Facebook’s Crackdown on Free Business Posts

SEMA News—September 2014

INTERNET
By Joe Dysart

Facebook’s Crackdown on Free Business Posts

For Many, a Bitter Pill

With technology’s relentless evolution, businesses have a fresh crop of digital tools that they can use to pinpoint hot recruiting prospects in cyberspace and grab la crème de la crème before they get away. Social-media sniffers, mobilized career websites and video interviewing have all received major upgrades in the past year, making it even easier for businesses to snag prime candidates.Businesses smarting over Facebook’s decision to severely limit their ability to communicate with people who like their business pages on the social network recently got an explanation from the web titan about the policy change. But many aren’t buying it.

“Facebook wants us to pay for real estate that we used to get for free,” said Leslie Nuccio, creative strategist for Meltwater, a social media monitoring and press relations firm.

Before the policy change, businesses absolutely loved the Facebook “Like” system. Essentially, people who clicked a button and Liked a business page on Facebook regularly received posts from that business in their Facebook News Feed. (The News Feed is the middle column on a user’s Facebook homepage that shows posts from friends, posts from businesses they’ve Liked on Facebook and old-school advertising posts.)

The Like was a marketer’s dream, in that a business on Facebook could stay in constant—sometimes daily—contact with customers by sending out interesting posts related to their products or services. Indeed, a corporate business that had, say, 300,000 people who Liked its business page on Facebook could post a text-and-image message to the social network, and all 300,000 people who were followers of the company would see that message at absolutely no cost to the business.

The smartest of these businesses also quickly realized that the way to stay Liked among current and potential customers was to engage in an authentic “conversation” with Facebook users rather than launch old-school posts in promotional blast form. In the technical jargon of marketing, this ability to send posts for free to everyone who Liked your business page on Facebook is known as “organic reach,” and marketers love it.

Sadly, however, that cozy relationship between businesses and Facebook users began to degrade about two years ago when Facebook started to severely throttle back the “reach” of posts that businesses were sending people who had Liked their pages. The result is that as little as 6% or fewer of people who have Liked a business page on Facebook these days actually receive any particular post that business sends over the social network, according to Marshall Manson, a managing director at Ogilvy & Mather. Moreover, Manson predicts that it’s only a matter of time before the organic reach of businesses on Facebook will plummet to zero.

Officially, Facebook insists that the only reason businesses on the social network are now reaching only a fraction of the people they used to reach is due to an enhanced content-filtering process that the social network has been fine-tuning during the past year. Essentially, Facebook said that its users are being inundated with too much content on a daily basis from both businesses and other users. So the social network is increasingly filtering the content that shows up in a user’s News Feed based on the data Facebook finds in that user’s Facebook profile and in his or her activity on Facebook.

“Rather than showing people all possible content, News Feed is designed to show each person on Facebook the content that’s most relevant to them,” said Brian Boland, lead for the ads marketing team at Facebook. “To choose which stories to show, News Feed ranks each possible story from more to less important by looking at thousands of factors relative to each person.”

According to Boland, this filtering process is an entirely benign and innocent attempt by Facebook to ensure that Facebook users’ News Feeds are absolutely as relevant and interesting as humanely possible.

“In our tests, we’ve always found that the News Feed ranking system offers people a better, more engaging experience on Facebook,” Boland said. “We’ve gotten better at showing high-quality content. And we’ve cleaned up News Feed spam.”

Maybe so. But in the view of many businesses that have spent thousands upon thousands of dollars over the years reaching out to Facebook users—cajoling, tempting and rewarding them to Like their business pages—Facebook’s move to severely throttle back their ability to post to those Facebook followers feels like a money grab.

“To be fair to the brands here, Facebook has put on a real dog-and-pony show over the past several years to convince companies that building up their followers is a great idea and that the big payoff is the earned media that we were getting in those News Feeds,” said Meltwater’s Nuccio.

Indeed, Facebook’s Boland is quick to note that businesses wanting to override Facebook’s content filtering system and get a post into the News Feed of all the people who have Liked their business pages on Facebook can still do so. They just have to pay for it now.

In Facebook terms, that override is called a Boost, and it’s available to any business that is willing to pay for the added reach, often billed on a per-thousand-users rate scheme. Again, this “option” smells like a money grab to many Facebook business users. But like it or hate it, Facebook’s Boosts and its content-filtering system appear to be here to stay for the long haul.

While it may take many businesses some time to cotton to that new reality, they still have some ways right now to deal with the new regime:

Encourage Facebook Followers to Check “Get Notifications”: People who have Liked a business’ Facebook page can signal to Facebook that they really do want to see posts from the business if they check the Get Notifications option. To check this option, users may:

  • Click “Pages Feed” on the Facebook homepage to see all the pages they’ve Liked
  • Scroll through those pages to see a post from the specific business
  • Click on an arrow in the right-hand corner of the business’s post
  • Highlight and click “Get Notifications’

Encourage Your Followers to Recommend Your Posts: Facebook automatically increases the reach of a post from your business if one or more of your followers recommend your post to a friend or colleague. Encourage your followers to do this with every post you make.

Beef Up Your E-Mail Marketing: Many businesses are aggressively seeking the e-mail addresses of people who have Liked them on Facebook. The theory is that people have already signaled that they want communications from the business if they’ve gone out of their way to Like it on Facebook. With e-mail, you can go directly to these people without worrying about a middle man.

Bite the Bullet and Buy the Boost: Even though the deal is not nearly as good as before (when posts used to be free), buying a Boost from Facebook to reach everyone who’s Liked your page is still relatively inexpensive compared to other advertising.

“Facebook placement is really, really cheap compared to other channels,” said Meltwater’s Nuccio. “I have a consultant friend who works with a charity, and they saw their organic reach tank by 90% from a reach of 750 to about 75 with the recent changes. They then spent $200 for promoted posts, and they reached 4,500 people.”

Joe Dysart is an Internet speaker and business consultant based in Manhattan.
646-233-4089
joe@joedysart.com
www.joedysart.com

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