I've been having more conversations than usual with the clients we do digital strategy work for about significant drops in Facebook activity over the last while. Posts that would typically get a lot of traction (shares, views, comments etc) are performing at far lower numbers, and traffic to their other web properties via Facebook referrals also seems to be dropping. By now those of us who are seasoned in social media strategy have adopted a plus ça change attitude to Facebook and their changing algorithms/rules for how posts are shown in people's feeds, but this recent drop in activity seemed particularly marked.
So, it was no surprise when I read this article at Ad Age Facebook Admits Organic Reach is Falling Short, Urges Marketers to Buy Ads. As the article points out, this is a big change from previous assertions from Facebook as their algorithm has evolved that tried to assure Page managers that their views on their content would not drop significantly (though anecdotally most managers noted significant drops in engagement with past changes as well).
The strategy for Facebook from a business perspective seems to be two-fold. First decrease the amount of "commercial" or non-friend content showing up in people's feeds organically, and second get Page managers to pay for exposure. Facebook is a business that still needs to figure out just how to turn a profit and answer to its shareholders.
While many may argue that there's nothing wrong with asking businesses, who stand to make money off their Facebook activities, to pay to get in front of users the impact for non-profits is significant. As our colleagues at Communicopia have noted, many non-profits have put a lot of energy into building a community of followers on Facebook that they can reach out for support by way of donations, activation for causes and as a means to communicate with volunteers and other stakeholders. (And coming on the heels of a 30% increase in the cost of postage for Canadian non-profits in the new year, the extra cost of paid posts may be extra painful).
So, what's a non-profit who values Facebook as a pillar in their digital strategy to do? For starters, there's a Change.org petition aimed at getting Facebook to set up a Foundation to help fund promoted posts for non-profits (no sense of whether or not Canadian organizations would be able to benefit from the fund if it went ahead). Beyond adding your name there, this seems like a good time to bring up something we regularly remind our clients: do not just build your community on proprietary platforms, find ways to capture them in a format that you control. While you may have put a lot of time and resources into building your community on Facebook, you don't own that contact information as this shift in their business model makes painfully clear. Building up your email newsletter or other forms of outreach that don't rely on a platform like Facebook may end up being critical for any organization, as Facebook exercises their right as a business to change the game and try to make itself into a viable enterprise, changing the rules along the way fo rthose of us using it.
Does this mean we advocate jumping ship from Facebook? Or abandoning previous efforts? Probably not, though it may definitely be time to rethink your strategy and the amount of time you are investing on the platform (or at least how many dollars you may be able to allocated to keep engaged with your audience there). Facebook can still be, among other things, a great place to listen to your constituents, and engage in dialogue when you can capture their attention. Everyone using social media platforms, which we ultimately do not control, will have to continue to evolve their tactics in 2014 to continue to succeed in digital engagement.