The Facebook Free Ride is Over

It was good while it lasted.

If you are a business/organization/nonprofit/brand who has a presence (a Page) on Facebook, you’ve noticed a curious trend over the past few months. Namely, your posts haven’t been reaching as many of your followers as they used to. In fact, for many of you, your posts are lucky to reach 20% of your followers.

Facebook-Thumbs-Down

For much of the past few years, Facebook told you “Hey, it’s your fault – you’re not producing engaging content.” All the while, you might have had a sneaking suspicion that what was really happening was that Facebook was algorithmically changing the game so that you’d be forced to pay to “Boost” your post, or purchase ads.

Well the jig is up – Facebook is finally owning up to the fact that they have, in fact, been de-prioritizing your content, and that you now need to pay to reach your followers. AdAge.com is reporting that Facebook sales materials to large partners bluntly say:

 “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.”

So all of those years you invested in building your Facebook presence are wasted, right?

Not at all. It just means you need to think differently about what Facebook is, and what you can do with it.

From Flipboard, to Medium, as well as many other social networks and online properties – an interesting paradigm shift is underway. In order to monetize activity, they’ve had to develop business models that very closely resemble magazines. Instead of “writers”, their users  are producing/sharing/curating content, and the trick is now to get brands to purchase ads on these networks in order to reach their “subscribers” (aka users/readers).

Sound familiar? Of course it does. In the print media world, buy ads in magazines in order to reach the eyeballs of readers who subscribe or buy the magazine. If Facebook and other online properties are seeing themselves as magazines or newspapers, then our primary question needs to be:

Are my customers using/reading this magazine?

For many brands, the answer is a resounding YES. If we had never heard of Facebook before today and some approached your marketing team and asked them if you’d be interested in purchasing highly-targeted, demographically-selectable, interest-focused, brand-linked advertising online, on a site whose users average more than hour a day, you’d give it serious consideration.

And so the the shift I encourage all brands to make is just that. Think of Facebook as a paid advertising channel – with some unique and highly desirable characteristics.  You still need to produce plenty of engaging and relevant unpaid content in order to keep your most engaged fans connected. But when you have a very specific action/sale/goal you want to pursue that syncs up with Facebook’s users/readers, then take the next step and plan an ad strategy around it.

So the free ride may be over, but it’s not time to get off of the bus quite yet. Now you just have to be a bit more serious and goal-oriented.

Get on it!