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.
“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
I 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.