Free Marketing on Facebook Is Dead. What Now?
If you’re not paying for Facebook advertising, all that work you put into building a Facebook fan base on your company page is most likely not reaping the returns it once did.
In 2012, Facebook said in a blog post that about 16 percent of a business’s fans saw its new content. “Organic reach” (the number of people who will see your content without you paying for placement) has continued to decline ever since. In December, Facebook wrote, “Pages will likely see changes in distribution. For many Pages, this includes a decline in organic reach. We expect this trend to continue as the competition for each story remains strong and we focus on quality.”
The latest statistics show that organic reach is down to 6 percent as of February and as low as 2 percent for pages with more than 500,000 "likes."
If your page has 2,000 fans, the average number of people you’ll reach with a given post is 120 — hardly worth the effort for many busy business owners. What can you do to buck this trend?
Get Some Perspective
Many in the business community are crying foul. "Why is Facebook charging me to reach customers I have already acquired?" they lament. Consider another side to the argument. It's "self-centered" for companies, which are, after all, in the business of making money, to complain about another business doing what it can to make money, notes Inside Facebook writer Justin Lafferty.
In other words, you may have to stop viewing Facebook as a free advertising channel. Instead, view it as another element in an overall marketing strategy, and budget accordingly. Facebook has the unique advantage of being able to definitively target your advertising — something that is much harder to do using traditional print, radio, and television.
Maximize the Free
Just because the average organic reach is 6 percent doesn’t mean you can’t achieve better results. Marketers agree that shareable content, especially in video and image formats, sees increased reach.
To try to boost your organic reach, focus on media over text, avoid overt sales pitches, increase how often you post, and, most important, test to find out what works.
Try different times of the day, various types of content, and use Google Analytics to gauge the traffic you receive as a result of your efforts on Facebook.
Finally, utilize your loyal customers and employees. Use your email list to ask your customers to post on your behalf. Send them graphics and sample statuses. Make it a contest or offer a coupon to encourage them to participate.
Embrace Facebook Advertising
As much as you may not want to pay Facebook a dime, analyze the decision in terms of ROI. If you use Facebook advertising correctly, you could see big reach at relatively low cost.
1. Define your goal. Are you advertising a new product or service? Running a contest? Want more page "likes"? Once you know your goal, Facebook can help guide you to the type of ad that will help you reach that goal.
2. Start Small. Before you set out to reach the world, target your current fans in your first couple of campaigns. This allows you to split-test a couple of ads without a large financial investment.
3. Keep it targeted. After you target just your page fans, you can target friends of your current fans. If you’re a local business, stay within your geographical reach. Wide-reaching campaigns are expensive and aren’t likely to reach the people who will become repeat customers.
4. Gaining fans isn’t the best strategy. Advertising to gain more fans might seem like a solid goal, but it’s not likely to lead to strong ROI. Instead, advertise with a clear call to action such as encouraging the purchase of a specific product or signing up for a newsletter.
5. Point to your website. You don’t have to point users to your Facebook page. If you want to drive traffic to your website, create an ad that points users there instead. Some Facebook advertisers don’t even have a Facebook business page at all.
6. Give something away. Advertise a free report, coupon, or something else that your customers will see as valuable. You can collect email addresses in exchange or use the giveaway to establish authority. People come to social media to consume content. Giving your customers something they can use right away is a better strategy than giving them the hard sell.
7. Cap your budget. There are a variety of options to choose from based on your goals. Start small and increase your budget as you see results. As with any new marketing program, there will be a learning curve. Keep costs at a minimum while you learn and explore the possibilities.
8. Measure! If you’re going to spend money on Facebook advertising, take advantage of its powerful analytics. Once you begin advertising on Facebook, you’ll gain access to even more robust reporting about each of your campaigns.
Tim Parker is a business writer for Intuit and is passionate about solving small business problems.