There’s a lot of sturm and drang in the air when businesses log into their Facebook accounts. Views are plummeting, reach is shrinking, and “likes” are becoming even more ephemeral and mysterious than ever.
What exactly is happening?
Simply put, Facebook is putting the squeeze on business accounts. After attracting companies to their platform to join in on the conversation with millions of relevant users, they now are putting a price tag on what was once open expression.
Many in the marketing world are debating whether Facebook is justified in its increasing pay-to-play model. Most companies, however, don’t need to write a dissertation on business ethics—they simply need to assess the cost-benefit ratio of using Facebook as a marketing platform, and it’s a ratio that Facebook is increasingly stacking against itself.
Your Facebook post is not being seen
In an ideal world, if someone likes your page, they are implicitly open to seeing your content in their news feed. Twitter gets this, and shows every tweet from every person you follow, without interfering. Any curation, list-creation, or organization is up to the user.
Conversely, Facebook uses an algorithm called EdgeRank that tries to determine for each user what it thinks should be the most relevant information. As a result, businesses and brands have noticed that any given post of theirs is only shown to about 15 – 20 percent of their total followers. The EdgeRank post-chipper prevents anyone else from seeing it.
While not ideal, this percentage is manageable for those with large enough followings. However, since October, Facebook has put their post-chipper into high gear. Any given post will naturally be seen by only 5 – 6 percent of your page followers. A study by Social@Ogilvy reveals even starker numbers in the 2 percent range for pages with more than 500K followers, clearly showing that larger brands are essentially having their posts held hostage, with paid advertisements as the only acceptable ransom.
Earned likes are losing value
With the above EdgeRank eviscerations, your total page likes suddenly has much less value. If you spent hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars using Facebook’s promoted page ads to increase this number, then you have to wonder how well that money was spent.
Additionally, many that still use those promotions to increase their followers are reporting an uptick in non-useful likes—people from distant countries, robots, or simply those outside of their targeted demographics. When looking at your total followers, it only makes sense to see them as a collected group of people to which you will eventually serve paid ads.
Bait n’ switch
Many businesses are seething that they were roped into using the platform, spending time, money, and resources to build and improve their organic visibility, only to have that earned exposure placed behind another pay-wall.
Traditional norms have caught up
Meanwhile, others argue that this is just a sign of the web maturing, and incorporating traditional models of paid advertising. The free ride is over, and it’s no grand injustice to make companies pay for consumer attention.
Closed ecosystems have limits
No matter which side of the fence you fall on, Facebook has allowed themselves to control exposure through the very nature of their closed, social ecosystem. Businesses should expect to see the day quite soon when organic posts reach ZERO people without paying.
This is unlikely to happen on the open platforms like Twitter and Google Plus, which currently don’t attempt to curate the content visible for each user.
Add the following concerns to the above bottle-necking problem, and businesses should ask themselves if Facebook is a viable marketing platform for their purposes:
- Shifting user demographics
- A social audience that is the least amenable to advertising
- Active judgement and moderation of content (see Upworthy battle)
Despite all of these changes, Facebook still boasts the largest community of users, and depending on the industry, a very active platform for engagement. If used deliberately, with a deep awareness of target audience and specific business goals, Facebook can still be a great way to keep your name in front of consumers, both new and recurring. Just expect to pay cold, hard cash for every instance.