Facebook Finally Admits That You Do Have to Pay for Ads to Reach Your Fans

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Everything I’ve been preaching about success in Facebook marketing has been a lie.

I’ve stuck up for Facebook repeatedly over the years, despite the frustration it has elicited from nonprofit marketers with small budgets.

I disputed myths, patiently explained all the changes to the Timeline and News Feed, read countless articles on EdgeRank, and blogged repeatedly about ways to organically increase engagement on the network.

I should’ve spent those hours explaining that if you nonprofit doesn’t have a dedicated budget for Facebook Ads, only 4% (or less) of your fans will see any of your posts.

“The best way to get your stuff seen… is to pay for it.”

AdAge obtained a sales deck sent out to Facebook partners last month, where the social network tacitly admits its pay-to-play system.

While not surprising – Facebook is a money-making business after all – it is disappointing.

The found sales deck confirms what I have always claimed was just a conspiracy theory – that Facebook employs a “pay to play” system where they persuade people to create Facebook pages, build up their fan base and then force them to pay to get their posts seen by those fans.

In the document, titled “Generating business results on Facebook”, the company says:

“We expect organic distribution of an individual page’s posts to gradually decline over time as we continually work to make sure people have a meaningful experience on the site.”

In plain English, this means that “organic distribution” – posts that are not sponsored or promoted – will go way down. Already, less than 15% of your fans see your posts. Now it could plummet even further.

And then, as if to twist the knife, they say this:

“We’re getting to a place where because more people are sharing more things, the best way to get your stuff seen if you’re a business is to pay for it.”

This goes directly against what most Facebook marketers have learned and espoused to be true.

Facebook marketers teach clients to generate awesome, compelling content that is of value to the online community. We say that if you consistently post great photos, videos, questions and other interactive content, you can reach your fans.

This is no longer enough.

Pay For Fans, Then Pay To Reach Them

Yes, Facebook has continually encouraged brand pages to pay to gather up more fans – this is no secret.

But why encourage brands to pay to acquire fans, and then inform them that they have to pay again to reach those fans? This seems counter intuitive.

If more and more brand pages can’t reach their fans except by paying to promote each post, won’t they leave Facebook for other greener social media pastures?

I like the analogy made over at The Social Media Hat:

“It’s like a city that keeps raising taxes on residents. As taxes go up, more and more residents decide to move someplace else where the cost of living isn’t as high. But that results in lost tax revenue for the city so to compensate, they raise taxes on the remaining residents.”

I know that reach and numbers of Facebook fans are not what really counts – engagement does.

But the alarming revelation that you do actually have to pay to reach your fans in order to get that engagement is disconcerting. Especially for the non-tech savvy marketing professional trying to build a fan base on Facebook the old fashioned way.

If only 4% of your fan base is seeing your posts at all, how are you going to get the required engagement to stop your posts from sinking like bricks in the News Feed?

Stop Drinking the Facebook Kool-Aid

Most people on this Earth are not social media experts. They are not tech-savvy and they do not understand how to use social networks to connect with their prospects, customers and supporters.

For many of these people, Facebook seems like a bright, shiny bullet – a free and easy solution to their marketing woes. How wrong they are.

Expectations of Facebook marketing are higher than ever, but on the ground, it’s almost impossible to gain traction on the site if you are starting from scratch.

Also, most Facebook content sucks. Most people are just selling, self-promoting or asking for things on their Facebook page.

If you are a small nonprofit, your content is probably not as engaging as you would like, because you don’t have professional writers, graphic designers and content creators on hand. You are busy doing your job every day.

You may be doing everything you know that you are supposed to on Facebook: Sharing impact stories, asking questions, being authentic and connecting where you can – but it’s not enough.

People are spending less time on the site. Yes, Facebook is growing in terms of numbers of users, but these users are interacting less and less with content from brand pages.

The reality: If you do not have the resources to launch a Facebook Ad campaign or pay to promote your posts, you will not get the results you want from your Facebook Page.  

I always believed that the little guy could succeed on Facebook with enough hard work and creativity. I don’t believe that anymore. .

It makes sense for the Facebook business model. Of course they want to compel us to advertise. But this is just not a reality for most small businesses or small nonprofits.

And they are the ones who will be left behind.

photo credit: greg westfall. via photopin cc

What is your reaction to the recent news about Facebook advertising? Are you surprised or not at all? How will your social media strategy change? Leave your thoughts below.

 

Julia Campbell helps nonprofits raise money and connect with supporters using websites, email marketing, social media and other online tools. She is the Principal and Founder of J Campbell Social Marketing, a boutique digital marketing firm in Beverly, MA. Find her on Facebook and Twitter at @JuliaCSocial