How Facebook’s changes are killing its Small Business Communities (and how to save yours)

FB free organic reach is dead - how to get your posts seen in 2014

photo credit: marsmet473a via photopin cc

 

Facebook recently announced that it is home to 25 million active small business Pages, and that these Pages form the majority of its 1 million advertisersYou may have missed those announcements in the press, but if you’re one of the >96% in this group not currently paying for Facebook ads, you’ve no doubt received the message being sent via their recent algorithm changes:

The days of free organic reach are over.

To remain visible and viable on Facebook, you either need to pay
or generate stellar content good enough to attract its own audience.

As far as Facebook is concerned, they’ve been helping you – for free – to reach your audience where they socialize, building relationships which make money for your business. And now Facebook wants its cut. But what if your business doesn’t generate the type of profits needed to make Facebook ads worthwhile to you? Let’s take a closer look.

The Changes & Their Impact

Facebook has changed the way it decides which posts should be displayed in its newsfeed. This is because posts from friends, Pages you like, and advertisers all compete for the same limited space.

As a result of this change, organic reach (or the visibility of posts you don’t pay to advertise) is down.

A recent study confirms this, but finds that there are increases in clickthrough rates and viral amplification.

But what does that really mean?

Organic reach is down

On that we can all heartily agree. Page followers are simply not seeing our posts. To have posts show up in someone’s newsfeed, you have to include one of 3 things:

1. Loyalty. Fans of my Page who have high rates of interaction seem to still be seeing my posts.

2. Highly motivating content. Clickbait still works – for now. Those exaggerated and emotionally-charged headlines still draw people in. Unfortunately, most small businesses just don’t have content that can balance credibility and provocative headlines.

“Long overlooked hammer proves its worth. You won’t believe what it made happen.”  may generate some clicks the first time, but it’ll get old for everyone real fast.

3. A running ad. You pay for it, Facebook will make sure it gets seen.
(Although, seen by whom may be up for some debate.)

Clickthrough rates are up

The study claims that while fewer people are seeing posts, more of the ones who do are clicking on your links and being directed to your content.

However unless Facebook has developed some ground-breaking artificial intelligence, I just don’t see how it can possibly select which of my fans I want to see each piece of content I post (and therefore which are more likely to click through).

Viral amplification is up

I’m inclined to believe this one. You can never really guarantee what content will go viral, but you can sometimes get a feel for it. Personally, content that I’ve expected to have a bit of viral spread have recently shown massively higher reach stats than I expected.

But here’s the thing.

If I am a small business, how likely am I to be regularly producing content expected to go hugely viral?

This may work better for bloggers, but it still hinges on content being seen by the right audience in the first place, which takes us back to square one.

Even Small Businesses Needs a Social Media Strategy

Not every “small business” has a product to sell in the traditional sense and for many, paid advertising is just not an option. So what do you do? First of all, heed the wake up call. This is not your real estate. Your Facebook Page never belonged to you. It is Facebook property that they allow you to use, rent-free. In 2014 make it a point to have a social media strategy for your business. Start with a 4 step framework.

  • Obtain your own digital space if you haven’t already. No excuses.
  • Decide on the social media channel(s) appropriate to the type of business you’re in. More on that in a bit.
  • Establish a presence there and engage your audience.
  • Make your website the central space that connects it all.

Make no mistake, talk of the death of Facebook dying is just that – talk. The social media giant has been making deliberate moves toward supporting current affairs- and news-related discussions – hardly the stuff of teens. As Facebook evolves to narrow its focus, other digital spaces will naturally grow to meet emerging needs driven by demographics and content type.

Next, recognize that Facebook wants to work with you. But it also wants your money. If you’re a small business with products to sell, the company wants to make it easier to promote those products, but you have to be prepared to put up some cash. If you’re a blogger, or a small business with very small profit margins that make paid advertising out of the question for you, you may want to consider changing your Facebook strategy, or branching out onto a new platform altogether.

Where to build your Community

fb quote on organic declineIf you decide to migrate from, or expand beyond, Facebook Pages, know 2 things:

Not all your fans will move with you. You’ll lose some, you’ll gain some new ones. That’s just the way it works.

You will lose detailed analytics. All of the networks below measure re-shares and “likes” (or whatever you want to call a virtual “thumbs up”) to some extent.

One holds the promise of Google Analytics in its future.

If detailed statistics are a necessity for you, then paid ads and engaging content is your future, in the short-term at least.

Review your social media strategy anyway, and ask the following questions which will help you choose the right channel(s) for you.

