Brands need to look at Facebook for what it is

PAY TO PLAY

We’ve been hearing this for a few years now, and it always seems to get progressively more intense and negative with each passing update to Facebook’s algorithms.  As brand social media marketers we hear that content needs to be really “high quality” in order to reach more users organically.  And that “virality” will play a role in how many unique eyeballs see your brand’s posts.  We’ve understood that text posts on Facebook have greater reach but receive lower engagement, and that image posts get the most engagement, but don’t necessarily generate that organic reach every time, and even those ‘rules’ continuously change.  It’s been a tough formula to crack and there hasn’t been a perfect answer.  And now Facebook is blatantly admitting that organic reach is falling off.

What now?

We’ve all been told for a while that it’s becoming more and more pay to play in order to reach your fans on Facebook as a brand.  Some have listened and taken advantage of paid post boosting.  Some have pushed it off thinking that they’ll ride this out and reach as many fans organically as possible until it eventually bottoms out at zero.  Some are just unaware.

Back in 2011 a typical brand post, on average, reached around 18% of the fan base.  So if your brand had 50,000 fans you could assume that an average piece of content was being seen by 9,000 fans.  This percentage has been gradually decreasing over the last couple of years.  Where we sit today is closer to 12% (or lower in many cases).  So now a brand with 50,000 fans is only typically having about 6,000 or so fans seeing the content.  Facebook wants you to put a quarter in the vending machine in order to reach your other 44,000 fans…and their friends.

If the trend of organic reach drop-off continues, will it just eventually bottom out at zero? With shareholders to please and money to make, and brands eager to reach their audiences – why not?

But what are brands to do?  The way you think about Facebook has to change.

It’s no longer just a free distribution channel for your content.  At some point in the relatively near future, maybe a year or two, all brand content on Facebook will more or less be “ads.”  And when that day comes… if you aren’t paying anything to boost your content, you will be handcuffed by extremely low reach, low engagement, and weak results. Untitled-2

In looking ahead at your Facebook strategy for 2014, look at the channel at least partly as a paid content distribution channel.  Set aside budget to promote the most important content, but regularly.  For example, let’s say you wanted to promote one post a week, all year.  The goal is to reach 30,000 users on those posts, but you realize as your fan base increases this number should increase as well. According to Facebook that should fall somewhere around a $60 spend to hit that 30,000 fans right now.  Do some simple math.  Planning ahead for 2014 you could set aside somewhere around $3,000 – $4,000 to cover post promotion each week throughout the year.  Put in a buffer to increase your reach as your audience grows.  Many brands right now look at Facebook promotion as only for special occasions, contests, limited time offers, etc – and they retroactively are learning of the difficulties with the Facebook algorithm and reach on everyday content.  So, plan ahead. Make it part of your strategy if you want to take advantage of this channel, this huge audience, and the large opportunity for new growth and engagement.  But as always, make sure anything you are doing, promoting, and putting out there ties back to goals.

The AdAge article said it really well – (I’m paraphrasing) that Facebook fan acquisition now days isn’t just to increase your audience, because the vast majority won’t see your content anyway.  No, Facebook acquisition moving into 2014 is to make your future promoted content work better.  Build the right audience and community, and then boost the content that these users want to see.

This might be a bummer for some people, but this isn’t really news.  It’s been this way for a while now but has gotten increasingly harder for brands in recent months.  We’re hitting a Facebook tipping point where brands need to look at the platform differently and plan their content distribution around what it is ultimately becoming – a paid distribution channel.

Change the way you think about Facebook branded content, shift your strategy, and you’ll be in good shape to take on 2014.

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