The announcement that Facebook is experimenting with a newsfeed wiped clean of all Page posts — aside from those with a paid promotion budget — has given brands a profound shock.
While everyone should know that the experiment is temporary and limited to six small countries, they should also recognize that the move is yet another blip in a pattern Facebook has been weaving for years.
Pages have seen their organic reach plummet over time. Creating strategies to increase reach through paid budgets has been the only way to stay visible. These strategies will only get more important in the future, regardless of whether Facebook’s no-Pages newsfeed becomes the norm.
A Newsfeed Wiped Clean of All Branded Content
To recap the news story that has everyone up in arms: Facebook is currently experimenting with splitting the main newsfeed page in two. The main newsfeed users see will be just Facebook friend posts. You won’t see any posts from Pages, aside from paid promoted posts. If your friends happen to share content from a page, then it will appear here, but otherwise it’s pay-to-play.
On the other newsfeed, dubbed “the Explore Feed,” users can see content from pages they follow as well as potentially popular pages or trending posts. Users have to willingly click on the “Explore Feed” to see any content posted by businesses, publishers and any other Facebook Pages.
As you might imagine, this setup puts quite a damper on nearly all brands’ social media marketing strategies. In Slovakia, one of the countries where the feature is being tested, journalists report a drop of engagement between 60% to 80%. That’s huge!
Some publishers and businesses that depend almost completely on Facebook traffic will get hit the hardest. One Slovakian journalist interviewed by the Guardian said that the experiment hasn’t gone on long enough to telegraph the long-term effects. “But if reach is radically smaller, interactions decreased and your site doesn’t have diversity of traffic sources, it will hurt you.”
Currently, the feature is being tested in just six small countries: Sri Lanka, Bolivia, Slovakia, Serbia, Guatemala, and Cambodia. Facebook also assures everyone that, “We have no current plans to roll this out globally.”
Facebook Explore Feed Today
Most U.S. users have the Explore Feed now, although in our office each of us has it located in a different place. As of 10-24-2017, the Explore feed seems to just be junk content- clickbait, funny videos, memes, and local news stories that we really don’t mind having missing from our newsfeed. Our trial run with Explore feed hasn’t found any content from pages we follow.
Branded Facebook Pages Should Anticipate Low Reach as the New Normal
Even if the “Explore Feed” does not get implemented globally in the form being tested now, you can bet your bottom dollar that Facebook has designs on diminishing the visibility of Page content in some form or fashion. More importantly — at least to Facebook’s bottom line — requiring pages to pay for visibility would dramatically increase the importance of paid Facebook advertising for all businesses.
This sort of effect has already been happening in a diluted form over the past. As Hubspot reports, Facebook Pages saw a huge drop in the number of times they appeared in newsfeeds since 2014.
One of our own clients has a steady flow of new followers that “like” their page, in the past few months bumping them to more than 23k overall, yet their posts had an average of 190 organic reach over the past several weeks. That’s less than 1% of their total audience, an audience they paid to obtain via Facebook’s ads. The same period last year had several thousand less followers, but better reach, as seen below.
Working With an Agency and Establishing a Paid Social Budget Can Keep You Afloat
Fortunately, we have trained ourselves and our clients not to be disheartened by this sort of trend. Facebook owns their platform, after all, so they can control their UX (and revenue earning potential) all they want, business user feelings be damned. They can’t all be Google!
Rather than falling victim to the whims of a media giant, we advise clients to pursue paid social media advertising as a way to get the reach they want. With paid promoted posts, you can target a specific user demographic, set a budget, and have flexible control over how many impressions you get from a piece of content. You don’t have to rely on Joe Schmoe user logging in, seeing your post and engaging with it to have your reach grow on a given week. The ROI we have seen so far is tremendous.
Make no mistake: Facebook is moving towards 100% pay-to-play at some point, and brands with paid social experience will have an easier time coping. Soon, you could see more advertisers jumping on the bandwagon, which will increase demand on a limited supply of ad space, driving up bidding prices. The lessons you learn now while trying to master Facebook advertising will come at a much cheaper price.
Businesses (and some agencies) will also need guidance when it comes to meeting social marketing goals. You can work with a social media marketing agency like Optimized Scribes to help you form a strategy, track data, create engaging content, and make smart moves that proactively respond to industry changes, rather than reactively struggling to catch up.
So, as cynical as it sounds, marketers should treat the latest news story not as an outrage but as expected. Facebook wants your money, and you want your audiences. Might as well pony up!