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After encouraging businesses for years to build up fan bases, Facebook is now taking away the ability to reach those fans without paying for ads, says the latest digital marketing meme.

Just take a look at headlines like: “Facebook Reportedly Slashing Organic Reach for Pages,” which cites a Valleywag anonymous source who is “professionally familiar with Facebook’s marketing strategy.” Or “The Free-Marketing Gravy Train Is Over on Facebook,” which sources a study that found marketing posts now reach just six percent of fans, down from 12 percent in October.

Breathe, people. Breathe.

Facebook isn’t screwing anyone. The reduction in brand-post visibility is on the same trajectory as every other digital advertising breakthrough. Specifically:

  • Consumers adopt a new technology.
  • Businesses follow, with the earliest adopters getting free or low-cost distribution.
  • The technology matures. More and more businesses jump in. And the free distribution decreases as the competition for attention and the importance of paid distribution increases.

When businesses first launched websites, they submitted them to Yahoo. Over time, every business wanted to be listed. Organic traffic from the Web indexes declined, while shifting the focus to paid “banner” ads, link exchanges and eventually search. The “organic” traffic from Yahoo is now close to zero, and the initial click-through rate of 40 percent on those ads is now less than .1 percent.

With Google’s launch in 1998, businesses welcomed free traffic from search, and even more if their sites were properly optimized for the PageRank algorithms. Two years later, the company launched its AdWords system that let businesses pay for placement, and the rest is history.

Just this past month, BuzzFeed research detailed the rapid decline in organic search results to online publishers. Today, organic results account for less than 15 percent of all Google page real estate for “commercial” searches. And even if you’re lucky enough to be the top search result, you only receive about eight percent of the clicks.

When Facebook was asked about the decrease in organic reach in its News Feed, a spokesperson responded simply, “This is largely due to more competition driven by more sharing.”

This is understandable, credible and to the point. But the critics continue to complain.

Facebook is massive — 1.23 billion users monthly, with more than half logging on each day. It can only show each of these users a few hundred stories out of the thousands vying for their attention. Each News Feed change is an effort to surface the highest-quality content, which is not an easy task at Facebook’s scale.

The declining free reach has triggered a visceral response by many businesses. Some even go so far as to say that they are done with Facebook altogether. Just this past weekend, Eat24’s “Break Up” letter with Facebook went viral, with plenty of “earned media” distribution from sites like Business Insider and Mashable.

These reactions are naive, at best.

The shift from free to paid distribution for websites and email programs didn’t warrant businesses to abandon the Web, Google or email marketing. Actually, those that did fell behind.

The same holds true for Facebook today — and eventually the younger social platforms like Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest when they reach Facebook’s scale.

It’s no surprise that in our newly released research, “Bridging the Digital Divide: How CMOs Can Rise to Meet Five Expanding Expectations,” more than 200 global marketers named flexible and agile marketing processes as a top internal marketing priority, and 52 percent say the growth of digital marketing has led to the need for more qualified data and analytics personnel to make sense of this new world.

Nonetheless, it does mean that it’s time to stop blaming the imaginary bogeyman and to start to understand how Facebook works, if you want to succeed in the feed-first, mobile and social world we now find ourselves in.

It all starts with understanding that Facebook is not in the advertising business. It’s in the high-quality content business. Instead of producing award-winning editorial content, its job is to curate the best content from your circle of friends, family members and organizations you connect with.

Facebook’s primary customer is the Facebook user, not your business. And it has published a roadmap to help you better serve your — and their — customers, and see improved results for your content.

This means that your content needs to be:

  • Timely and relevant: That’s what we all expect from our News Feed.
  • Shareable: Something that you’d actually share with your friends and recommend to your own network. If you won’t share it, no one will.
  • Genuine: Your content must be genuinely interesting and not be a blatant attempt to game Facebook. So get rid of those, “Click ‘Like’ to vote …”

I currently sit on Facebook’s Creative Council, a group that represents the creative community’s interests to Facebook. And I continue to see up close how amazing publishing efforts by brands help them outperform their peers and stay in their fans’ News Feeds.

Case in point: The always-on publishing efforts of Newcastle Brown Ale.

This year’s Super Bowl efforts, in which they chronicled the ad they would have made if they had the budget, received, on Facebook alone, more than 56.6 million impressions, more than 1.3 million engagements, 1.16 million video views, 69,000 “Likes,” 16,000 shares, and 8,000 comments, according to the company’s ad agency, Droga5. All for a fraction of the cost of a Super Bowl ad that they didn’t even make!

You can see a gallery of more awesome work, sorted by industry, geography and more, here.

