It’s Pay to Play Time with Facebook

We knew it would happen eventually. They are taking away that which Facebook business page owners have been taking for granted for years. For some marketers it will require no change in execution but a great deal of change in expectation. For others, it will be a crushing blow of the uncontrollable loss of their singular or at least most effective marketing presence.

It has been taken for granted that content posted by a Facebook business page will be seen by all of its fans who visit Facebook within the few hours following and some even later. But that’s all about to changed.

For several months (since the IPO was announced), Facebook has been trying to come up with revenue streams to make their stockholders happy. They not only must start showing more profits but also demonstrate a trend of doing so. So Facebook has (starting about two weeks ago by my measurements) begun to prevent free content published by business fan pages from reaching as many fans as was easily accomplished before, a lot fewer. This conveniently follows months of launching different tools for business pages to pay Facebook to “promote” their content to fans and fan prospects.

How this will play out over time has yet to be seen. Maybe they have another offering for business pages seeking to engage fans on Facebook. It’s possible that Facebook may reinvent or even forego the current business pages setup. We may be left to simply purchase advertising  pumped directly into personal news feeds. But any way it works out, rest assured, there will be a cost associated with it. This will be (or is) very upsetting for small businesses who have been spoiled with very effective direct access to a voluntary fan base for very little expense.

There will be those looking for ways to get around this new set of rules. The first strategy will obviously be to move their business page and followers to a personal profile page in the hope of bypassing the business page filter. Unfortunately, it Facebook has foreseen that happening. Recently FB has begun offering the promoted (paid) posts feature to personal profiles. Although there are no metrics available for personal profiles, there is sufficient anecdotal evidence to believe Facebook has already reduced the reach of personal profile posts as they have with commercial fan page posts and if you need your posts to reach all your friends, you will need to pay for that to happen.

Facebook is loudly promoting the paid opportunities to promote business page posts to a greater audience (paying for what we used to take for granted supposedly). For example, in addition to the Promote a Post and Facebook Ads, there now is Facebook Offers (discounts that can be claimed and shared with friends), Sponsored Stories (Facebook ads linked to page posts or events) and I’m sure other opportunities to drop some coin with Facebook are already here and more are to come. The value dropping that coin? That’s yet to be seen.

My recent experience using the “Promote a Post” feature left a lot to be desired. It generated a flurry of new “Likes” overnight. Sadly these were almost exclusively people from Indonesia and not likely to be interested in my client’s retail business in the States. This meant, they were unlikely to be engaged with future content which would in turn hurt my client’s EdgeRank. I couldn’t stop that promotion fast enough.  So much for increasing views with your own fans. Not cool.

So what to do? For one, a return to basics is needed during such events. I have always advised my clients involved in interactive marketing to not allow themselves to become completely reliant on services outside their control. In short, they need to “own” their customers. This means building an online presence that you own (aka web site). It also means building and making use of email and postal mailing lists you can reach out to when you want and under your own terms.

A website provides a dependable hub of your online presence, enabling you to place your content where you can completely own it and then promote it via social media or other online venues relevant to your intended audience. This enables absorbing the loss or diminished value of a venue (as in this case, Facebook) and adoption of additional or new venues (e.g. Google Plus) quickly and easily.

People rarely change email and postal addresses, so capturing your fans addresses provides a long-life potential to retain customers, garner repeat business and promote friend-of-friend referrals.

As they say, “what works today may not tomorrow” and “nothing is certain except change.” You must always include being prepared for change in your planning.