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What Happens When the “Rent Free” Option Dies on Social Networks?

The free ride may be over for many entrepreneurs who have built their businesses on social networks. There’s been a brouhaha brewing in the last couple of weeks about yet another Facebook change in policy that will kill free product plugs in your Page News Feed.

Organic Traffic in a Deep Dive

Facebook is clamping down on small business owners that have used their feed to post updates about their products and services. It was obviously a free form of advertising. But Facebook claims these posts clutter feeds with content that people don’t want to see.

So effective January 15, according to Facebook, “Pages that post promotional creative should expect their organic distribution to fall significantly over time.

The post continued, “This change will not increase the number of ads people see in their News Feed.” But Facebook doesn’t add any explanation about why not.

You may have noticed in the past year that your Facebook organic traffic has already decreased significantly. Facebook’s Brian Boland explained why in a June post about how the News Feed works.

Organic traffic from social networks in deep dive“Rather than showing people all possible content, News Feed is designed to show each person on Facebook the content that’s most relevant to them,” he said.

“Of the 1,500+ stories a person might see whenever they log onto Facebook, News Feed displays approximately 300. To choose which stories to show, News Feed ranks each possible story (from more to less important) by looking at thousands of factors relative to each person.”

In other words, you’ll get to see what Facebook says you should see, even if you’ve Liked a company’s Page because of its promotional content.

As The Wall Street Journal reported, entrepreneurs that built their business with status updates on their Facebook Pages will feel the “sting” of the new policy.

It cited Chrisy Bossie who built a $100,000-a-year gemstone e-commerce business by sharing information about her products on her company’s Facebook Page several times a week. As a captive of Facebook, she will now have to boost her ad spend.

Enter Paid Advertising

The Facebook post by Brian Boland (who not-so-incidentally leads the Ads Product Marketing team at Facebook) generated over 350 comments. I read many of them. A majority felt that by banishing promotional posts Facebook is forcing Page owners to pay to advertise content that used to be free. I’d agree that’s pretty obvious.

But Facebook is a business — a publicly owned company. Its fiduciary responsibility is to the company’s shareholders, not their members. So we can get mad all we want. The rules of the game are changing on every social network, especially regarding advertising.

I tried advertising on Facebook with a Boosted Post. I didn’t get a single new visitor, but, then again, my budget was very small.

I did better advertising on Twitter, experimenting with Promoted Tweets because I was curious to see how they would work for my business. The ROI on my $50 investment – in my case, the number of visitors to my site – was quite respectable. And I actually think a company that sells a tangible product could see a positive ROI terms of sales.

Some business owners may be perfectly content with having to shell out more money for paid ads if they produce results.

In the Journal’s article about Facebook’s new policy, Steven Jacobs, with a digital events company, said businesses used to own their consumer relationships through email or other in-house marketing channels, or to buy them from newspapers, television and other traditional media outlets through ads.

 “But Yelp and now Facebook are trying to peddle a third model, he says: “renting—in which a business can build a community but never own an audience on a platform.”

Your Website or Mine?

But just how big are those communities? A post by Forrester, the global business advisory firm, made the dire prediction that “Facebook has finally announced the end of organic social marketing on its site.”

It cited a study by Ogilvy that found large brands’ Facebook posts reached just 2% of their fans (a number that was falling by .5% per month). A Forrester study showed that, on average, only .07% of top brands’ Facebook fans interact with each of their posts.

It’s hard to see how that percentage could go lower with the new Facebook policy, but it will.

Forrester’s solution: the renewal of branded communities that a company owns. The Forrester survey shows, “that U.S. online adults who want to stay in touch with your brand are almost three times as likely to visit your site as to engage you on Facebook.”

Forrester also stated, “Stop making Facebook the center of your relationship marketing efforts.”

Again, citing its own study, “U.S. online adults who want to stay in touch with your brand are almost twice as likely to sign up for your emails as to interact with you on Facebook. Plus your emails get delivered more than 90% of the time while your Facebook posts get delivered 2% of the time.”

The Bottom Line

Blog social mediaI think the answer is quite clear: you need to own your clients and you can’t do that if you “rent” space on a social media network like Facebook that essentially owns them, not you. You need to build your own communities on your website and through your blog.

