Ben Leftwich | June 10, 2016

Pay to play is the new social media reality

Having been a member of Facebook since early 2005 it’s strange to see how the network has grown and changed.

I remember when I first heard of Facebook: I was back from a term studying abroad and arrived on campus in a frigid Philadelphia winter. All of a sudden, everyone was on Facebook. I couldn’t get away from it. I held out for a couple months, but eventually relented and joined.

It’s hard to remember back when Facebook was cool, but it was. A few people I knew were on Friendster and MySpace, but social networking was pretty minimal at that point. Almost overnight it seemed, us college kids had a place to hang out online that was completely walled-off from parents and share all the stupid shit that goes on in college.

Obviously, the history of Facebook is well known now, but it’s hard to convey the sense of excitement as each new feature was rolled out: photo tagging, the wall, poking. Each of these only fueled our use of the site more and more and it became an essential part of the social currency in college.

After college, Facebook became THE way to stay in touch with friends and stayed cool even for a few years after graduation.

Then Facebook began to grow up and become a real business. Everyone soon became able to join and then companies started creating pages to promote their products and services.

There was even a time about 5 – 6 years ago when there was a serious debate in the digital marketing world of the value of a website any longer, or should you simply have a Facebook page for your business? That debate continues to an extent these days, but really, most businesses realise that having a separate site is still a necessity.

The genius of Facebook has always been their algorithm. Unlike Twitter, which until recently, showed you everything from every account you followed, Facebook has always curated what you see on your newsfeed. Clearly, it’s a closely guarded secret exactly how Facebook curates your feed, but essentially it looks at your interaction history and demographic information and then shows you items you think you’re most likely to engage with (like, click, share, etc.).

The reason why the Facebook algorithm is genius for the company is that they have such a saturation of users and businesses dependent on the site now, they can impact their bottom line simply by tweaking how difficult it is to show up on someone’s newsfeed.

As a business, when you post on Facebook, not all of your followers or fans see your posts as you have likely realised. In fact, depending on the type of post and the number of followers you have, as few as 2% of your followers may see your organic post in their newsfeed.
Although photos, and recently, video content help to get around this drop in organic reach of your posts, those are only temporary measures. Facebook can easily ratchet down the visibility of these posts if they get too saturated in a news feed.

Remember, Facebook is a public company now, accountable to shareholders. You may use them to share wedding and baby pictures, but they are a business at the end of the day. I don’t fault Facebook for their approach, but it does have implications for marketers.

Most importantly, you can stop lamenting about the drop in your organic posts. It’s happening to everyone and it’s the new reality.

Recognise that you now need to pay for post visibility on Facebook. Boosting your page or posts are essential to get them seen, and you need to make sure you have a digital strategy and budget that takes into account this brave new world.

Listen, it’s no different from Google. This is exactly what they did. Google used to proffer ‘free’ listings if your SEO was up to scratch. “Get found on the information superhighway” they said, but then the platform became so popular the only way to get a cut above the rest was to pay using Google AdWords.

LinkedIn and Twitter are moving in this direction on their networks as well so don’t think you can simply move away from Facebook and avoid the issue. And, to be frank, this is why owning a platform that everyone’s on is so profitable. They own the eyeballs.

Look, I know it sucks, you’ve spent years potentially building what you thought was going to be a free way to talk to your audience and now it has all changed. That’s always a risk building a marketing strategy on top of someone else’s platform – hence, why the company website will probably not be dying anytime soon.

So take a breath, set some money aside, and get boosting those posts. We’re going to get through this together.

Ben Leftwich

Account Director