Facebook Marketing For Small Business: Dying Or Already Dead?

By December 9, 2013 Social Marketing
Facebook Marketing For Small Business: Dying Or Already Dead?

I’m calling B.S.

According to this AdAge article, Facebook is about to make it (yet again) a little bit harder for you to get your posts in front of anyone.

Or should I say… harder to do it without paying for it?

The reason this bothers me? Irritates me? Puts me on a rant? Is not that Facebook is pushing businesses and marketers to pay for the honor of being seen but the way in which they’ve gone about it.

In other words, contrary to everything Facebook was supposed to be… you know, that “engaging” place, where we all got to “tell our stories” and have “meaningful conversations”.

Turns out that was corporate code for “get people entrenched before we yank the rug out and then force them to pay us to put it back.”

Here are a few things that you as a business owner and marketer need to know about the expected Facebook changes for business pages, why it matters and what you may want to think about so you can be prepared.

A Business’s Job Is To Make Money

Facebook is not in the business of making anybody happy. Facebook is in the business of making money.

And Facebook has a long track record of angering people and still managing to profit from it, so the lesson they’ve learned is clear: do what you want. People will get over it.

All you have to do is think back on just about any change Facebook has made. When they changed our news feeds. When they redesigned our Timelines. When they started sorting what we got to see and forced us to unsort it if we didn’t agree with their priorities. When they changed our privacy settings. When they changed our privacy settings. When they changed our privacy settings.

But we did get over it. And we kept going back to Facebook. And Facebook kept making money.

I’m not opposed to making money!

Nobody is in business to be altruistic. As a publicly-traded company, Facebook not only has a right to make money but it also has an obligation – to its stockholders and investors.

But don’t fool yourself into thinking that Facebook has any other mission. The rest is marketing-speak, things that businesses and corporations say to soothe the unwashed masses.

Do you honestly believe that the news feed was changed to “improve our experience”? That adding “sponsored posts” and tacking our friends’ names onto ads not only without their consent but without their knowledge was an improvement? That hiding stories from us, that jacking other stories to the top, that requiring us to sift, filter and list things was an improvement?

The point is this: user experience and what YOU want – as a person or as a business – only matters insofar as it makes Facebook money.

If you start from that point then the rest becomes very simple.

EdgeRank Or Precursor-To-Death Rank?

We all had a bit of a meltdown when we first learned about EdgeRank – that odious algorithm that supposedly decided whether our posts were worthy of being seen by anyone.

According to EdgeRank, the more “engagement” we got, the more likely our posts were to be seen.

So we ran around posting fun photos, witty quotes, compelling questions and unique links. We sat around and waited for someone to like them. When that happened, our reach went from 30 people to 50 people. Win!

Meanwhile, only 15% (or so) of our fan base ever saw one of our posts, unless we got that coveted like or comment, then it might increase to 20% or 25% or on a particularly magical day, 50%.

It seemed to me at the time I first heard about EdgeRank that Facebook had forgotten that it’s not Google. We as users are not on Facebook to find the best results. We’re there to… wait for it… engage. It’s what they drilled into our heads as the purpose of the site, no?

Except suddenly Facebook wanted to decide what we got to engage with. And apparently Facebook decided that if one person liked a post, everyone else would, too. A great, big groupthink.

And to compound the frustration of EdgeRank, it was clear that Facebook also decided that any posts with links that led off Facebook – you know, to your website or blog or sales page – were not nearly as interesting as posts that kept people right where they were. Link posts were consistently demoted, almost 100% of the time – likes, comments and shares notwithstanding.

The good news, though, was that you did have some measure of control over how far your post reached. If you were clever or entertaining enough you could get those likes and comments and boost that post all over the place.

But now even that gravy train seems to be coming to an end. According to the news circulating about this generation of changes, Facebook will be reducing our reach even further by default. Now, instead of those initial 30 people seeing a post, you may only get 4.