Michael Lazerow is CMO of ExactTarget Marketing Cloud, a unified marketing platform for brands. Lazerow founded Buddy Media, which was acquired by Salesforce in 2012, as well as Golf.com, which was sold to Time Inc., and U-Wire, which was sold to CBS. Follow him Lazerow.com and @lazerow.



15 comments
addeisdead
addeisdead

I would have to strongly disagree with the comparisons that the author made here. This is not like Yahoo or Google trying to help you reach new customers.  This is Facebook preventing the people who already follow you from seeing what you post.  


I work for a weekly small-town newspaper.  We set up our page as a local business page because it seemed to make the most sense at the time. We occasionally pay for ads to get more followers, but the people who have liked our page are following us so they can get timely information.  When we recently posted to let people know that trash pick up in town was not going to be interrupted by the holiday, Facebook only "served" our post to 40 of our 800 followers. When we posted that the water department would be closed, it only reached 23(!) people out of those 800.  


We should not have to pay Facebook EVERY TIME we post something just to make sure that more than 5% of our already-existing followers can see it!  We can't pay to boost a post every time a boy scout troop is having a pancake supper or every time a road is closed because of an accident or a water main break. 


Facebook essentially rendered our page useless, so we are just going the easy route and relaunching as a personal page. It allows much more interaction with the community and lets us see what others are posting. 

dtrz
dtrz

 While many of these arguments are completely valid, I think that the differences between a Yahoo / Google model and Facebook is significant. Facebook users have specifically told FB that they want content from certain Pages (brands, businesses, celebrities) whereas a search engine is more of a discovery tool to find information that you previously were unaware of. 


If anything, I think the average user, if ever informed of such changes, should be the most concerned. I would expect that most would assume they Pages they've 'Liked' are no longer posting content. As a user I would expect that by 'Liking' a Page FB will show me that content which I've requested.

roseypout
roseypout

Re: the image for this article with Panda's, Penguin’s,and what not.... Is that the "Coke Badger" from the mock-u-mentary film It's All Gone Pete Tong ?

tracybrisson
tracybrisson

I support Eat24's decision and also will not use Facebook as a platform again for me or my clients until they clean up their house. You should have addressed the "Like Farm" issue that they cited as well as the video from Veratasium that they linked to. By ignoring that, this post is not very credible (never mind your conflict of interest being on the Council). 


While I agree that it is naïve to expect everything to continue to be free, it is a waste of time and effort for me to use Facebook and that is eat24's argument, not that it now costs money. For example, I launched a new project last month and decided to spend money on highly targeted ads for new Facebook fans to boost my project. I was clear in my specs that I only wanted people to see the ad if they were in NYC and liked certain pages. I paid $$ and received about 200 new likes... but when I clicked on all the new likes, over 90% were fake accounts and none were even remotely connected to New York City. Facebook then immediately started asking me for more money to boost posts to my newly acquired fake fans (organic reach to them was 3% on the first post-ad day). As if. 


Facebook has lost control of their ad system which makes it useless and actually fraud as I paid money for a service I did not receive. 


I'll also say that Facebook has the worst customer service for their ads. It took me an hour to find an email address to ask a question about a coupon. It took 2 days to receive a reply and there was no "Dear Tracy," or any other niceties in it- just three words that didn't answer my question and one was misspelled. Every other platform has given me an account executive to help as part of getting me to place ads, but never Facebook.


So yeah... I am done. And I am just one of countless Like Farm stories being told. I advertised on LinkedIn and Twitter during this same period and the results have been amazing for my project (actual customers) which gives me hope and reaffirms eat24's conclusion that we don't actually don't need Facebook right now. I hope Facebook pays attention.

MNH Publications
MNH Publications

Sorry, FB has become too expensive for my small budget and too time consuming to be worth my very limited a and valuable time. After years of developing a small but loyal readership who want to see my posts, the same three people seem to be getting every post --and no one else. I am returning to small batch e-mails to get the word out about promotions and new releases. Facebook us just not effective. When I do pay for an add it results in more views but not in more likes and definitely not in enough new sales to justify the expense. I am a very small business and FB is no longer an effective marketing tool.  On the flip side, I really hate al lthese sponsored posts in my news feed. I did not subscribe to these things and do not want them.  I make a point to not click on them. I do want to hear from the places I did subscribe to. The only way to do that is to make a point to go to their pages.  Very frustrating!  The newsfeed is worthless.  I am very close to abandoning Facebook altogether as a waste of time.

mikegracen
mikegracen

You had me at a "well..maybe" until you referenced that weak ass article from Buzzfeed from May of last year. Strike one.

Then this gem "It all starts with understanding that Facebook is not in the advertising business. It’s in the high-quality content business." You can't be serious. High quality content? On Facebook? Strike two.

"I currently sit on Facebook’s Creative Council, a group that represents the creative community’s interests to Facebook." Kudos for being transparent, but conflict of interest much? Strike three.

