“Facebook is screwing my business!”
That’s the big rant these days. Not a single day passes without another poorly documented blog post rearing its disgruntled head to proclaim Facebook reach is declining into the abyss. Each one vomiting dozens of comments from disgruntled business owners blaming Facebook for their livelihood’s demise.
I live in France. My country is well known as the home of the most active whiners and complainers of all time. It seems to me that everyone has some French DNA when it comes to complaining about Facebook these days!
Let’s take a minute, and a step back to look at the reality of the situation — with facts.
#1 — Facebook reach is not down for everyone
I wrote about this in December and what I discovered then is still true today.
This is the evolution of Facebook pages monthly reach for the last 6 months, based on a sample of 7,000 pages of all sizes and every industry. Where’s the big drop? Want to check how your page has been doing for the last 6 months? Try the Facebook page Barometer at http://barometer.agorapulse.com.
Some of you have reported a big drop, some a slight drop, and some have not noticed a difference. I’m among those who have not seen a drop in average post reach since 2013. It’s been pretty steady, around 11 to 12% over the past year and beyond, and our page is not of the “sexy” variety, it’s a typical B to B page, no kittens, heartwarming causes or political controversies.
Comparing our average post reach in May, 2013 and February, 2014- the figures are pretty steady.
If you’re wondering how your Facebook page is performing compared to the average page out there, try the Facebook page Barometer (http://barometer.agorapulse.com), it will tell you.
On December 20, I examined the average data for more than 6,500 pages of all sizes and industries. There had been a steady, constant decline for the previous 6 months, but no noticeable drop in December. Then, I discovered an interesting trend. Here’s the breakdown:
Pages with a high ‘per post’ engagement rate have been the least affected (if affected at all).
Pages that have a high engagement rate along with a high negative feedback score (reported as spam) were more affected.
Pages with a very low engagement rate have been affected the most.
During the last 6 months, the average monthly organic reach has declined from 73% of to 55% of fanbase (orange graph). The black line represents the evolution of a nonprofit page I manage. Its monthly organic reach has increased dramatically during the same period. This page has a very high per post engagement and very low negative feedback.
The type of content published has also had an impact. Photo posts have been affected the most, so if you post a lot of photos and have a low engagement rate, you’re probably suffering more than the average.
#2 — Facebook was once the El Dorado of free content distribution to everyone who clicked “like”. But this was not scalable!
I recently installed a new Selfie app on my phone (ndlr: Frontback). Since the app’s social network is fairly new, I get dozens of new followers every day and hundreds of likes on each of my photos. Trust me, in a couple of months, when this new kid around the block becomes another behemoth in the social networking landscape, my newly acquired fame will go away, drowning in a pool of millions of new members and pieces of content.
Facebook once was that new kid on the block, and we all reveled in having such great distribution and engagement for free. But let’s face it, this couldn’t last forever, we all knew that.
#3 — Facebook was built to help individuals stay connected with their friends and family, not to receive coupons and promotions from brands.
Never forget that. As an individual user of Facebook, I’m thankful their mission hasn’t changed. Otherwise, I would probably be gone already. I kinda like brand promotions, but less than the latest news from my friends and family. If Facebook has to constantly change its content filter (EdgeRank) to show me more of the stuff I want to see and less of the stuff I’m not really interested in, so be it!
Remember, businesses are invited to Facebook, but they are not the reason Facebook was built. Our best hope is to become a welcome intruder.
#4 — Other social networks are not necessarily better, nor the solution to your problems
Among the most common rants I’ve heard of late is that it’s time to move on to other social networks, Google+ being the lead contender. I guess we’re all taking our balls and going home. This emotional reaction is inherently wrong on all levels. Here’s why:
First, other social networks don’t provide reach metrics of any kind. What’s your reach on Twitter? Google+? Pinterest or Instagram? You have no clue! The stats provided by other networks are nothing close to the breadth of stats Facebook has given us access to, and Facebook is the only social network transparent enough to provide a reach metric.
Why get so angry at the only social media platform telling you what’s going on with your content?
The one thing I do know is that when I post a piece of good content on Facebook and Twitter, Facebook gives me way more clicks than Twitter. I mean, WAY more, like 10 times more at a bare minimum.
Have you heard anyone complaining about Twitter not giving our content the visibility it deserves? Neither have I. Why? Because Twitter doesn’t offer a stat to tell them how they’re doing!
Second, if you think Facebook is an evil publicly listed company that only wants your money, take another look at Google! Do you think Google or Twitter (another publicly listed company) are acting as angelic non-profits with no interest in monetizing us and our data? Google is actually far more “evil” when it comes to changing its algorithms (Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird, etc.) as well as the rules allowing for free traffic with SEO. Then, you pay for AdWords when your free ranking goes in the dark. Let’s face it, Google’s changes to its search algorithm have been far more damaging to online businesses than Facebook’s tweaks on EdgeRank.
