By Lon Haenel, VP-Digital Media, Local Matters Digital
Facebook is still free,
but value to business pages now in question.
Hundreds of millions of us seemingly become more dependent on Facebook each day, so the smallest changes from the social media giant send ripples across the social universe. First Facebook changed the way we communicate, and now Facebook is changing again, this time in its News Feed process. The big question is, how much damage did it create in the process?
According to Facebook, delivering relevant content in a way that won’t be missed by Facebook users is the goal. The objective is to remove content that is “gamed” in the News Feed to gain more distribution than it normally would. Facebook engineers went to work to scrub three major areas aimed at reducing News Feed spam: Like-baiting, frequently circulated content, and spammy links now face intense scrutiny.
Among other things, early reports held just 6% of a business’ page feed would appear on the News Feed of its followers. That’s the Facebook company line, anyway.
However, others are not so sure. A source professionally familiar with Facebook’s marketing strategy, commenting anonymously, told the Silicon Valley blog Valleywag that the social network is “in the process of slashing ‘organic page reach’” down to 1% or 2%.
Businesses have benefited from the free promotional power of organic reach. Perhaps your business has, too. You can’t beat free, but you do get what you pay for. Now, you get a lot less value for free. You may want to rethink your social strategy.
Here’s why: Imagine a small- or mid-sized business audience of, say, 1,200 likes. Last year’s doughnut sale was a hit. It drove traffic into the store and got folks talking socially about the “buy a dozen for a penny” sale, thanks in part to their message reaching over 1,000 News Feeds. A strong promotional message reaching that audience will produce sales results. But now, with organic reach slashed, that same doughnut sale reaches a couple dozen, at best—no pun intended. That’s no way to run a doughnut shop.
How should you position your digital communication strategy to turn this Facebook lemon into lemonade?
1. Diversify your content plan. Keep your content fresh. Facebook changes of this magnitude were bound to happen sooner or later. Things that are free and good, at some point, either stop being free or no longer are good. Facebook chose the former.
If Facebook is your primary communication medium, devise a plan NOW. I know a few small-to-medium
businesses (SMBs) that rely solely on Facebook’s organic reach. They stand to lose nearly all their organic news feed reach. Don’t forget about using other social networks. Remember, though, that they too will eventually follow Facebook’s lead.
Be in charge of your communication plan. You drive the conversation. Get creative. Build an audience with a monthly e-newsletter. Beef up an existing audience or develop a new one. Drive customer loyalty with a powerful VIP loyalty texting program.
Decide to add compelling content to your Web site with a blog. Video is another value-added approach. It builds engagement and helps you make friends with Google.
For some SMBs, their Facebook business page is their “website.” Don’t let Facebook control your brand.
Developing even a simple site is the best way to begin regaining control of your communications. Now with serious news feed restrictions, every Web project MUST include a mobile build, too.
2. Commit to the content. You will do well publishing varied, two-way communication. Think of your content plan as you would your relationships. Be real, be sincere, and be helpful.
It’s give and take. Business cards don’t make the phone ring; they only show your number. Use your content to tell your story and show that you care. Writing and publishing great content online shows your unique strengths. You don’t have to do it yourself. Content writing is often outsourced economically to agencies, such as Local Matters Digital.
Spend as much time proving your expertise as you do promoting your business. Years of service, testimonials, customer track record, referrals, and the power of being unique all position your business as the expert.
4. Unleash the power of community. Leverage content to evangelize your connection to the local
community. Remind your audience— customers, former customers, potential customers- that you place value giving back. First, lead by example.
Perhaps you sponsored a team in a fundraising walk; highlight those individuals in your blog. Maybe you have an employee that was honored by the local food pantry. Be sure to include their photo and a short write-up in your next e-newsletter.
Or just remind your social, digital, and offline audiences about upcoming community events. Even events in which your business or brand doesn’t participate.
Creating content about community is great. And when you are passionate about the cause, event, or
fundraiser, that’s even better. Your copy will sing and stand out as something you really care about.
A big bonus: When others “share” your powerful community content, you connect with wider audiences for your brand.
5. Use promotions, offers, and sales. Announce and remind your audiences of the value of being your customer. One-day sales and Internet-only specials are examples of powerful “give back” tools. Everyone loves a deal.
When you make your loyal audiences feel like it’s just for them, you get above the noise. Keep your customers happy. It’s much easier and cheaper doing business with existing customers than acquiring new ones.
Promotional content must be kept in check, however. Any audience member will quickly tune out when the only messaging they receive is promotional. Remember to diversify. Use equal parts of each to help your promotional messaging take off.
So, is there life after the new News Feed? Without question. The silver lining of the changes has shown us what happens when we rely too heavily on any one channel or audience. Facebook is running its business, just like you are. At Local Matters Digital, it’s our job to help our customers communicate and market their businesses, so you have more time to do what you do best.
We can’t control what Facebook does next. But you can and should take control of your content and audiences with the five steps above. Content marketing will position you as the expert, show you’re connected to the community, and help your promotions get above the noise.