Facebook ads can be a very effective way to gain awareness of potential customers and to engage customers and prospects over time. It is a critical digital marketing tool for most businesses to establish and nurture profitable customer relationships over time (there’s that definition of marketing again!). Facebook used to be the village square where people and merchants met freely to exchange information and goods. On the small island of Kauai where I live we do this at the local Costco. But Facebook allowed us to do this globally.
The Start of the Shakedown
Ah, the good old days. But then the Facebook ads mafia decided the village square didn’t have to be free for merchants and businesses. They could cleverly extort money from them in order to stay in place or else be relegated to the back alleys. This shakedown scheme began a couple of years ago now. If you were a business on Facebook back in February 2012, you saw an average organic fan reach of 16% with your posts. By March of 2014 you saw an average organic fan reach of 6.51%. (Source: Social@Ogilvy study.) It was even worse for pages with more than 500 likes. In other words, if you didn’t pay up, your reach and performance suffered. If you are a new business developing your social media marketing strategy, be prepared to pay up and pay for advertising to achieve results that were previously free.
Back in 2012 Facebook started changing their algorithm about what would be displayed in News Feeds. So while you still may see that casserole recipe post from Aunt Mary on a regular basis, you are not seeing all the photos posted by a big box store you follow. Many businesses have tried increasing the number of posts in order to tread water with the total reach that they previously had. But is that achieving the desired business result? Is your objective just to get something in front of a person with your business name associated, or is your business objective for them to do something (click your website, signup for a newsletter, go to your ecommerce site, contact you, etc.). Most of us would say the latter. So where it used to matter how many “likes” you had to establish a fan base, now what matters is the cost per desired engagement. Note that I say “desired engagement” as opposed to Facebook’s “engagement” defined as like, comment, or share.
Engagement in Facebook’s terms means that someone reacted to the photo or status
Note that Facebook’s reported metrics may still not be accurate for either reach or engagement, although they continue to improve. I know from my own Facebook ads that in auditing some engagements on posts, I found that the person was not at all in my defined target audience. So there is still plenty of room for improvement. Your mileage may vary.
What Can You Do?
You really have two primary alternatives:
1. Create extremely engaging content that will be widely shared within your target audience so that Facebook displays your posts more often.
2. Pay up or suffer the consequences – buy ads and pay for boost posts to your specific targeted audience or be sidelined by Facebook
Extremely Engaging Content
According to TechCrunch, Facebook’s algorithm takes a large number of factors into consideration when deciding how much to display your content. But the main factors for News Feed Visibility are:
- Interest – Has the user expressed interest in you before or your type of business/content?
- Post performance – How well did this post perform with other users?
- Creator – How has other content you created before performed with users?
- Type – Is it a photo, status, video, or other, and does this match the type preferred by this user?
- Recency – Is it new or stale?
- and about 100 other factors
If you already have a lot of “likes” then you have an advantage, but no guarantee of success.
Pay Up - Buy Facebook Ads and Boost Posts
If you’re new to the game or you want to do more than just tread water with your fans/prospects/customers, then it’s time to pay up. But first make sure you are clear on your business objective and on your target audience. Otherwise you will be wasting money. Back in December 2014 Facebook announced a new feature of Call to Action buttons on business pages. This will help move someone to action if they actually visit your Facebook page. But how many will? And how many will just look at your post and move on? So think carefully about your target audience, what post content will engage them, and what desired action they should take as a result? In my case, having someone “like” my post isn’t very valuable to my business. I don’t know if that person will do anything else or remember my company of if they just like the photo that I posted. I want them to come to my web site, learn more, and either sign up for a newsletter to stay in touch or contact us. It’s good if they like our page as a secondary objective to have some connection to us. Your objectives may be different in order to grow your business.
Besides having a Facebook page with a Call to Action button and a page full of interesting content, what makes an individual post compelling for someone to take action?
First, you have to capture their attention visually as they scan through a News Feed or sidebar:
- An eye catching image
- A video
- A compelling quote or status update (some people argue that text posts are now cutting through the clutter of picture posts in order to get more attention)
Once you have captured their attention, you need to have some compelling content that causes them to take action, whether that is to like your post, click through to your web site, like your page, or start shopping. See our related blog post on compelling content for some ideas on how to keep attention once you have grabbed it!
Finally, be sure to create more than one ad to test and measure. Be prepared to make modifications based on performance metrics. It is not a “set it and forget it” system. Monitor your dashboard and be prepared to cancel, revise, or kill ads based on your testing and results.
Do you have a Facebook page that the reach has declined? Have you done Facebook advertising? How did it compare to Google Ad Words for you? What have been the business results? Please share.
Buying ads on some of the social media spaces has as much effect as promising to pay the loan shark when he comes to break your legs. 🙂 It’s a no win game.Very often the ads, however engaging your content may be–seem to be little more than a waste of time and energy that is better spent elsewhere. It’s unfortunate that companies in the billion dollar arena feel it necessary to hold hostage the companies who put them where they are today… I guess it’s progress.. of a sort.
Robbi, thanks for your comment. Compelling content helps, but may not be sufficient moving forward. It seems to be the direction of all social media sites in order to build their revenue streams. Have you found Facebook more or less valuable than others?