It's time to face facts on your 'free' Facebook advertising

The use of social media for business has long been misunderstood as “free.” At first glance, the majority of tools that are available are free of charge. It took some time before some realized that there is a cost: content creation, design fees, and labor. Like any other form of communication or advertising, there are obvious as well as hidden costs.

Since the beginning of corporate social media use, most people only thought of one or two uses for the medium. One of my favorite examples of the possibilities belongs to Dose of Digital. Their list of “The 7 Cs of Social Media Usage” are: Communicating, Cause Support, Contests, Consumer Research, Connecting with Others, Customer Service, and Community Building.

We are social beings and we need each other for our physical and psychological survival. Facebook is the biggest and most popular of the social tools because it’s performing this function better than any other for the largest amount of people. But remember, no king reigns forever.

 According to Facebook Inc.’s shareholder document from February 2013, there are over 50 million Facebook business pages. These are different from the personal profiles where friends and family communicate about personal subject matter. Pages are designated for business communications and are in compliance with the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, which is designed to protect consumers from unwanted digital solicitations. Individual users of Facebook, which are up to 1.19 billion active users worldwide, must give pages permission to advertise to them. This is done in the form of clicking a “Like” button on a page (not an individual post) and acts as an opt-in feature.

 Now that Americans have an average of 245 friends on Facebook (Pew Research Center) and we’ve liked an average of 70 pages (SocialBakers), the News Feed has simply run out of room. The News Feed, or the homepage, is a scrolling list where the posts from friends and businesses compete for space.

If you have a DVR, do you watch the commercials? No. It’s that simple. Facebook is attempting to provide valuable content that their users desire while keeping the ads to a minimum. The content that comes from pages is just that – ads.

Business owners and marketers are crying foul over the recent changes to Facebook’s algorithm that determines who sees what. With a finite amount of publishing space and a growing number of competitors for said space, Facebook had to make some hard decisions. Your friends get top priority, especially those you connect with frequently. Next come the pages you interact with on a regular basis. Pages that rarely post, aren’t posting highly rated content, or those that post undesirable content are getting left out.

Since the algorithm change in December 2013, pages have seen an average decrease in organic reach to their fans to the tune of 44 percent, some as much as 88 percent (Ignite Social Media). I’ve already stated one reason, an algorithm change, but there is something that many business owners don’t want to hear. This is truth-telling time. Maybe you’re not thinking about what the customer wants to hear and only serving your own interests. Maybe your content is boring. Maybe it’s not all Facebook’s fault.

Essentially we’ve been getting free advertising on Facebook for years. Today, if you want your content to be seen by your fans, you will have to pony up some cash. To those that don’t like it, Facebook owns their platform and can do pretty much anything they want. If we want to use it to communicate with our customers, we will have to follow their rules. I’m not happy about it either but look at it this way, we got away with years of free advertising!  Think about how much money we saved in comparison to radio, TV, and print. We forget how expensive reaching our customers had become.

 What’s the solution?

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