Facebook Marketing in 2018: You get what you pay for (through Facebook)

It’s 2018. You know your business has to be doing well on Facebook but you don’t know where to start. Here are two paths…

A – Your business is not creating any Facebook content and so you make a decision to start promoting your business on Facebook after seeing and hearing success stories. Isn’t the world full of successful businesses that started on Facebook? Wish.com! Candy Crush! Farmville! It’s time for your business to join those hallowed halls.

Or…

B – Your business has been posting to Facebook for a long time. People used to pay attention. You’d get a steady stream of likes and comments. Now, your posts lack the reach and interaction you’d expect of them. You must be doing something wrong.

You might try to solve the problem by yourself through trial and error (using different styles of posts, posting at different times, posting different volumes per day, directly messaging people on Facebook) or with the help of others by looking up guides and strategies on how to do Facebook marketing. Again, this doesn’t seem to be working and acts as a time drain.

So what’s the solution? Firstly, understanding the history of Facebook. Your business may have stayed the same but Facebook has changed a lot.

A brief look at the changes of Facebook over the last 10 years

2008 Facebook login screen

Facebook login screen in 2008

They might seem like they’ve been with us forever but Facebook pages weren’t introduced until May 2009. A decade ago the way in which a business would market itself on Facebook would involve them creating a personal profile and friending their target market. They’d post updates on their Facebook page which would then reach their target audience through appearing on their News Feeds, indistinguishable from the content that their friends were putting out.

After connecting with a person, Facebook became essentially a free advertising platform for your business with the benefit of a high level of attention and engagement. At the time, the reason for people to keep scrolling the News Feed was to find out what was happening in the lives of other people (it’s John’s birthday, there is an event happening in a local park, business XYZ is having its biggest sale ever.) The randomness of this content captured the imagination of bored people while Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) began to become a very real incentive for using social media.

Simpsons marketing meme of moleman pretending to be Bart like business pretend to fit in with normal users

Example of Facebook marketing.

In social media marketing, you’ll hear the term Organic Reach used a lot. Simply, it means the amount of distribution your content can get on social media without having to pay to promote it.

Progressively over the years, Facebook has been decreasing the effectiveness of the organic reach that business pages have and increasing the emphasis on using paid promotion to reach audiences. While the initial Facebook Advertising product was launched in 2007, the introduction of Business Pages in 2009 meant a much deeper integration of brands on Facebook. By offering brands the ability to advertise through Facebook Pages, Facebook incentivised companies to move away from their old personal profiles.

More and more advertisers began to notice the decline in organic reach for Facebook Pages (and how steep that decline was) that one of the biggest ad firms in the world, Ogilvy, published a paper called “Facebook Zero: Considering Life After the Demise of Organic Reach”. Their study showed how the average reach of Facebook pages over the 6-month period leading up to February 2014 dropped by 50%. The new organic reach figure? 6%.

Effectively making a post published by a page with 100 likes making it to the News feeds of just 6 people.

More Recent Changes

With each year Facebook has continuously updated and tweaked their News Feed algorithm impacting the reach further with significant updates such as:

JANUARY 2015 – an introduction of Promotional Posts (instead of advertising being separate, you could now pay to increase the reach of your regular posts).

JUNE 2015 – introduction of the See First feature allowing for prioritisation of posts from specific sources on the News Feed over others. This acted as a lifeline for many charities and good causes who couldn’t afford to pay for advertising but still had strong community affinity.

JANUARY 2016 – introduction of the audience optimisation tool which allows content publishers to target and find an audience based on specific interests that could match a business’s target audience hinting at the direction Facebook may wish advertisement on the platform to take.

FEBRUARY 2016 – prioritisation of posts which the algorithm deems to have a high probability of interesting the user based on past engagement with other posts factoring their similarity and the ranking of the new posts. Effectively learning the behaviours and interests of the user to prioritise more of what they want. More information on post prioritisation can be found here.

JUNE 2016 – increased algorithmic prioritisation of friends and family posts over other kinds of post like business pages. More information on friend prioritisation can be found here.

MARCH 2017 – post reactions having a higher effect on the post’s New Feed ranking compared to standard likes.

DECEMBER 2017 – News Feed began deprioritising engagement (click)bait on posts seen as trying to game the system through for example contests requiring certain conditions like tagging friends or commenting a specific word to artificially boosting their algorithm ranking. More information on the News Feed engagement bait can be found here.