Contrary to some pundits who say blogs are down for the count, blogs are essential to establishing your authority and burnishing your brand.

You should have a blog to:

  • Drive organic traffic to your website. Search engines downgrade static websites. They reward websites with dynamic content, so every time you publish a blog, it is another page indexed and signals search engines that they should be stopping by frequently to see what’s new.
  • Get exposure on social media. You’re probably thinking by now that I’ve soured on social media. Au contraire. Social media is very important to your business. When people share your content on their social networks, you reach new audiences that may click on a link back to your site.
  • Develop new business. Some of those new visitors might like what they see when they get there and convert to new business.
  • Establish your authority. Your blog is where you establish your authority in your field, your messages unfiltered by Facebook and other social media networks. It’s where you can provide advice to your clients, build your “branded communities” and engage in conversations with them, and announce new products and developments in your organization.

Businesses are still finding their way on social networks. And these networks are scrambling for new revenue streams, just like any other business.

We just need to remember that social networks are businesses, too, and while they no doubt want to provide the best possible service to their members, their first obligation is to make a profit and satisfy their investors.

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  1. Hi Jeannette

    I enjoyed this post from start to finish as you really hit a nerve on the new policy on Facebook. I have not read the new policy but I am aware of Facebook continuous change of policy. I agree that even though Social Media is important, it is not wise to build your business in a social platform. Instead, let your blog be the platform through which you do business.

    However I was thinking of doing paid advertising in Facebook but I think I will try it on twitter instead since your ROI on Facebook was strange. .

    Thanks for the information. I will share this with everyyone
    ikechi recently posted..John Craig Turns His Worst Times Into An InspirationMy Profile

    • Ikechi — It’s hard to keep up with Facebook, as they change the rules so often. It was pretty shocking to see how little impact Facebook has for even the biggest companies. Yet we can’t argue that some small entrepreneurs have built big businesses on Facebook. But that free option is going away and what used to be free will now cost money.

  2. Hi Jeannette,

    Like we didn’t see this one coming!

    I haven’t really been building my Facebook Fan Page for a number of years now. I guess mainly because I make the majority of my connections through personal connections. Granted, I’m not a big business or selling my wares either.

    I’ve built my business through the personal connections that I’ve made so most people would prefer to friend me on my personal account than like my fan page. I share different stuff on my personal page though but I never really “promote” my stuff. Sure, I might be writing a review or someone else has that I’m sharing but I don’t really promote my stuff on Facebook.

    Now the funny thing about their algorithms is I’m seeing stuff in my news feed that has nothing to do at all with my interests yet they keep on coming. I know there is a lot of stuff that I would love to see that I’m probably not. I even have an extension so I can block certain things so I don’t have to see them but for some reason they find a way around that.

    I’ve always told people that you can build your following on social media if you want but it you’re not getting them back to the only place you own online then you’re really missing out. This is proof now of how much a lot of people and businesses are going to be hurt unless they want to start upping their advertising budget and getting more people that way.

    I appreciate you sharing this because it is very important to know.

    Hope your week is going well and thanks again.

    ~Adrienne
    Adrienne recently posted..How To Benefit From Your Blog CommunityMy Profile

    • Adrienne — like you, I don’t depend on Facebook (or even the other social networks, for that matter) for traffic. I have a presence in a Facebook fan page, but I’m not very active. I’m more active on on my personal page so I can keep up with my friends and especially my nieces and nephews and their children who don’t live near me. Facebook is just one more advertising medium now, like TV or print. I think the free ride is over. So instead of griping maybe members should be grateful they got so much free advertising until now!

  3. Very informative post! It can be daunting, just keeping with the the rules on both Facebook in addition to the algorithms for Google. I may be the outlier, but I do understand the why of the new rules, like you. I suspect they may have had feedback, regarding all those posts from businesses. I have days when I find them a bit annoying myself:)
    Jacqueline Gum recently posted..Wisdom and Aging… Where’s The Justice?My Profile

    • Jacquie — It is daunting trying to keep up. Facebook does say in its own posts that they surveyed members who complained about the promotional posts they were seeing. But I think Facebook would have changed the rules anyway because they are a business and when you get right down to it, another advertising medium, like TV or print and they don’t give away their space for free!

