Social media professionals may notice something different with their brands’ profiles on Facebook in 2015: they can’t reach their followers.
Facebook is making record profits, but for the last year or so critics have complained that the value of using the network for brands and community builders has decreased as a result of the cut back in organic reach, or, the ability of a brand to reach Facebook users without paying for posts.
What little organic reach for promotional posts remained in 2014 seems to have been eliminated for 2015, according to an announcement from the social networking giant in November.
“Beginning in January 2015, people will see less of this type of content (promotional) in their News Feeds. As we’ve said before, News Feed is already a competitive place – as more people and Pages are posting content, competition to appear in News Feed has increased. All of this means that Pages that post promotional creative should expect their organic distribution to fall significantly over time.”
That leaves paying for promotional posts as the only option for brands to reach their followers, and some social media managers are complaining that even when they do pay, their content is still unseen by potential customers.
While organic reach may be dead, the social network’s sheer size and influence means Facebook is not something online community builders can ignore. Its reach still makes it one of the most easily accessible networks for many users, and potential customers.
To find out if Facebook’s changes mean the end for social media for marketers on a budget, I spoke with two of Seattle’s leading social media experts to get an inside perspective on the current situation for smaller brands and communities on Facebook: Brian Steel, Social Media Manager at Payscale and adjunct faculty for UW’s Communication Leadership program, and Othmane Rahmouni, an independent technology entrepreneur and digital media consultant.
What’s the sentiment from smaller organizations toward Facebook limiting organic reach?
“I don’t think there is as much resentment from brands with the money to pay, but for small businesses it’s huge.” – Brian Steel
Brian Steel: “People feel like it’s a bait and switch. Brands were encouraged to join Facebook, build communities, and communicate with their customers, freely, easily, quickly, and now that model has changed to pay for play. I think there is a little resentment because people initially had a taste of freedom and it’s abruptly been taken away. I don’t think there is as much resentment from Fortune 500 brands, brands with the money to pay, but for small businesses it’s huge.”
Steel: “When people are evaluating your product or service that you are offering they tend to google you, and check out your Facebook profile, so I think it’s important to have a profile. I don’t think it makes sense to spend as much time there as other channels where you can reach your audience, but I do think it’s important to have a presence so people can do their research.”
What are social media options beyond Facebook for small brands?
“You are better off with a handful of people who are super engaged, than having thousands of followers on Facebook.” – Othmane Rahmouni
Rahmouni: “The primary recommendation I have for people is to figure out where your audience is. There are multiple places where people spend their time, they watch videos on YouTube, they are reading blogs, they are hanging out on Reddit. You can be very active and drive a lot of awareness about your product to a very niche audience, you don’t have to pay for advertising. If you don’t want to spend money, you have to put in the hours to be relevant, to be helpful to the audience, and, and as a result, drive awareness about who you are as a person, organization, or product.
I think a space that a lot of people ignore is email. Email is an amazing tool to engage with people if you are sending relevant content to build a direct relationship. You are better off with a handful of people who are super engaged, than having thousands of followers on Facebook. I always recommend people to focus on quality rather than quantity, and create that direct relationship with the consumer.”
Steel: “People are going to Twitter. There’s Tumblr, there’s YouTube for people who have small budgets, and blogs. Startups do need some sort of PR and when you are talking costs of paying a PR person a few hundred dollars is relatively small compared to what a PR person would cost, but I think people are embracing Twitter, and the blogging social media channels like Tumblr and Medium. Starting a blog is also a good replacement, because all of that text is unique and searchable. ”
What are some potential mistakes people can make as they expand beyond Facebook?
Steel: One mistake would be to bail on Facebook. Keep your profile active, but I wouldn’t blow all of your budget advertising on that platform. That social presence on Facebook helps your SEO, which is why it is important.
I think it’s important for people to keep in mind that the space is always changing. Facebook is experimenting with ways they can become profitable and do their due diligence to their investors. It could backlash on them and it could create a change.
Rahmouni: Don’t try to be in every social media channel for the sake of being there, it is better to be in one or two platforms and have real and meaningful engagement with your audience than try to be everywhere and doing a poor job at all of them.
Don’t just chase the follower count and make that the measure of success. It is important that the money and the time spent by a business in any kind of activity including social media correlates to a positive impact on the bottom line. It is very easy for social media activities to take a lot of time and if not done right, they can be a big waste of money and time.
Ultimately it depends on what brand you are, how much you are willing to pay to get a customer, and figuring out if Facebook is the best option among the dozens of other outlets out there for you to acquire those customers.