Burton Hohman / Digital Marketing / October 8th, 2014

Why Paying for Facebook Reach is a Good Thing

Despite what the Supreme Court wants you to believe, businesses are not people (#shotsfired), and Facebook is trying to make marketers understand that. During the past few months, we’ve seen a lot of concern about the decline in organic reach on Facebook for Brand Pages. Some are even calling it “Reachocalypse.” We aren’t, because that’s terrible, but some people are.

Silly word combinations aside, one thing is certain: organic reach on Facebook is rapidly, drastically declining. So far, most social media folks just seem to be whining that they’re unable to reach fans organically. I’m going to tell you why that’s a good thing.

Nobody Panic

When Facebook first launched Pages, every single fan that had liked that Page would see every single post in their Newsfeed. Today, there are reports that as little as 2.11% of fans will see a post by a Page they have liked.

Organic-Reach-Chart

Sounds bad, right? Well, when we begin to consider the sheer volume of content published on Facebook every day, 2.1% doesn’t seem like such a low number.

According to Brian Boland, Facebook’s VP of Ads Product Marketing, that volume of content has driven Facebook’s algorithm to determine what content is the most relevant for each user. Each time someone logs into Facebook, its algorithm selects about 300 of 1,500 potential stories to be shown. Of those, fewer than 60% are actually read.

Delivering content to 1.3 billion people trying to connect with their friends is no easy task. As users began to gain the power to control their Newsfeeds, strong connections became more important, and let’s face it – as brands, we kind of did this to ourselves.

An Army of Likes

When Facebook introduced Pages in 2007, it sparked an arms race of brands trying to attract as many fans as possible. And why not – that’s free advertising to a relatively captive audience.

Unfortunately, the nonexistent barrier to entry meant that very few brands put the same level of strategy and effort into the social media plan that they’d normally put into a paid marketing channel. And for seven years, users had to deal with all of that crummy content. All because they traded their Like to win a gift card.

So yes, the decline in organic reach means that brands are going to have to start spending money to reach their users. But in this case, it pays to pay.

It's time to shut up and make Facebook take our money.
It’s time to shut up and make Facebook take our money.

Between June 2012 and May 2013, brands had created 7.5 million sponsored posts. This is well before our current organic reach crisis, but that’s an insignificant portion of the nearly 5 billion pieces of content shared on Facebook every day.

Brand managers on Facebook have been spoiled by free reach in the past, and many of us seem opposed to paying to reach our customers – but why?

No Such Thing as a Free Post

First, promoted posts and Facebook ads aren’t going to break the bank (yet), and you know that you’re competing to be just one of those 300 pieces of content that an average user sees each day. Facebook has given brands more control over their messaging, and it’s time that we start paying to earn that control.

In many ways, Facebook Pages offer the illusion of a real interaction. We all know we need a Page – at this point, it almost acts as a second website – but Facebook has increasingly become less about actually connecting with your customers.

Ah, the good old days.
Ah, the good old days.

We have near complete control over the content on our Pages. In the past, fan posts were a critical part of a Page – great to drive fan engagement, right until someone posted a scathing review of your company for everyone to see.

When was the last time you saw a fan post on a Page? Even on your own Page, they’re pretty hard to actually find. Brands like McDonald’s and Burger King don’t even allow posts on their page.

Brand Pages are no longer a freely social place for users to post whatever they please; they’re a hub for brands to push their message without users clouding the water. We may not have agreed to it, but Facebook has essentially removed a user’s ability to post negative things to a page at the expense of a company’s ability to freely reach its fans.

Think Like a User

So what’s a brand to do? Start by remembering why people use Facebook. People use Facebook because their lives are on Facebook. Friends, family members and pictures are all on Facebook.

That’s what draws people to Facebook, not your weekend sale promotion. As a brand, you are interrupting someone who is trying to see what their friend is up to, so you had better have something interesting to say.

Facebook is a much different beast than a network like Twitter, where brands are expected and welcome to join a free-flowing conversation. On Facebook, you’ve got to earn your keep, and that means choosing the right content to promote.

Choose content that will deliver value to your users or to drive engagement on your own site. Got an eBook or whitepaper that can help your audience? Promote that sucker. Are users organically engaging with a post? Boost that bad boy.

Social Media Isn’t a Sandbox

Facebook, more than many other social network, exists to connect people to people. And no matter how hard your brand manager wishes – your company is not a person, at least not on Facebook. Social networks are a tool for you to achieve a goal, and we need to realize that their is a price to reach an audience as large as Facebook’s.

Sometimes, you just have to pay to play.

Image credit: Gretchen Casseroti