Andrew Phipps
Andrew Phipps

C'mon, we all knew this day was coming. When a business uses Facebook (or any social media) it's called 'sharecropping'. And the land owner can raise the rent whenever they want. Duh!

MattTOR
MattTOR

 "Facebook’s primary customer is the Facebook user, not your business."


I think that depends on your definition of customer. It seems obvious to me that businesses are the customers. It was not on the back of users that saw Facebook's profits surge at the start of the year, it was advertisers. Users are the commodity that Facebook is selling.


Brands are being told they can no longer reach the majority of their fans and are being asked to pay to improve reach by using advertising tools that have shown they're prone to massive abuse from click farms. You say the reactions are naive, but I think they're understandable.

Bahmani
Bahmani

When yahoo allowed businesses to load their own URLs that didn't generate any branding it incremental sales.

When link exchange allowed businesses to place their banners into a rotating banner system across sites, that didn't generate any branding or incremental sales.

Facebook lulling businesses now to come and pretend to "engage" with over a billion users who are very specifically NOT on Facebook to "shop" does not generate any branding or incremental sales.

Neither does twitter, what's app, vine, Instagram, or snapchat. Or worse, big data mining. These are snake oil sold as complex too hard to understand new marketing must haves with the added benefit of being conveniently impossible to measure the real bottom line result. An industry of pointlessness if you will.

RetroRichard
RetroRichard

I couldn't disagree more with your analysis. Changing the rules mid-stream is wrong: when your bank changes terms and buries it in the tiniest of small type, we know that's wrong. When your value proposition says one thing, and in fact, you run a completely different business, that's bait-and-switch, the equivalent of one of those beautiful pictures of a McDonald's burger. The picture looks nothing like the product.


For 18 months, we our business played by FB's rules: we created original content, we listened to our followers, we operated with respect. And we built a huge following. Our content was frequently FB's most virile. We'd get a million "likes," with 50,000 comments. Engaged, enthusiastic following, which drove traffic to our website and other platforms. 


Then, without so much as a warning, the plug was pulled. Posts seen by 10 million were now seen by 2,000. Our users would ask where our content disappeared to. It hadn't disappeared; FB turned off the tap for 95% of our followers who specifically asked to see our content.


When a user likes a company's page, they are assertively stating this is what I like and want to see. I get that FB needs to generate revenue, but please don't suggest that you're doing our rabid fans a favor for not making available our original content which our followers have asked for. 


Squeezed like so many other small-ish businesses, we've done paid campaigns, but he results were less that promising. 


FB should immediately reconsider this ill-advised strategy, own up to its actions, be far more transparent in the future regarding changes in its operations, and have a little bit of the same respect for its users as you insist your users have for each other.

six one way half a dozen another
six one way half a dozen another

As one of those Facebook users, I have kept down the amount of pages I have "liked" to prevent this gradual reduction of the updates from those pages. I am well aware that the incessant barrage of pages to "like" is more a marketing tool for Facebook and that they are far less interested in whether you ultimately get those updates from those pages than that you "like" the pages in the first place.

For the same reason, I keep down the quantity of "friends" as well.

Of course, for anything other than these updates (photos included), Facebook is a fairly worthless site.

Suzanne Little
Suzanne Little

 Right on! I liked writing style in the "Break Up" Letter, but it was naive and misleading. 


Audience reach costs. You have to pay the makers of the platforms and services that deliver audiences if they are to survive so they can serve you an audience.

The free exposure was great, thanks Facebook. And even now, when businesses have to pay to be seen - it still is far more powerful, affordable and  accessible for anyone to reach their specific constituency using Facebook or other PPC ads than it has ever been in traditional ad media.

I have worked in traditional advertising and see the difference - it is revolutionary. Nothing to complain about!

Steve08
Steve08

Michael, 

You wrote: "It all starts with understanding that Facebook is not in the advertising business. It’s in the high-quality content business."

I really wanted to believe this when reach for pages began decreasing months ago. I even wrote a similar blog on the subject and thought the best content would rise to the top of the News Feed. But after some time, I don't see this happening. Instead, I am having to seek out the post from pages I have "liked" while the same stories remain on the top of my news feed for hours and for several visits. If Facebook is in the business of high-quality content, it's failing.

Shaun Dakin
Shaun Dakin

Agree 100%.  Thanks for sharing.  Particularly the part about who the Facebook customer is.

Bahmani
Bahmani

Well said. Since my memory is relatively intact, Facebook appears to be a "decorate your page" and a music player away from being what it really is, MySpace for old folks. At least myspace never touted itself as being a marketing tool. Oddly enough it now appears it might well have been a reasonably good one. If we are to believe Facebook's other idea that young folks are the real target.

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