What kind of engagement do I want with my fans? What excites me about my brand and how do I express that ? What kind of storyteller am I? How much time do I have to devote to social media, and when? And finally – where (and when) can I find my target market?

Forums

Engagement Type – Conversations, Views and Opinions, High Level of Interaction
Keep in mind – Time intensive but can be very rewarding

Facebook Groups

“Private” community:  ★★★
Fan-to-Fan interaction:  ★★★
Fans initiate conversations:  ★★★
Repository of shared photos/files:  ★★-
Conversation history:  ★★-
Social stream activity:  ★★★
Community search:  ★★-

Moving to a Facebook Group is arguably the easiest transition to make- your Page fans exist there, and depending on privacy settings and group dynamics, friends of fans will catch on to your new space.

Setups like this are great for fostering a sense of community, and lively discussions (which members can start themselves) can take on a life of their own. Downside – they can take on a life of their own. Groups require a fair commitment to checking in, monitoring, and sparking conversation.

Share new developments with your business, or in your area of interest, including files and photos (which are relatively easy to find again using the internal group search). These are, in turn, easily shareable outside of your Group among friends of fans. Conversation histories are also easy to find again with search – ever try to find a conversation from a week ago on a Page? 

Tip: Don’t over-moderate your Group. Too much irrelevant info is going to cause members to turn notifications off, however, lively discussion is likely to keep people checking in for the latest updates, or to add their 2 cents. The most common mistake I’ve seen is stifling a Group before it develops its own identify and self-regulation, after which it quickly dies.

Self-Hosted Forums

“Private” community:  ★★★
Fan-to-Fan interaction:  ★★★
Fans initiate conversations:  ★★★
Repository of shared photos/files:  ★★★
Conversation history:  ★★★
Social stream activity:  —
Community search:  ★★★

Whether you self-host or use an external service, forums allow you far greater control over the functionality and feel of your community. And while you no longer have the ability to attract friends of fans through their activity showing in Facebook newsfeed, you do gain some powerful benefits.

Taking a sense of community to a whole different level – today’s forums have evolved to be mini-social networks in their own right, where users setup profiles, can “friend” and message each other, and can contribute to shared feeds, and forum topics while taking some conversations into private/public sub-groups among friends. Forums not only allow you to better organize your shared resources, and conversations making them easy to find, they allow you to tap in to new directions and interests your members bring to you allowing you to stay well-informed, and better prepared to serve your customer’s/reader’s needs.

Tip: Great reading from Spin Sucks - Jessica Malnik says it all. Still not convinced?

Those UpWorthy and BuzzFeed posts that show up in your Facebook newsfeed – more often than not – were picked up from Reddit. A forum with over 100 million unique visitors generating traffic in Dec 2013.

Nod to TriniTuner – the most popular forum in Trinidad and Tobago.

Visual Social Media

Engagement Type – Creative expression, Low(er) interaction,
Keep in mind – Be genuine and share an experience or experience to connect with

YouTube

 ”Private” community:  ★–
Fan-to-Fan interaction:  ★★-
Fans initiate conversations:  ★–
Repository of shared photos/files:  ★★★
Conversation history:  ★★★
Social stream activity:  ★★★
Community search:  ★★★

YouTube can be a very effective way to connect over shared interests and shared experiences. It can be a less time-intensive option, because your frequency of posting is less (weekly/monthly vs daily). Producing the video can be a faster option for you than writing a blog post, or it could be more time-consuming – depending on your niche and content.

Fans can comment, share, subscribe for updates, post video-replies and let’s not forget the power of Google-powered search. Plus, there’s +. Now your fans comments can show up in their Google + feeds, bringing your content to a whole new audience.

Check out how Walmart uses YouTube.

Pinterest

“Private” community:  ★–
Fan-to-Fan interaction:  ★–
Fans initiate conversations:  ★–
Repository of shared photos/files:  ★★★
Conversation history:  ★★-
Social stream activity:  ★★-
Community search:  ★★-

Pinterest is great way to show the world – what you love, what drives you, what inspires you, and what there is to love about your brand.

And because Pinterest links back to your website (or YouTube account) it’s a great way to allow your passion to bring people back to your home base to discover what else you’ve got to offer.

Check out how Martha Stewart uses Pinterest.

