Social media marketing on Facebook has become significantly harder and more expensive for small business owners. Much to their dismay, many small businesses have seen the organic reach of their Facebook posts drop precipitously in the past few weeks. While some of this was unavoidable, Facebook has made changes to its News Feed algorithm to disfavor posts from most business pages. This post will explain what these changes are and how they may affect small businesses.
At the end of 2013, Facebook released a statement saying they were going to be making changes to the News Feed algorithm so users would see more high-quality content. At the time, the said this meant that users would see fewer text-only posts from brands. However, in practical terms, business owners have seen the organic reach for all of their posts decline.
The changes will affect businesses of various sizes and popularity in different ways. Large brands that already had a large following and significant engagement will see little change to their organic reach because Facebook will assume that their posts are the kinds that will be shared. Not that this assumption is incorrect, but it puts small businesses that are trying to build their fan base and increase their engagement at a disadvantage. Small business owners will find it more difficult to start Facebook marketing without paying because their organic reach will be low.
Though the Facebook changes will clearly hurt small businesses seeking to use the platform for marketing, larger brands and celebrities, like MTV and Eminem, will benefit from preferential treatment. Clearly, Facebook is using the phrase “high-quality content” in a very liberal way when basing the decision on popularity. When pressed for clarification on the way the new algorithm would affect Facebook pages of different sizes, the company was predictably less than forthcoming.
“We have not given a specific reach number that pages should expect to see because organic reach will vary by page and by post,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement to ReadWrite.
While it’s tempting to get angry at Facebook for these changes, the simple truth is Facebook was inevitably going to become a pay-to-play network for marketing. As was mentioned in a recent post on this blog, the average Facebook user gets over 1,500 updates a day and the number keeps increasing. It’s impractical to show a user every status update so it was only a matter of time before Facebook had to filter out some of the marketing messages. One could imagine the backlash Facebook was receive if they filter out messages from a user’s family members just to make room for free marketing from small businesses. Facebook’s recent algorithm change, frustrating as it may be for marketers, is simply an acknowledgement that something was going to have to give.
It’s important to remember that the change only affects organic reach. Business owners can still pay as little as $5 to boost their post to their fans (i.e. paid reach). The Facebook spokesperson quoted earlier also mentioned the value of Facebook as a paid marketing platform.
“Like many mediums, if businesses want to make sure that people see their content, the best strategy is, and always has been, paid advertising,” the spokesperson said.
It’s true that Facebook needs to filter some status updates and give preference to others for space reasons, but its current plan of putting all the burden on small businesses in an effort to raise ad revenue may backfire. With organic reach numbers scraping the bottom and Facebook asking a minimum of $5 to boost a post, the question for small business owners is clear: Now that Facebook is essentially pay-to-play for small businesses, should you pay? There are a couple of ways to answer this question, but that’s a topic for another post.