  4. Business decisions aside, even from a personal FB page standpoint, the way they make posts visible to users is a mystery and can be annoying. Depending on whther I access FB via my phone, iPad, or laptop will throw different stuff into my feed. Also, stuff doesn’t even appear chronologically because of how posts that get liked or commented on will get thrown to the top of the feed. Small-time bloggers like me are definitely better off putting effort into building a blogging community rather than wasting too much time on social media.
    Jeri recently posted..#ShortStory: The Best American Short StoriesMy Profile

    • Jeri —

      I agree about Facebook. Confusing. I have a Page but mainly use my personal account so that I can keep up with the activities of my nieces, nephews and their children, although you are using Instagram more these days (also owned by Facebook)!

    • Ken — that is the problem when social networks filterhttps://www.ted.com/talks/eli_pariser_beware_online_filter_bubblesby Eli Parisir, who discusses this in depth — very scary.

  5. Hi Jeannette, I have been dithering about whether to set up a facebook account or not but here is another good reason for ‘not’. I think I will continue to set it on the back burner and keep checking out the other social media sites to see which one fits. Thanks for another informative post.
    Lenie recently posted..Car Emergency Kit – NOT in the Trunk, Please.My Profile

    • You’re welcome, Lenie. After January, organic search in Facebook will fall off drastically so you wonder whether it’s worthwhile to create a business Page if no one will see your posts.

  6. Jeannette- I tried Facebook for awhile but I haven’t seen any measurable traffic. I do feel that blogging is so important and as you say when it gets indexed Google sees more pages which in turns sees your site as viable. I have two blog sites and on one I only advertise products and on the other I create relationships with bloggers. Social media is here stay and it is worth working on it as much as possible.
    Arleen recently posted..How to Stimulate CreativityMy Profile

    • Arleen — I personally feel that blogging is the centerpiece of a social media strategy. It’s your home base where you establish your authority and then share your content on social networks.I believe in social media but we need to recognize that the rules are changing.

  7. Post is very informative about new policy of Facebook. Well for me it is an ocean and everyday I am just getting a drop out of it.
    But it takes a lot of time to understand all such information.

    People have enjoyed free facebook adds and stuff from years and with the change of time new generation will now pay for such stuff. I was much on Facebook but from last year when whole news feed is full with adds and forced options and likes I am getting out of it slowly. Now I feel that Linked In is much better in this respect.

    Thank you for an informative post.
    andleeb recently posted..TheatersMy Profile

    • You’re welcome, andleeb. Many others have also commented on the increase in ads in their news feeds. Starting in January you will see even fewer posts in your feed based on what Facebook thinks you should see. It will be interesting to see how this all sorts out.

  8. Facebook has never been important to me. Just use it for the simple reason that Swedish businesses are using it more than Linkedin and Twitter. Crazy but true and it applies to companies that are not selling to consumers as well.

    What Facebook is doing has been obvious for quite some time.

    We can however change what content is displayed to us;

    1) Go to news on the top left side (presume it’s called news since I have no choice but to use Swedish)
    2)Click on the arrow and change from top to latest. Facebook changes it back after a while however so you have to repeat it.

    Am personally quite happy with what Facebook is doing because far too many businesses spam groups on Facebook with their ads. So provided the algorithm works as planned it may actually turn out to be a blessing in disguise.
    Catarina recently posted..Communication – The key to Successful Leadership!My Profile

    • Catarina — Interesting that even Swedish companies that don’t sell products prefer Facebook, wonder why. Interesting point you make that the new change in algorithm may actually improve the information we see in our news feed. I truly hope so.

  9. Jeannette,

    Thanks for the update on Facebook’s policy changes. It doesn’t come as a surprise. Facebook is constantly changing things. As you say, they’re a business and they’re all about making money.

    I’m thankful that I decided long ago to not depend upon FB for any sort of traffic. It’s fine for building awareness and reinforcing relationships but unless we’re willing to pay, it’s basically futile.