Instagram

“Private” community:  ★–
Fan-to-Fan interaction:  ★★-
Fans initiate conversations:  ★–
Repository of shared photos/files:  ★★★
Conversation history:  ★★-
Social stream activity:  ★–
Community search:  ★★-

Use hashtags and geo-tagging to get a community started on Instagram. It can be challenging to get started attracting fans within Instagram alone. Instead use your website, or other social channels to announce your presence and make it easy for others to find you. Fan activity on your posts are not as readily visible to friends of fans as in other .

Check out how Ben & Jerry’s uses Instagram.

Twitter

“Private” community:  ★—
Fan-to-Fan interaction:  ★★★
Fans initiate conversations:  ★★★
Repository of shared photos/files:  ★★-
Conversation history:  ★★-
Social stream activity:  ★★★
Community search:  ★★-

Twitter needs no introduction. Twitter’s real-time data stream connects over 600 million users worldwide. Searchable by hashtag and geo-tagging, it’s where your content needs to be. Admittedly it can be a little overwhelming to navigate at first, but Twitter interfaces easily with practically every major social media network out there.

Watch: Facebook’s recent acquisition of Branch and Potluck could bring some interesting opportunities.

Check out how Monterey County, CA uses Twitter.

Google Plus

“Private” community:  ★★★
Fan-to-Fan interaction:  ★★★
Fans initiate conversations:  ★★★
Repository of shared photos/files:  ★★★
Conversation history:  ★★★
Social stream activity:  ★★★
Community search:  ★★★

Google Plus has been the only real potential competitor to Facebook. Slow to pick up growth, many dismissed the social network as a failed experiment. But here’s where they’re wrong.

Google+ numbers continue to climb. Publishers are switching over and bringing their readers with them.

Google has also developed a strong suite of social tools independently – and they all come together to power Google+.

YouTube, Picasa, Gmail, Hangouts, Analytics, Webmaster Tools and let’s not forget Search – that’s video, images, messaging, video conferencing, along with the background support of search and analysis.

With a highly-visual interface, the ability to format text in posts, hashtags that put the power of Google Search to work, Google+ has got everything Facebook has, and then some.

Well maybe not everything. There are no Facebook-like Insights for now, but only limited stats on +1s, re-shares and YouTube views, however since Google Analytics already tracks activity from your Google+ Page to your website, it’s reasonable to believe the existing Page Dashboard will see some new analytics in the near future.

If you adopt one new social network in 2014, make it Google+.

 

Check out how online marketing firm Distilled uses Google+.

And for best use of Google+ integration in a campaign check out the Toyota Collaborator.

As Facebook grows up it continues to remind us that social is secondary to profitability. The recent changes may have been a been the most jarring, but it follows conversation-stunting moves such as the shrunken “Posts by Others” box and organic reach penalties for Page to Page sharing.

Facebook is very clear on what it wants from you, as it should be. Are you clear on your social media investment figures into your strategic plan?

Ready to revisit Google+ but unsure where to start?

Look out for my Introduction to Google+ blog posts starting right here, beginning January 16th.

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Outspoken, a mother of 3 and a bit of a creative nerd. Nicole is passionate about family and social good, and blogs from Trinidad & Tobago. Download her mobile app available for Android and iPhone/iPad.
Comments
  1. Jason

    Great article. The Facebook changes serve as a reminder that in the end whatever forms of communication you have with your customers has to be part of a greater strategy. Posting for the sake of posting, or even farming likes in themselves do not a strategy make

  2. bldp

    Hmm seems like I need to revisit Google +

  3. Brenda Young

    Great informative post! Pinning TFS!

  4. Jean Clark Lynd

    I barely make anything off my blog, & certainly can’t pay FB. But I already have/am involved in all the other systems you mentioned. I still need more community. Wish ppl understood that a single Like or comment, which takes no time at all, is lifeblood for bloggers. Here from Sits Saturday.

  5. Kristia

    Lately I’ve been wondering if Facebook is the best place to spend my time. I’m trying to figure out a social media strategy where I get engagement and I don’t feel like I’m wasting time.

  6. Allie Burdick

    Great explanation of what’s going on with FB and what you can do about it. Thank you!! I found this through SITShareFest!

  7. Liz @ A Nut in a Nutshell

    I can’t stand Facebook anymore and I absolutely refuse to pay them a dime when I don’t know to whom or to how many the promotion would be directed.

  8. Louida M

    Awesome post Nicole! I prefer Google+ anyway and receive more traffic from their platform anyway.

    • Nicole Greene

      Thanks Louida! I spend a lot more time on G+ now and am finding it much more social than fb.

      It reminds me of the way fb started off. And I definitely have much more engagement there as well!

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