his page’s posts might hint that the share, like, and comment averages are down a little, he is still able to post content that garners numbers that look no different than they did before the News Feed shake up.
If I had to roughly attribute his continued success to anything, it’d be to the consistent growth of followers, great effort maintaining page activity, and being in a vertical where content lends itself to discussion and sharing.
But the Ads… they work!
So let’s throw everything else out the window and just look at the ads. What we do know is that they are effective, at least at increasing reach. If you’re targeting based off of who Likes you and their friends, than your Facebook page’s Like count comes into play.
By now, it is generally accepted as bad practice to purchase page promotion to gain more Likes, though. Instead, their best utility is to promote something more practical; a piece of content you’ve shared on your page, a sweepstakes, a promo for a trial for your service. Facebook ads are robust, letting you target demographics, behaviors, interests, connections, and whether the ad displays on Desktops or Mobile.
We’ve had $60 net us 26,000 unique people reached, with $55 bringing in 2990 users reached and half the engagement. That said, targeting, ad content, and type of ad greatly affect what you’ll get out of an ad. Even if you’re a small business, with a little bit of spend, businesses can greatly amplify their reach. It’s not how the system originally worked, but it is still a lot more than we had before Facebook.
Here are some numbers of a few of our ads for any uninitiated, yet curious what to expect from Facebook as an ad platform. Note: none of our ads have tried to sell anything directly or been heavily conversion related.
|Cause to Promote||26608||55||$60.00|
|Small Business Blog||8092||51||$23.47|
What do we do now?
For businesses, Facebook pages will continue to be a necessary digital media property; indefinitely.
If your business simply does ‘the Facebook thing’ because everyone else does, or you’re only recently trying to build an audience on there, the princess is in another castle.
There are some indicators that consumers use social media presence and activity as a trust factor in e-commerce (admittedly need to do more research), and a company like Nike has invested so much in their digital real estate, tallying 19 million likes, that following Eat24’s extreme path veers into the unlikely.
Consider that Facebook is likely the first place a consumer will like to look for a brand’s social media presence. If nothing else, Facebook pages have become today’s gateway; tantamount to the web site 10-15 years ago. If you don’t have one, do you really exist?
If you are thinking of pulling an Eat24, you’d best have a killer plan. I’m sure that we’ll see more businesses follow suit, and most likely none of them will get the press coverage that Eat24 did.
The Google Model
Google serves as a loose precursor for tracking how drastically and suddenly a platform can change.
It wasn’t all that long ago that Google was an entirely organic, inbound channel. In fact, it persists as a force for naturally attracting new customers by an order of magnitude never before seen. Despite that, Google’s advertising platform gains mass each year. As their gravity grows, so too does the way we think of Google.
For many, paid and organic traffic are each necessities with more joining the ranks each day. Just ask eBay how their disavowal of Google’s ad platform is working out for them after they were supposedly hit with a search penalty.
My point is, things change faster than we can keep up with.
For now, a brand like Dr. Josh Axe is still able to flourish by heavily investing into their Facebook activity, and it is still borderline taboo to advertise to sell something direct on Facebook, but don’t be surprised to wake up one day and that to have changed.
Best believe that the brands gearing up for the most success are the ones who aren’t afraid to try to advertise directly, even if it is ineffective now. Even if it is never effective. At worst, they’ll understand that first.
If you covet an inbound channel free from the oppressive rule of ads, you’re already pumping more resources into other outlets.
Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest: all provide unfiltered feeds to anything that users follow. And if that’s what you’re looking for, then you’ve probably ran your last promotion that piggy-backed off Facebook and are heavy into something else.
If you’re a small business that does most of your social media marketing via Facebook, I’d advise spending some time revising your strategy (even if you decide to primarily use Facebook).
The wise place emphasis on other outlets, while still getting some utility out of Facebook. Some amplify, some differentiate, and some turn their Facebook page into an echo chamber for their other accounts.
Maybe Facebook is merely a land of reposting Tweets, Pins, or Instagram pictures. Maybe the pure organic reach of those networks gets amplified with a small investment in Facebook ads. Despite hard times, even mere social media mortals have plenty of value to gain from Facebook.
Facebook and those after it were initially exciting, prosperous opportunities for brands because, with work, you could instantly see gains (a la SEO in its younger days). Today, it is a very difficult sphere to navigate because of the attention brawl and monsoon of drastic changes. In the future, expect to see Facebook cement itself into something less lucrative, more expensive, yet as necessary as ever.
The question is: what are you going to do about it?