The buzz among Facebook page owners is that there was another change in the algorithms within the last week, with another decrease in "organic reach" being the result. From personal experience, I can tell you that the "organic reach" of an average post on my Facebook page instantly went from 8-10% all the way down to 1-2% a few days ago. In a few cases, we have even dipped below 1%. That change is not insignificant with over 49,000 fans. To have 49,000 fans and see a post reach less that 490 people is disheartening to say the least.
Page owners that experience the same type of results need to understand that it is nothing personal. It's just business. Ad Age reports:
Facebook is being more blunt about the fact that marketers are going to have to pay for reach.
If they haven't already, many marketers will soon see the organic reach of their posts on the social network drop off, and this time Facebook is acknowledging it. In a sales deck obtained by Ad Age that was sent out to partners last month, the company states plainly: "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."
It's a big shift from the stance Facebook took a year ago, when agencies including GroupM called out the fact that posts published by clients were being seen by fewer of their fans.
At the time, Facebook contended that algorithmic changes had been made to weed out spammy, non-engaging content, but that the median reach of pages hadn't budged. It particularly objected to the inference that the changes had been made to spur marketers to spend more on ads to make up for lost reach.
But now Facebook is making the case for marketers to do just that. In the document, titled "Generating business results on Facebook," the paragraph in which the impending drop-off in organic reach is revealed concludes with an ad pitch; marketers are told they should consider paid distribution "to maximize delivery of your message in news feed."
The three-page document also contains a section that repositions how marketers should think about fan acquisition: as a tool for making paid advertising more effective. While free distribution of content is mentioned, it's the third business benefit listed after "improve advertising effectiveness" (through ads with social context, which is enabled by a substantial fan base) and "lower cost for paid distribution" (since Facebook makes it cheaper to deliver ads with social context.)
In other words, the main reason to acquire fans isn't to build a free distribution channel for content; it's to make future Facebook ads work better.
Does Facebook owe anything to these Page Owners? After all, it is a free service.
That depends on how you look at it. One of the major complaints being heard by Page Owners is the fact that many of these pages paid Facebook to help them find people to like their pages. Though I never personally paid Facebook to secure any fans ("likes") for me, I can see how that would upset a lot of people who have spent countless ad dollars already. They may have felt that they were building a list and now feel that they are being asked to pay again to contact that list.
I look at this through the standpoint of a small business owner. Facebook has the right to do whatever it wants to do, and my job is simply to react. It's just business.
Most of my traffic comes from Facebook, and suddenly I am faced with the reality of going from an average of 50,000 visitors a day to maybe 15,000. Any business owner realizes that you must spend money at times to make money, and most of us are willing to spend it, however…
Here is the dilemma that many small business owners like myself are facing. The cost to reach all these fans is not cheap and for most it is not affordable. Facebook has a "boost" option on posts that are sent from pages. The "boost" option is a way for page owners to pay to reach more of their fans, if they are unwilling to settle for the smaller organic reach numbers they are receiving.
How much does "boosting" a post cost?
It is my understanding that the price will fluctuate due to various factors which might include how many ads are already scheduled. It's a simple supply and demand set up. But as of this morning I can tell you that in order to reach in the neighborhood of 49,000 people it will cost me somewhere between $120 and $360 for a single post.
For $120, I am being told that I can reach between 18,000 and 47,000 people.
For $360, I am being told that I can reach between 48,000 and 130,000 people.
Let's split the difference and call it $240. For $240 would this be a wise investment for me?
My business is a simple conservative news and opinion site. We have some third party advertising in place, but it takes a lot of visitors to earn $240. It depends on many factors but at this time of year (Christmas shopping season) it will take about 80,000 visitors to earn $240 in revenue. We are currently looking at about $3 for every 1000 people who visit the site. (Note: This is not a get rich business.)
If I spent $360 and got all 130,000 people (upper end) to visit my site, I would expect to earn $390. That isn't going to happen. Chances are that the percentage of visitors would be between 3 and 5%. That would set me up for a substantial loss.
Years ago I was successful in the junk (direct) mail business. We sold Cajun foods through direct mail. At that time, I could spend $360 to make $50 and feel justified in doing so. Why? Because it was about "customer acquisition." I could buy mailing lists and with the orders that came in I had a new list of potential repeat customers. I might spend $50 to $100 to find one new customer who spent $10 in my store, but that person would buy hundreds of dollars in products from me over the course of our business relationship. I relied on repeat business. Our products were strong, and people kept coming back.
I don't see the same thing happening with Facebook. Even if I pay to have my article seen by someone, then that person is not suddenly on my list for life. I have to pay to contact them again and again. My cost per acquisition will never go down. Do you understand?
In a direct mail business, a mailing that cost $1000 may net $80 in orders today. But in three years a mailing that cost $1000 could net $8,000. That is the difference.
So what does all of this mean to me and many other business owners? It means that we have been squeezed out, and Facebook is laying out the red carpet for large companies and companies that sell high ticket items.
You will continue to see less and less content from pages like mine and more and more advertising from Fortune 500 type companies in your news feed. Facebook has to pay the bills so I can't fault them for that. I just wish they had a solution for the little fish like myself.
For those Facebook Page Owners who feel that this does not apply to them, because they survive on content other than articles (like memes), don't be so sure. Mashable reports:
"Starting soon, we'll be doing a better job of distinguishing between a high quality article on a website versus a meme photo hosted somewhere other than Facebook when people click on those stories on mobile," the duo wrote on the company blog. "This means that high quality articles you or others read may show up a bit more prominently in your News Feed, and meme photos may show up a bit less prominently."
If I thought that Facebook considered The D.C. Clothesline as high-quality news content, I might find some hope in that statement. We are one of the top conservative niche sites in the country, but somehow I don't think Facebook is talking about us. I think they are talking about the big boys.
My suggestion to page owners is to start looking for alternate solutions. The days of your posts going viral on Facebook may be coming to an end.
Facebook has the right to do whatever it pleases. But I see this as just the latest in a perpetual string of decisions that hurt small business. It's not just Facebook. This is the business climate of America.
One of the biggest reasons that the economy is in trouble is that new businesses, innovation and entrepreneurship are not being facilitated for the "small potatoes" crowd. If you can't make it big then it is becoming harder and harder to carve out a small niche.
It is what it is, but the Facebook landscape just changed for a lot of aspiring entrepreneurs. Some pages will die in relative obscurity. I am hoping mine is not one of them but for the readers who follow me I would like to encourage you to sign up for our email list, just in case. I can already tell you that, on average, you are seeing less than 1 in 50 of the posts I make on Facebook. We could run the biggest story of the year, and you might miss it.