Small businesses have come to see Facebook as an essential part of their marketing plans. As the most popular social media platform with the broadest appeal, Facebook gives SMEs the potential to reach thousands, or possibly even millions, of people globally.

But that potential has been soured somewhat in the past year or so as Facebook has attempted to engineer its news feed to favour showing users posts from friends rather than businesses and the like.

“Our mission on news feed is to connect people to the stories that matter to them the most,” said Adam Mosseri, Facebook’s head of news feed.

This makes sense for Facebook because it has to ensure users enjoy their experience and stay engaged. Without users in the first place, businesses would not bother with a Facebook presence. It’s the dilemma all platform business models face in that connecting two sides of a platform — in this case, users and businesses or advertisers — requires Facebook to carefully weigh the needs of each side.

However, changes to the news feed algorithm have left many small businesses angry as they see all the hard work put into building followers and creating content go by the wayside as the organic reach of business posts dwindle.

The recent introduction of the explore feed has also allowed Facebook to split feeds so the main news feed is populated primarily by posts from friends, alongside paid posts and ads, while the explore feed is where you might find the posts from business pages you follow. TechCrunch describes the explore feed as “a second-tier news feed that Facebook could monetize”.

This especially puts small businesses with limited budgets at a distinct disadvantage because users now have to go searching through the explore feed to find their posts.

As Mashable says: “That means Facebook’s main feed is no longer a free playing field for publishers. Instead, it’s a battlefield of ‘pay to play’, where publishers have to pony up the dough to get back into the News Feed.”

Specialist social media marketing site Social Media Examiner put out a post last week on Facebook asking if people had noticed a significant drop in the organic reach of their posts. The response was almost unanimously yes.

The people who follow Social Media Examiner tend to be pretty clued in to what their Facebook pages are doing, so it’s a good indication it has definitely become harder recently for businesses to get their posts into user feeds.

These are some of the responses:

  • “Today my posts that usually reach 1-2k people were reaching 300-700 people. I thought it was just me.”
  • “An enormous drop. It looks like Facebook pages’ organic reach is unofficially dead.”
  • “I was just looking at my newsfeed – ALL of the posts that were showing were from groups or personal posts from friends.”
  • “It’s insane fb is really messing up with us. Any good hacks to keep our reach steady?”

This is not really a new situation as organic reach has been dropping for at least a year or two now. But it has been exacerbated by the algorithm changes and the introduction of the explore feed.

It’s worth keeping in mind the News Feed Publisher Guidelines, with Facebook advising publishers (which includes any business putting out content via their FB page) should:

  1. “…ideally focus on what they do best; making the important and meaningful stories interesting to their audience.”
  2. “…focus on posting accurate, authentic content.”
  3. “…follow our Community Standards.”

These are pretty much motherhood statements most businesses would try to follow, but it’s worth reiterating the point you need to be putting out high quality content that really targets what your followers are interested in if you are to have any chance of garnering organic reach.

Basically, if you’re running an Facebook business page, you need to make sure your content is highly relevant to your audience and doesn’t fall foul of Facebook community standards. If you haven’t been dipping into your budget to boost posts and buy ads, you might have to seriously look at that as an option. Otherwise, your Facebook presence might diminish to the point of marginal returns.

Fi Bendall

Fi is Westpac / AFR 2015 100 Women of Influence, described by CEO Magazine as the CEO's Secret Weapon she is one of Australia's most respected thought leaders in the digital space. As an expert and pioneer in digital strategy and with over 23 years experience in the digital / tech sector over three continents, Europe, USA and Oceania; Fi has a depth of understanding unique to Australia.

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