And with a single-digit percentage exposure to your fan base, exactly how much engagement do you think you’re going to get in order to boost that post? I sure hope those four people are really, really, really dedicated fans!

Time For Some Unlearning

Remember how we were encouraged to “tell stories”? With photo-heavy posts? That were “visually engaging”? Seems like that’s going by the wayside, too.

Facebook is now demoting those types of posts – the memes, the photos, picture-quotes, the posts we could rely on to “engage”.

It is instead going to promote quality content; more specifically, not the photos and memes and image quotes and funny things we posted in the interest of boosting engagement and subsequently exposure.

It’s also going to start boosting link posts. Lest you think that’s good news, that applies specifically to news-based links from prominent media organizations.

Good for the Wall Street Journal. Not so good for small businesses. And so what if we post news links and get a ton of exposure? That doesn’t help our blog posts or webinar announcements or product launches or questions.

Oh, and I don’t know about you but I write some pretty darned good “quality content” yet somehow I don’t think that links to my blog are what Facebook intends to promote.

No, there are ads for that.

Killing Us With Hypocrisy

That’s a strong word. I debated using it.

But here is the quote from Facebook’s recent document outlining its changes that convinced me to use it:

“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.”

Uh-huh.

Is there anyone who believes that and who doesn’t read between the lines to hear, “We expect organic distribution of an individual page’s posts to gradually decline over time as we continually work to make sure that businesses pay more to advertise and contribute to our bottom line?”

If you don’t believe that, there’s also this:

“We’re getting to a place where because more people are sharing more things, the best way to get your stuff seen if you’re a business is to pay for it.”

And if you still don’t believe that, I really, really, really want to hear from you.

Again, Facebook’s desire to make money is not a bad thing. If they want to continue to exist then it’s a good thing.

But to couch it in terms of “creating a meaningful experience” and “reducing spam” is just as disingenuous as it was when Google told us they were taking away the keywords in our analytics for “privacy reasons” (Google rant coming next, please stay tuned…)

Few things rile me quite as much as listening to someone try to snow me. I listen to telemarketers do it. I listen to salespeople do it. I listen to banks and car dealers and even other marketers try to do it.

Reading everything Facebook has said on the matter of stripping away our post reach just makes me wonder how stupid they think we are.

So welcome to Facebook’s marketing department, everyone. You have been recruited – some five years ago, now – to get more and more people on Facebook and following your brand and engaging so it would become ingrained in their psyche. Thank you for your time and dedicated efforts to building Facebook’s platform. You can start paying now.

The Flip Side

No, not the flip side of the rant or the hypocrisy, but the flip side to the idea of being forced to pay to promote our posts to our fan base.

And that’s this: what’s the incentive for a consumer to like a page if that consumer knows the only thing he will ever see from a brand is a paid ad?

That’s what we’re being reduced to. No longer engagers and community-builders on Facebook, we are now simply advertisers supporting an ad platform.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t afford to pay $5 to “boost” every post to ensure that a fraction more people get to see my witty quote or blog link.

I can’t afford to “pay to play” so to speak. I bet a whole lot of small businesses can’t, either.

And what if we have a product or book or event to promote? Well, then we’ll pay, because we want the eyeballs and hope for the conversions. But what happens when the only thing our fans see anymore is promotional content?

Just this weekend we sent out a dozen Facebook posts, some linking to our blog, some news, some to the blogs and articles of other marketers we know and value. Perhaps the 20 people who saw them found them worthwhile.

Sadly, the other 900-or-so people will only ever see our advertisements.

I suppose if we were Coca Cola or Walmart or Disney offering coupons and discounts and freebies, that wouldn’t be so bad. But it seems as if we small businesses have been relegated to sometimes-advertisers who can offer little to no incentive for people to like us on Facebook other than “so we can occasionally tell you about stuff we want to sell”.

Bitter, Much?

So far this has been a big ‘ol bunch of sour grapes, hasn’t it?

The truth is, I heard about these changes and rolled my eyes and said, “Whatevs. Like we didn’t see that coming.”