    I get so aggravated by what FB thinks interests me. More and more, I find myself depending on lists to find out what’s going on with my friends and associates who I do follow there. Even with lists, my feed is still riddled with sponsored ads from businesses that I have absolutely no interest in.

    This was very informative! I’m off to share.
    Sherryl Perry recently posted..What SEO Tools Do You Use? #FridayFindsMy Profile

    • Thanks,Sherryl, for sharing my post. I don’t depend on Facebook for traffic, either. I simply have a presence, as you do, on my Page for brand awareness. I do post to my personal page because that’s how I keep up with my relatives and fiends.

  10. I totally get this. Aren’t all or most of the social media sites in it to make a profit? Facebook for me is annoying as heck anyway. I’m there, but very little. And that’s mainly because that is how I stay up with my son and his family.

    The people I want to attract just aren’t finding me there – and like you – I tried a boost post and no ROI. I’m considering upping my budget for that now that my book is out.

    Thanks for this valuable post Jeannette. Because if you don’t see it coming, you do now!
    Patricia Weber recently posted..5 ways to safeguard your introvert identityMy Profile

    • Pat — Yes, we’ll continue to see all the social networks do a full court press for advertising, especially if they are public companies. Like you, I mainly use Facebook to keep up with friends (like you) and relatives.

  11. I totally agree with you Jeannette! Its about authority. You can’t have a serious business without establishing yourself as a professional, without building a long-term relationship with your customers and without social media/web page presence.

    Thank you for this article!

    • Nick — thanks for visiting. Yes, it is about building relationships. You can do that online and I have. But my website is my home base, not a social network.

  12. Hi Jeannette, it is so great to hear that blogs are flourishing and those other reports are not true. Couldn’t agree with you more that it is important to build our communities and our brand on our blog that we own instead of being at the mercy of Facebook etc. the people that have built up the following on FB and haven’t gotten them over to the blog from there will have missed the boat.

    • Susan — I agree that if you can’t attract your social media connections to your website you’re at great risk. It’s apparent that the advertisers are going to be the ones that get seen in anyone’s news feed so most people who rely on organic traffic on these sites are going to be left out in the cold.

    • Eve — I haven’t really gotten involved in Facebook groups, but I think with the changes in their algorithms I’m not going to start now.

  13. You really hit the hammer on the head Jeannette!

    The extremely important question that you’re asking, has unfortunately yet to be
    asked and or seriously considered by far too many – only concerned for the moment-
    thinking type of entrepreneurs.

    Because you are so spot when you point out, that you and I don’t actually own the social network
    platforms that we actively market and interact on.

    So it’s best to try and figure out the best way(s) to leverage them, because as you mentioned,
    these are publicly traded companies, that first and foremost are legally obligated to
    serve the best interest of their shareholders, not necessarily their members!

    A sad fact that far too many otherwise extremely savvy entrepreneurs, seem to forget!
    Thanks so much setting the record straight!
    Mark recently posted..Why You Might Want To Seriously Consider Hiring A Lion Tamer As Your Next Marketing Consultant!My Profile

  14. Hi Jeannette,

    I loved your post. As a matter of fact the title caught my attention on Adrienne’s blog where I was leaving a comment (ClV really works).

    I have not had much luck with FB, perhaps because I entered it sort of later, as they began to change things around. But I really tried hard, posted ad nauseam, created beautiful images, published posts and I never spammed. I bought likes the legit ways (through FB), but all these efforts amounted to nothing. Now, when I post to my different pages, I am lucky to get 4-5 views.

    I am also finding that G+ is also heading the same way and I don’t even find it that user friendly.

    Personally, I stick to blogging, trying to publish content that is good an helpful to my readers, treat SEO with respect and try, as much as time allows me, to connect with other bloggers as I am doing now.
    Dita Irvine recently posted..Monthly Blogging Scoop – February 2015My Profile

    • Thanks, Dita, for stopping by. With Facebook’s new policy on promotional posts in your Page news feeds, you are even less likely to attract traffic. Facebook chooses which posts a member sees and not necessarily the ones you’ve posted to your feed. I think going forward it is going to be very difficult to break through the clutter on Facebook Pages except by paid advertising.