To All Marketers: Give Up On Free Facebook, Not Facebook

on under Facebook Ads Management, Tactic Tuesday.

facebook moneyOver the past year, businesses have only been able to watch in horror as their organic Facebook reach started to waste away.

This development should come as no surprise, as the social giant made their intentions very clear in an announcement nearly a year ago.

At that time they said, "We expect organic distribution of an individual page's posts to gradually decline over time as we continually work to make sure people have a meaningful experience on the site."

Then they reaffirmed that commitment again in March, telling CNET "Over the past few months, we have been having conversations with clients about declining organic distribution in News Feed. This is largely due to more competition driven by more sharing."

While Facebook insisted these moves were being made to improve the average user's news feed, many felt these changes were largely considered to be Facebook's way of saying that if businesses wanted to use the social network as an advertising medium, then they should pay for the privilege. Those people were right. We learned that this past Friday when Facebook wrote in a blog post that they will be further dropping the reach of "organic posts [that] feel too promotional." In their announcement they identified three types of posts which fit this criteria.

  1. Posts that solely push people to buy a product or install an app
  2. Posts that push people to enter promotions and sweepstakes with no real context
  3. Posts that reuse the exact same content from ads

The changes Facebook has made over the past year have made it abundantly clear that 2015 will be even more difficult if businesses don't pay up. In many situations, these changes are forcing companies to reassess their time investment and ask themselves, "Should I cancel my businesses' Facebook page?"

Now, I would never have thought of this as being a potential question or reasonable consideration until I saw a pair of recent "quitting Facebook" blog posts gaining some level of virality (at least in the marketing industry). For each of the two brands, the reasons for deleting the Facebook pages were similar, although on a much different scale. In Groove's case, they were never able to gain any traction on Facebook, amassing a following of just under 200 fans that brought almost no traffic to their website. On the other hand, Copyblogger had a significant following, although they admit these numbers were bloated by an infestation of unpurchased like-bots, which can help further tank a page's organic reach as you continually post to an audience that is at least partially not real. Still, they didn't feel that the engagement rate justified the investment of time or effort.

These situations remind me of an old saying "Don't cut off your nose to spite your face." In the instances above, we could easily adjust the adage to read "Don't cut off your news feed to spite your Facebook." And this post isn't a response to say that either Groove or Copyblogger's decisions were wrong, because they both had their rationale and made a decision with their own best-interests in mind. However, I don't think other businesses should follow their lead, and I sincerely hope it doesn't become a new marketing fad.

Audience

In their post, CopyBlogger wrote, "It's not our job to tell our audience where we live. It's to grow communities where they live." I agree with that statement. That being said, regardless of any stats on engagement and organic reach, a portion of every brand's following lives on Facebook, it's just a matter of whether or not you're reaching them. As of November 2014, there were 1.35 billion active users on Facebook, which is more than Google+, LinkedIn, and Twitter combined.

While it's true that a large part of this group is unreachable if you don't pull out your wallet, does that mean you should completely forsake this audience? I say no. Even if it is a smaller and less active part of your community, there's a very good chance that for many of the people interacting with your brand on Facebook, it is the only active social profile they have in place. By shunning Facebook, your business is leaving upwards of a billion or more potential users on the table when considered against other social networks.

Sponsored Posts

The previous section may not have addressed how to reach a larger portion of Facebook's massive user base, but this section does. The first is paying to promote your posts. If Facebook is beginning to act like an ad network, use it like one. To do so, you don't have to spend a lot of money and you don't have to pay to promote every post. In the short term, I would stick to promoting posts that have the best chance of adding value to your customers or bringing back targeted visitors to your site. There are numerous advantages to promoting posts on Facebook, and I honestly feel like if businesses weren't so dead-set on the idea of Facebook being free, they would realize that they are missing an amazing advertising opportunity.

First off, promoting a post on Facebook is fairly inexpensive. Right now, for five dollars, a small business can promote a post to an audience that ranges in size anywhere from 1,000 to 15,000 depending on the level of targeting. If you do this ten times a month, it's only a fifty dollar investment and you will more than likely reach far more users than you ever previously had. You can pay to reach only the community you have already built, or you can use the promoted posts to grow your audience through relevant targeting. This highly specific level of targeting that Facebook offers advertisers is the second major advantage of promoting posts. This data focused way of finding users is far more effective than traditional media advertising, where potential audience members are painted with the broadest of strokes.

We're not talking about the highly sought after adults aged 25 to 54 demographic anymore. Nowadays, you can go after college educated 30 to 35-year-old men in Arizona who speak English, have an interest in Spanish, and know how to juggle. Obviously this is a slightly ridiculous example, but if you know who your audience is, you can find them on Facebook.

Retargeting

Simply put, retargeting works really well. Having the ability to catch back up with your site visitors down the line is invaluable and you can use this second introduction of sorts as either a way to advertise or grow your Facebook page's community. We have found that, in many cases, Facebook retargeting works better than general retargeting and is usually cheaper. As to why it works better, the easiest explanation is often the best. People spend a lot of time on Facebook. According to the data from this recent Business Insider Intelligence Report, the average user spends 50.7 minutes a day on Facebook, which is more than triple the 13.7 spent on Instagram and nearly 7 times the 7.4 minutes spent on Twitter.social-engagement-index-desktop-smartphone(1)

I would recommend setting up Facebook retargeting immediately, which can easily be done through a service such as Perfect Audience or AdRoll.

Perception

In this day and age, not having a Facebook page looks bad. Customers expect businesses to be active on their social network of choice. And as I've shown above, Facebook is the overwhelming social network of choice. Social media is a great potential customer service channel, an open line between you and the people who matter most to your business. This is not something that should be given up idly. Even if you don't use Facebook on a day-to-day basis, it is important to consider the social network's value to your customers and to be available to them wherever they reach out. This extends past customer service as well.

Facebook is like a second website. There are always going to be people who visit a Facebook page to find information the same way they would visit a web page. For an important announcement, maybe alternate hours or a special event, Twitter has more of the feel of a running conversation, while Facebook has a decidedly message board vibe. Posting an announcement on Facebook can serve the same purpose as updating the front page of your business website, which for some isn't always a painless process.

None of this is to say that Facebook is the best social network. It isn't. Facebook isn't as social as Twitter, it doesn't have the vibrant communities of Google+, and it can't even begin to compete with LinkedIn as a publishing platform. None of this means you should abandon Facebook. Don't judge it for what it isn't. Judge it for what it is. Facebook is an advertising network now, and a damn good one.

Image credit: Esther Vargas

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  • Hi Ben, I sometimes have the feeling that Facebook doesn't just have altruistic motives in limiting organic reach; less of that means more paid advertising... anyway, besides retargeting advertisers can also use RTB to prospect and get in front of a new audience..