Recently, the Facebook account belonging to a client with more than 50,000 fans was placed under my control. I thought I knew Facebook well, but it has turned out to be a confusing, exciting and frustrating experience. Mysterious things happen on Facebook. Suddenly I became both tech support and customer service. Somehow, the page’s most “liked” post was when I changed the profile picture to a slightly different logo.
After a few weeks of scheduled posting of original content, answering messages, and obsessively monitoring analytics, I began to notice a trend. The more I posted the more the number of fans I reached dropped. On a page with 50,438 fans, some of my posts were reaching as few as 1,000 people, with my top post only reaching 7,500. I became curious about how Facebook determined who got to see what, and decided to do a little research. I mean, this is our page and our followers have actively chosen to follow us, so why don’t they get to see all of our content in their feed? I had a sneaking suspicion that Facebook was just trying to squeeze money out of us for advertising by forcing us to purchase ads and “boost” posts–but it turns out that it’s a bit more complicated than that.
The average American user spends about 40 minutes a day on Facebook (Business Week). That’s not nearly enough time to digest every piece of content that hits your news feed. According to Facebook’s “Organic Reach on Facebook” article, complex algorithms are employed to cut down the estimated 1,500 entries per day on the average user’s news feed down to a more manageable 300 entries–typically those most relevant to the user. This is meant to ensure that each user is seeing the stories most important to them and that they aren’t being buried under an avalanche of content. On platforms like Twitter, where each and every post is shown in real time, content is regularly buried–and people expect that. Social media marketers get around that by posting a high volume of content and staying active throughout the day. But Facebook requires a different strategy. Posting too often on Facebook does not increase the likelihood that your content will be seen. In fact, excessive posting of content that is not targeted or eliciting engagement from the users that DO see it can do more harm than good. It appears as though Facebook is more focused on increasing the quality of the user’s experience, not catering to what is best for brands.
Because the amount of content competing for its place on news feeds is increasing at such a rapid pace, it’s become apparent that the ability to reach an audience organically on Facebook is slowly disappearing. According to a study by [email protected], organic reach on Facebook has been in sharp decline the last few years. In 2012, Facebook’s organic reach declined to 16%. That figure has dropped to a pathetic 6% as of last February. If the trend continues in this fashion, organic reach will eventually hit zero–an impending disaster affectionately referred to by some as “Facebook Zero.”
Some brands are already jumping ship–notably content marketing blog Copyblogger (who gives their reasoning here) and food blog Eat24 (with this entertaining breakup letter). They claim that Facebook is no longer a social network that values connections and communities that surround a brand, and that fans hardly mean anything anymore–not if you have to pay to reach even a marginally higher number of fans (who presumably actually want to see your content because they followed you in the first place). I definitely empathize with their reasoning and there are definitely days when I wonder if it’s all worth it. But I wouldn’t go so far as dumping Facebook. At least, not yet.
Facebook is not a lost cause, for a number of reasons. First, it is a powerful tool for reaching target audiences. Think about it–how much demographical data do you hand over to Facebook voluntarily? Facebook knows where I live, who my friends and family are, what events I go to, what my hobbies are, what school I went to, where I’ve worked, who I actually talk to–the list goes on and on. And then there’s that little blurb in the side bar that tells me that my information is “incomplete,” asking me questions that are increasingly intrusive. I almost wouldn’t be surprised if it asked my for my mother’s maiden name. As an advertiser, this is awesome. Even if Facebook ceases to freely give you access to its users, you want to get the most out of your marketing budget. A great way to do this is to make sure that for each impression there is a high likelihood for conversion. Facebook allows for this kind of super-targeted advertising.
The demographics of your audience might be another reason to keep your Facebook efforts going. Facebook’s user demographics are changing. Between 2011 and 2014 the number of teens on Facebook dropped 25%, while the number of users over 55 has exploded with 80% growth (iStrategy Labs). If you are targeting a younger audience, it might be more worthwhile to focus your efforts on other social platforms, such as Instagram. However, if you are targeting an older audience, then Facebook is still your best bet, as these are people that may not be using any other social platforms. A few thoughtfully spent dollars on advertising on Facebook could go a long way.
According to Slate, Facebook advertising works much like the way that T.V. commercials work. It works really well, actually. While the effectiveness of these ads does not particularly stand out when it comes to click-through-rates, Facebook has done extensive studies to show that potential customers purchase more after being exposed to ads. More than half of the campaigns in one of its studies had a 5x return on investment. This means that the advertisers in that particular campaign got back five times what they spent on advertising. Your mileage may vary on this, but it’s not a terrible investment at all.
There are a few ways that you can maximize your success on Facebook. Post less content. Instead of creating tons of content and posting all the time, focus your energy on posting well timed and thoughtfully crafted material for your audience. This is one way that you can still increase your organic reach. If you make content that is worth sharing, it might only show up on 5% of your fans’ feeds, but shares and likes make you visible to their friends and families as well. The same goes for paid ads. Plan them carefully and have a specific goal in mind. Who are you targeting and what action do you want them to take? Showing an ad to 10 million people is pointless if only a small percentage of them might be interested in your product.
Despite all of the ways in which Facebook advertising is beneficial, marketers are still unhappy with it. Facebook is making it harder for brands to connect with their audience, which is the function that attracted many to the platform in the first place. Right now, Facebook exists in a weird grey area between free and paid advertising, with a heavy lean towards the latter. Brands might decide to bail if Facebook doesn’t prove that their ads are worth spending money on over other methods of advertising. For now, the best thing you can do is reconsider your approach to marketing on Facebook to make the most out of your time and money. Don’t give up on it yet!