Facebook’s Growing Platform

number of facebook users from 2008 to 2018 growth

Take these updates into consideration along with the simple fact that Facebook has grown in the last 10 years with 100 million active users in 2008 and 2.2 billion active users in 2018. There are more Facebook users than ever but brands who aren’t paying for advertising are hitting all time lows when it comes to Facebook success.

Today, the average Facebook user is estimated to have a median average of 200 friends on their friend’s list with whom you will compete over the message display real estate (which they have preferential priority over). The New Feed changes of 2018 particularly put an emphasis on friends over brands.

So you’re competing with people’s actual friends and families, you’re competing with brands who are willing to pay and you’re competing with groups (highly engaged groups are still a great source of organic reach).

Those who are targeting their audience with paid promotions & advertisements that are able to capture the topmost layer of willing and interested consumers in the prospect pool are now leaving you to try and convert the more difficult consumers that are leftover through the now less effective organic method.

The Current State of Facebook Marketing

Unfortunately, the current state of advertising on Facebook has changed. You must pay to play. The deck is stacked against those who do not play by the implied rules and with so much competition if you are not willing making money in a way that Facebook will also financially benefit from then you will mostly likely be surpassed by those who do.

However, it is not to say that all uses of organic marketing is lost. Posts that receive engagement such as likes, shares, comments, reactions and tagging other users can become boosted in raking so the theoretical 6 people from the page with 100 likes can boost the post in front of say 6 more people as the algorithm starts trying to figure out if the post is shareworthy and of priority for other users to see.

Facebook is still a big asset for a business’s marketing strategy even if used organically with minimal or no advertising budget but its power and effectiveness are limited. It is a good platform for your leads to find you on, build up trust and look into what others have to say about your product or service when making a purchasing decision.

The confusion and disappointment lay in the fact that organic reach is not as efficient and cost-effective as it once has been but the because this is not widely understood people think they are generating bad content.

Although some businesses may be reluctant to spend money on what they can (in theory) get for free through hard work and grinding it out, the return on investment is not good enough. No matter what you try there is going to be some sort of a cost associated with doing business, marketing and acquiring new leads, be it the labour costs of executing tactics, the promotional costs of giving out discounts or spending money to directly target the right consumers with adverts.

What organic lacks: Scalability

graph explaining scale-ability in relation to marketing return on investment and output

There is only so much you can do before your marketing efforts began to flatline and decline. At a certain level you would require more people to produce content, the more posts you put out that are of low quality (or your audience does not engage with) the higher the chances that it will start appearing lower down on their News Feeds and there is only so much you can put out to people before they view you as spammy and decide to stop following you. You’d be increasing the input without the output, so it does not increase in a significant or worthwhile way.

If we use the consensus of the current organic reach percentage being at under 5% and being generous that 5% of your audience will be reached then you would need 20 people to follow your page to reach 1 person. At this rate the process of acquiring QUALIFIED leads who are genuinely interested in what you offer, turns from a steep gradient line graph to a base of the mountain as you stare at its peak.

The Bottom Line: only by spending on Facebook marketing can you guarantee the reach you’ll need to convert good leads.

Risk aversion

Some may be unwilling to commit to the paid option for social media adverting as they are uncertain of whether it will succeed and make their money back or fail and lose their marketing budget. One of the big advantages to paid advertising is its low-cost testing: being able to find out if an advertisement could perform well on a limited budget and if it does it can be scaled and boosted to generate more profits. If not, you’ll only lose your test budget you have set and can cancel the test advertisement at any point if you feel like it does not perform.

The way in which Facebook is influencing businesses and advertisers is to use the small reach of the organic posts to find out what the audience likes and then use paid boosting to reach more people with it to better benefit the users of the site (and Facebook’s own pockets).

Although the idea of being forced to pay to reach the following you have worked to build can be quite insulting, it is ultimately Facebook’s privately-owned platform giving them the power in this mutually beneficial partnership. Really, the change can be positive for those who advertise in the way Facebook wants them to and even though you are required to pay (in an implied way) the degree to which you can target consumers is so much more time and cost-effective.

If you could pay £1 to get back £2 and then 10X the process once it becomes more optimised, would you then go back to the original slower scale way of doing things? The initial hurdle of switching to paid advertisement may seem intimidating but it is one of the best business opportunities currently out there. And just like with every other method or strategy in marketing, Eventually, that too shall pass leaving those who did not strike while the iron was hot missing out.

Facebook is Pay to Play now and that’s not ever going to change. Use this to your benefit.

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