My marketing basket is wide. Facebook can come and Facebook can go and it won’t put all that much of a crimp in my efforts.

But then I read that AdAge article and the complete BS birthed this post. I told you I hate to be snowed, right?

And then I started thinking about my small business clients (and prospects) who are either fairly new to social media or just getting educated. They’ve drunk the Kool-Aid, too, about how they have to be on Facebook and how everyone is on Facebook and how they need to try Facebook.

And I just look at them and ask them if they know that fewer than 10% of any fans they recruit will ever see their content unless they pay for ads. And every time, without fail – even some who have been using Facebook for a while – look at me with wide-eyed surprise.

“Really?” they say.

“Really,” I say.

“Oh,” they say, and there goes my job. Guess I’m not as good at building Facebook’s platform as I used to be.

Time To Get Real About Marketing

You may have spent years building your fan base just for the privilege of showing your posts to half a dozen people on any given day. It’s about to get worse.

If you’ve been paying attention and diversified your marketing then this will be a bit of a thorn in your side as you recall the effort you put into earning and engaging fans. It will blip across your radar and you’ll move on.

If not, you’ve got a bigger problem.

Either way, you’ve got options.

The most obvious is simply to pay to play and pay to advertise. If you can afford that (and you haven’t done anything dumb like buy fans) then you’ve got a targeted base that you can spend on.

Boost, promote and advertise to your wallet’s content. It may be worth it to you to build a fan base that serves as your go-to advertising target.

Another option is to find another social network. There are plenty, from Twitter to Google Plus to Pinterest to Instagram to more off-the-beaten-path communities like Reddit.

You customers are somewhere else, trust me. And will you have to put all that work and effort into finding them and getting to know them and engaging them all over again? Yup. Just make friend with that idea now.

If you do that, be just as mindful that any social network and any site can change its rules at any time – whether they benefit you or not.

Which leads me to the best advice that I can give you and it’s this: grow your own platform.

I don’t mean build your own Facebook, but your home base. Your website. Your email list. Instead of insisting on people liking or following or friending, how about insisting they subscribe? Instead of recruiting people to Facebook and contributing to their ad base and profits, how about getting people on board your train? One person who lets you into their email inbox is a lot more valuable that a hundred offhand clicks of the like button.

Once you have your own website and your own email list you can build your own perfectly targeted community of people where you get to make the rules. Want to send photos? Memes? News? Offers? It’s your playground.

Nothing hurts me more than to see people spending time tweeting and Facebooking while their last blog post was sometime around 2012 and they say things like, “What email list?”

Finally, for you solos and personal brands out there, my advice would be to skip the Facebook business page entirely and stick with a personal page. After all, YOU are the face and heart and soul of your business.

There are limits to how many friends you can have – 5,000 to be exact – but wouldn’t you rather have 5,000 targeted, personally-selected connections who actually get to see your posts than 50,000 button-clickers, perhaps 5% of whom (2,500 if you’re doing the math) may see your posts?

I know a whole lot of small businesses that are pretty happy with their 200 fans. The friend limit doesn’t sound like such a deal breaker to me.

Don’t Be Angry. Be Smart.

Funny, coming from someone who just had a 2,000 word rant, right? I feel so much better now, though.

Facebook has been disingenuous from the day it started and apparently we’re perfectly ok with that because we continue to hang out there and post our dinner photos there.

But once we digest the newest nonsense and realize it’s just more of the same nonsense we can move on. To Twitter. To Google Plus.

To our own websites.

If there’s only a single thing you take away from this it’s that you need a strong platform of your own that doesn’t rely on a third-party.

And then you can get about the business of deciding how Facebook may or may not fit into your marketing.

If you need help figuring that out, or if you’re inspired to boost your website instead of a single Facebook post, let me know. I’d love to help.

And if you have any thoughts on the changes, or ideas for making the most of them, let me know in the comments.

Oh, and why not Circle us on Google Plus? At least for now…