Finally, Facebook, Google+, Instagram, and Twitter are never an “or” alternative They are different and complementary, not opposed to each other. Facebook has some of the best targeting options for businesses. For some of us, leaving Facebook in order to rely solely upon Google adword’s targeting capabilities would be business suicide. Look at Facebook as a component of your strategy, not the whole thing. If most of your audience is on Pinterest, or Google +, focus more energy there, but why leave the place where the people you need to reach are spending most of their time?
#5 — Why did page owners pay for fans in the first place?
This one drives me crazy. In most of the complaints I read, I see people are angry because Facebook made them pay to get fans, and is now making them pay to reach them.
Who on earth convinced them to pay to get fans? Paying for fans is rarely the right thing to do. Your best fans come from:
- The natural traffic to your website
- Your blog post readers
- Your existing clients
- Your email subscribers
- The foot traffic in your store
It may make sense to advertise to get more fans, under certain circumstances, and using highly targeted ads, but this shouldn’t be the primary source of fan acquisition. And, you should definitely only try after having leveraged your organic acquisition channels to their utmost ability.
In a nutshell, no one should complain that they’ve paid to get fans. They shouldn’t have paid for their fans in the first place.
To make a comparison, the same statement would apply to people who have paid so-called SEO professionals to create low quality backlinks all over the internet only to be hit by Panda and Penguin. They disappeared from Google overnight, and rightfully so. One shouldn’t pay for Google ranking- you need to earn it. Likewise, one shouldn’t pay for Facebook fans — you need to earn them.
#6 — Not all Facebook pages are created equal
Some Facebook pages still get an insanely high (and free) reach. Some reach more that 20 or 30% of their fans with each post, others succeed in reaching almost 10% of their fans 25 times a day. All for free! Organic reach is not dead on Facebook, it’s just dead for bad content that people aren’t highly interested in.
On the left, Fondation Abbé Pierre, a nonprofit that has a pretty high fan reach (24% of fans are reached for each post!). On the right, another nonprofit, Being Liberal, with a much lower fan reach. However, as the page on the right posts up to 25 times a day when the one on the left only posts once a day, the overall monthly page reach is much higher for the one on the right (93% of fans reached on a monthly basis versus 53%). None of these pages are using paid reach, it’s all organic.
Our brand is not the sexiest or most talked about, so it’s not getting insane free reach on Facebook. Should that drive me crazy? Hell no! I know I’m not Apple, or Harley Davidson, or GoPro, or any of the brands people talk about to all their friends. I’m OK with that. We are somewhat attractive and interesting, but let’s face it, I don’t expect people to like my stuff every day of their lives. Personally, I’m grateful they have more interesting things to do and talk about.
Maybe your business is like mine. It’s groovy for a niche, but not insanely cool or hip. Get used to the reality that we will never be what people crave to see all over their News Feed all the time.
#7 — Promoting content, products or services on Facebook remains highly effective
Paying Facebook for exposure will, for some, become a necessity. Is this such a bad thing?
First, make a distinction between the “casual” content and the “business worthy” content you post. Photos from our latest speaking gig at a conference, videos of fun things we do at the office and quick news updates about recent Facebook changes or features are all relevant and good, but should I pay to get more exposure for them? Nah. This is the free visibility Facebook offers and I’m happy it reaches 10% of my fan base (or 25% of my fans online!) without much effort. This isn’t going to impact my bottom line if it’s 20% more or less than what it is today.
When we post news about fun stuff we do at the office (here, playing with Anki drive!), we don’t really care if it reaches a big proportion of our fans. It’s actually OK if only our most active fans see that.
I also publish content from my blog. The goal here is to generate more visibility to a piece of content I’ve spent a day or two to craft. Is it worth it to pay $30 or $50 to ensure 12 hours of my hard work gets seen by 9,000 people instead of 1,000? Hell yes! Twelve hours of my work is worth 30 times this, why waste it to save $30 or $50? Nonsense.
Sometimes I publish content announcing a new product, new features, a new e-book or webinar, the type of content I can really track for short-term ROI (leads or revenues). Am I happy to pay $100 – $150 to generate 300 to 400 hot qualified leads? Or, 10 new subscribers with a lifetime value of $400? You bet! Actually, for this kind of content, I haven’t found a more affordable way to generate ROI with PPC, and I’ve tried a LOT of options.
And we do measure return on Investment on these sponsored posts. In this example, the cost to acquire a new customer for some of these sponsored posts was between $20 and $30, which is around 10% of our average revenue per customer. Pretty good return on investment as far as I am concerned.
So, should you be concerned about the need to pay to increase your content visibility? Not really. Some content doesn’t deserve being paid for. But, some does. The return you’ll receive on your investment for the good stuff is easy to get and easy to measure.
Your turn! Do you think my analysis of the situation is fair and right? Or, do you still think that we should flee from Facebook since they’re not giving us what we deserve as businesses? I’m open to the conversation.
Emeric Ernoult is the CEO of Facebook marketing platform AgoraPulse.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.