Facebook Marketing: Pay To Play

It's been years now (starting strongly in 2013) since Facebook started emphasizing a "Pay To Play" page policy by letting users control their News Feed preferences 100%. This is fantastic for the average (non-business) user of course, who has been sick of getting promotions and advertisements dominating their News Feeds, and possibly opting more for Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn in the process. For the advertisers, this means an even greater number of people who liked your page (that you worked and paid for) there is an even smaller percentage of your fans that are actually following your posts! It's a double whammy that amounts to (depending on your page of course) maybe 1% or less of your page's fans are now actually seeing any of your posts. And yes that is a realistic figure. It certainly  makes sense for Facebook (financially of course, and because it's an increasingly mobile platform with less screen space to spare), and it's great for users frustrated with clutter. But small (and even many large) businesses continue to lose out. Take a look at the Facebook page graveyards around you with (tens of) thousands of likes that have posts with likes and comments in the single digits. Many have given up, just go through the motions, or have the shell out extra money to get the same results. Let's hope you all have a diversified digital marketing portfolio! 

Overall frugal Facebook Page owners like myself aren't too happy these days. We have spent months or years (and often times significant amounts of money) building up our coveted business pages. Many of us have been using them as a crucial part of our social media marketing strategy. But the power of the Facebook Page has been dwindling and its importance may need to be re-examined. How did things change and why? Let's take a look...
Back in the early days of Facebook (2005), every savvy small business owner (myself included) promoted their businesses through their personal Profile on Facebook. Many people also created profiles under their business names, which technically wasn't allowed, but many slipped through the cracks anyways. When Groups were created, people also began utilizing those to promote networking, community, and their businesses. Finally, Pages came out for Facebook and you could make a personalized page for your business, with a "custom URL" and everything. Daily requests for Facebook "fans" (later called "likes") were rampant from business owners as everyone, myself included, hurried to build up their following and content. But as a "solopreneur" / small business owner, I never really stopped using my personal profile for promotional purposes. However, most individuals in business kept their profile solely for personal use and their page for business-related posts. I continued using a combination of my profile, groups, and page (usually in that order of priority).
Facebook Pages gained even more traction with improved applications, analytics, and the options to promote posts. Facebook began starting to charge fees to promote pages and promote posts. Companies and individuals were pouring time and money into building up their Facebook pages to create enormous audiences for their posts. Many companies made their Facebook page the cornerstone of their entire social media marketing strategy. Most companies were getting great results reaching followers / prospects with their page and all was right with the world.

Unfortunately over the past 5 years, the rules started changing with the infamous Facebook algorithm. First, they decreased the percentage of your page followers receiving your updates to about 16%. Then they reduced it to around 12%, then 6%, and now around a measly 2-3% (Updated: now less than 1% for most accounts) for organic reach without additional paid promotion. You can pay steep rates per post to promote it to a higher number/percentage of your following, for a very short period of time, but most people and businesses don't feel like paying those ridiculous rates (I have paid to promote some posts and personally I feel it was money better spent elsewhere).

Facebook is saying that this algorithm change is due to cleaning up users' increasingly cluttered news feeds to allow more relevant posts to be displayed. I certainly understand that explanation to an extent, but we all know that this is also a ploy to generate additional money from page owners (and make Facebook's shareholders much happier with increased revenue generation). As I mentioned earlier, individuals and companies put years of time and often times significant money into building up their page. After all that, now it costs a veritable fortune to get your posts consistently seen by people that you already paid to acquire! This seems almost like being double taxed. It's very frustrating, and many businesses (large and small) are jumping ship or shifting their digital resources to other platforms. Now my poor page, that I painstakingly built up to over 14,000 "likes", is merely a desert of wasted potential. A shell of its formal self. At least my profile and group posts however are still pretty effective (free of charge).
So does this mean Facebook Pages are useless, or that Facebook marketing is dying or dead? Not at all. You can certainly still utilize your page for building community, content promotion, branding, SEO, etc. You can certainly promote your most important posts as well to reach a greater percentage of your page followers. And yes, you can still effectively leverage your page to your benefit without paying a dime. But you may just want to shift your marketing time, resources, and focus a little bit away from Facebook to different social media platforms that don't yet have this algorithm (Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn) or use advertising platforms that may give you greater value (AdWords, YouTube ads, LinkedIn Ads, etc). If you are an individual / small business owner like myself, you may simply sacrifice some of the analytics benefits of pages and use a combination of your Page, Profile, and Groups to maximize your results. And of course there are still a great deal of Facebook Pages out there that still get excellent results with little or no advertising budget required. Examine what they are doing and why it's working for them. The choice of how you continue to utilize Facebook Pages will obviously vary based on your company, marketing campaign, and budget.

Unfortunately my Facebook Page isn't quite what it used to be, and being a frugal entrepreneur, it won't be often that I'll be paying to promote my page or posts. But that's ok, my businesses will continue to thrive regardless. Adaptation is always the name of the game and you want to make sure you diversify your marketing methods in case something like this happens. I hope that this change hasn't been hindering your digital marketing campaigns and I wish you all the best of luck with your business' constantly evolving social media marketing strategy!

I hope you enjoyed this article about the current state of Facebook Marketing and organic vs paid reach in social media today. 

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