Is Facebook dead for pages who don’t pay? Big blue finally responds

Facebook page owners have been very vocal about the latest algorithm changes that effectively cut them off from reaching their fans without paying for Facebook’s ad services.

Such was the backlash that Facebook has now responded directly to those (dis)affected.

With many page owners and marketers seeing their organic reach on Facebook posts crash to virtually nothing (some around 2%), they’ve been quick to criticise Facebook for penalising them and stopping them communicating with the fans they worked hard to acquire over months and years.

The most common assumption amongst the disaffected marketers is that Facebook’s change is primarily a financial one, encouraging/strongarming page owners into paying (via Fb ads) to ensure they reach their target audience.

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If only it were that clear cut. Such was the backlash that Facebook’s Brian Boland has responded directly to those criticisms. It’s worth noting that Brian Boland leads the Ads Product Marketing team at Facebook (bear in mind he’s there to sell), here’s his rationale behind the shift.

So, why has organic reach dropped so low?

Brian asserts that there are two primary reasons for this:

1 – Put simply, as the network grows, so does the volume of content being posted. As that volume increases, so does competition for exposure.

2 – The Newsfeed Algorithm has become more critical in ranking the importance of your post to try and ensure users only see “the content that’s most relevant to them”.

Now, whilst marketers may dislike it, it’s a very fair point. The newsfeed is a fundamental facet of the Facebook experience and its relevancy to the end user is key to Facebook’s continued success. As an end user, an onslaught of posts that are of no interest to you can have a very negative impact on your experience. The longer that continues the less likely you are to engage with the newsfeed in general and more likely to stick only to your direct engagements with others (or use Facebook less full stop).

With the number of posts growing, Brian says “On average, there are 1,500 stories that could appear in a person’s News Feed each time they log onto Facebook.”, there is an impetus to sort the wheat from the chaff and the Newsfeed algorithm is the only way to do that. It removes the clutter and tries to show you only that which will be of most interest (Friends’ updates, people you regularly engage with etc).

The alternative would be to have a Twitter style feed, where every single post appears (unedited) chronologically in your newsfeed. However, this is impractical and highlights a fundamental difference between Fb and Twitter. For a start 140 characters is short and easy to run through a ream of missed tweets. Moreso, Twitter does not foster in-depth connections between family and friends in the same way. With Twitter you are more likely to share links and the odd picture, but rarely do you see the kind of investment a user’s Fb account does. Facebook is lot more private and restricted to invitees only. There you will tag everywhere you’ve been, you’ll upload relatively-private family photos and share things you maybe wouldn’t on Twitter’s very public platform.

As such, you can live with missing a few hundred tweets from loose connections a lot easier than you can live with missing Fb posts from old friends and family, it’s much more personal.

That personal connection is Facebook’s strength and, as such, the Newsfeed needs to remind you of this and keep you close to your personal connections.

Whilst this personal connection is great to keep end-users engaged (for Facebook’s benefit), it can quickly mean that marketers are pushed straight to the bottom of the queue. Perhaps rightly so, the last thing users want is marketing getting in the way of their digital life.

That leaves marketers in a catch-22, post organically and the fans they’ve worked hard (or paid) to acquire see less of their posts or pay to have their posts seen in the exact same way they would have previously, only this time with a more disruptive ad (and a cost attached).

Or as Brian puts it “Facebook is far more effective when businesses use paid media to help meet their goals.”

In essence, it’s very much a win-win for Facebook, more users staying engaged with the platform and more marketers being forced to part with their cash. All under the justifiable guise of user-experience.

Nevertheless, one thing I think is perhaps neglected in that consideration is what about the users who actually want a relationship with the brand they’ve chosen to Like on Facebook?

Surely they should be able to get updates without waiting for said brand to pay up for ad space? Not so, say Facebook.

It’s all about the money relevance.

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