No Free Lunch: Pay-To-Play is Here to Stay

No Free Lunch

No Free Lunch

We all learned very early on in this life that there is NO SUCH THING AS A FREE LUNCH!

In the context of digital marketing, that is made evident in that you must invest resources (time, effort, money, etc….) to get results. There never was a “build it and they will come” (what I call the Field of Dreams fallacy) for online marketing. Sure, it may have been a bit easier a number of years ago when there weren’t so many companies and users online, all vying for attention. Certainly, on a platform like Facebook, things were somewhat more simple, or so they seemed. All you seemed to need was a lot of followers of your page and to post something every so often and it looked like you were successful (whether you were or not depended on how you defined success, but that’s another story…).

This has changed significantly…and in ways that require a lot more consideration on your part as a small business owner and entrepreneur.

Facebook has been pretty straightforward in its plans to, if not kill organic reach, at the very least put it on threadbare life-support. As changes have been made to the newsfeed and the rules for business posts. Just recently Mark Zuckerberg announced changes to the newsfeed that was regarded as a bombshell by most social media marketing thought leaders, and certainly impacts the efforts of small businesses and entrepreneurs who have considerably less resources than your average agency or enterprise. The hysteria (as hysteria usually is online) is palpable, and, since no one REALLY knows what this means, the speculation and tendency to go for the worst-case-scenario is what you are more likely to read. Mark Schaefer, in his article “Don’t panic. The Facebook announcement is no big deal.” delivers a more nuanced assessment, with which I agree.

His points, and my take on them, are:
  • Organic reach is already dead. Like I mentioned earlier, while not “stone-cold,” getting the kind of attention you really WANT with just organic posts is pretty tough. If you look at the research on organic reach from 2011 to 2016, you see this:
    • 2011 – 26% reach
    • 2012 – 16% reach
    • 2013 – 12% reach
    • 2014 – 6% reach
    • 2015 – 2% reach
    • 2016 – 1% reach
Today it is less than %1!
If you have a potential reach of hundreds of millions, 1% is a fair number, but if your potential reach is a couple thousand or smaller…..well, you can do the math. Zuckerberg even mentions that “We have been penalizing businesses for years and we’re going to keep doing it.“, so there’s nothing really new there. So, even if your content is ABSOLUTELY WORLD-CLASS, you may only reach 1% of your audience, and if it doesn’t measure up to that level, you’ll hear nothing but crickets, my friends….still, when you consider where the rules and activity on Facebook is today, really nothing has changed.
  • The winners will keep winning. Nothing succeeds like success, right? Zuckerberg writes that, “…the public content you see more will be held to the same standard — it should encourage meaningful interactions between people.”
So what does THAT mean?

Business and celebrity pages that have always gotten more engagement from their fans will continue to do so…examples include:
  • Sports teams
  • Government officials
  • TV shows
  • Music
  • Celebrities
…and the ones that will continue to see little organic reach include:
  • Mining
  • Freight
  • Manufacturing
  • Household supplies
  • Book stores
  • Lawyers
These aren’t comprehensive lists, but you get the idea…and there aren’t any real surprises here, either. The more brand pages are emotional and conversational, the greater their organic reach will be (actually continue to be…some of these high-engagement pages can garner 30, 40, or even 50 percent!). Content for the less attractive pages is still tough to gain any kind of traction with. Again, Zuckerberg is just reiterating what’s been going on for quite awhile. Still, it is true that if you do a good job with truly engaging content, you’ll make it to the newsfeed.
  • The enigmatic evolution. If you read Zuckerberg’s post, I feel you will have as much a chance of “reading the tea leaves” as almost anyone. Facebook is still working out what it wants to be and how to become that. They have experienced a few big direction changes (and changes back after wrong steps…) over the past few years. Facebook worked closely with a number of mainstream publishers to gain access to exclusive content that would only be viewed in the newsfeed, only to recant about 6 months later. They instituted the “See First In My Newsfeed” choice for users, which made it easier for users to get to the posts they cared most about on their phones during those 3 minutes in the check-out line at the grocery store, without having to wade through a bunch of (to them…) superfluous posts by companies, individuals and organizations that they cared less about. And then, of course, there is the whole Fake News issue and Russian accounts used to flood the newsfeed with questionable content throughout the election season. Facebook needs to evaluate what it can become or find itself under government regulation…which would be a bad thing. So Zuckerberg wants to “bring people closer together“, whatever that means.  How do you measure that? What does that mean for their bottom line? They are, after all, like any other company: their goal is to make money. We’ll have to wait and see.
  • The new rules of social media marketing. So, you already know that great content is a requirement, but just publishing it and crossing your fingers isn’t a real good strategy. To paraphrase Schaefer, we NEED an audience, we NEED content, and we NEED transmission.  If you can’t get the content to move and get shared, your efforts do not matter. He writes that the business case for Facebook, especially given the direction they want to take, is “Come waste time with me.”
So, what’s the reason I’d want to waste time with your content on Facebook?
Answer that question, and you will succeed on the new Facebook.
If not, you may still get crickets…

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