Is Facebook no Longer a Viable Option for Small Businesses?

If you own a Facebook page for your business, you’ve likely noticed a dramatic shift in the level of reach and interaction on your page in recent months.

Why is this happening?

Facebook is looking to generate revenue through promoted posts.

Ever since this feature was introduced this spring, the reach of individual posts has decreased to an estimated 16 percent. So, if you have 1,000 fans on your page, each page will only reach about 160 of them.

If you want better access to your fans, you can pay to promote your posts to reach the rest of your audience. And, if your page has fewer than 400 fans, you’re just plum out of luck since this feature isn’t available to you.

Let me be clear — before this shift in the algorithm, posts from pages never reached 100 percent of fans. However, this change has dramatically impacted how well a brand can reach their audience through this channel.

It’s pretty clear why Facebook has gone this route — with their recent IPO they are looking for ways to drive revenue. Although we can certainly talk about whether this was a bait and switch for brands or whether this move has demolished the level playing field for small businesses.

The big question, however, is what should small businesses DO about it.

What should small businesses do about it?

Although I certainly don’t have all the answers, here are some ideas to consider for your Facebook page:

  • Try promoted posts. Certainly, if you want to reach more of your fans (and you have more than 400 of them), you can give promoted posts a try. For smaller pages, this could be a viable option to use some of the time — especially when you have something you really want fans to see. However, as others have noted, promoting every post will get really expensive, real fast. But, before you completely dismiss this approach, give it a try and see if it’s worth investing some money here.
  • Focus on your content. I can’t stress enough the importance of sharing and creating content that people want to see. If you consistently become a resource that people can’t live without, they will be more likely to tune in and engage with your content.
  • Try multimedia. Photos and videos typically perform better on Facebook, so if you’re not already integrating this into your approach, then you’re missing out on a great way to get engage with your fans and get more eyeballs.
  • Test different approaches. To be successful with social media, you need to become a scientist who is willing to test different techniques. Try shifting when you post, altering how often you update your page or changing up what kind of information you share. Doing this may help you find the approach that will work best for your brand.
  • Encourage subscriptions. In the past week, Facebook has announced they will be rolling out an option for fans to receive notifications for pages. Although I think this is a bit clunky and I doubt many fans will go to this effort on their own, this might be a way for brand pages to encourage better visibility of their posts. But, this still goes back to the content — for users to take this step, you better prove you’re sharing information that’s worth getting notified about for every post.
  • Move your engagement off Facebook. If you’re struggling to get any traction with your page after trying a number of different tactics, you may want to focus on moving your fans to engage with you other ways. Maybe you can encourage them to sign-up for email updates (which you should be doing anyway) or connect with you on Twitter or Google Plus.

Should businesses kill their Facebook page?

Yes, the playing field has changed. And yes, these changes make Facebook a bit tougher for brands.
 But, I don’t think it’s time to kill your Facebook page just yet.

The bottom line for small businesses is that they must continue to innovate and try different approaches to find the right mix that works for them.

What are you seeing with your Facebook page? What is working for you? Or, are you giving up on Facebook?

Image credit: Steel Wool

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Laura Click

Laura Click is brand strategist, speaker, podcaster and the founder of Blue Kite. Learn more about Laura and her work at Blue Kite.

19 replies on “Is Facebook no Longer a Viable Option for Small Businesses?”

I agree it’s not time to kill your Facebook page. It does bother me Facebook can’t decide if we are its users or its product. It seems like they want to combine the two, which will make it impossible to generate revenue. If they did what Google does, and provided free access in exchange for use of the site so they can collect higher advertising fees, they would succeed.

You make a good point, Gini. I think Facebook was never built for business. But, businesses – especially small ones – quickly saw the value. And, as you pointed out in your post today, it leveled the playing field.

Now, Facebook is backpedaling to find a revenue model that makes sense…just in the worst way. I hadn’t thought about the combining the user and the product, but doing that makes the situation far more convoluted and difficult on both sides of the coin.

I know my bias is showing, but I’ve never felt like anything other than Facebook’s “product”, and I know I’m not alone. Anytime the company slickly announces a new threshold reached (“Now 1B users worldwide!”) I take that as 50B data-points of inventory sitting on a retail shelf, waiting for a buyer.

To a certain extent, you and I can move ourselves “across the counter”, so to speak, and buy some of that data in the form of targeted advertising, but it’s just drops in the bucket.

Which is exactly my point. If you want us to be your product, let us be your product, but don’t charge us. If you want us to be your user, let us be your user and charge us for access. But we can’t be both.

At least not yet 😉

I didn’t have any personal experience with this issue because FB introduced this feature after I shutdown my FB page.

I think we should keep on trying, at least a bit more.

Wow, only 16 percent?

Clearly FB need to reanalyze their goals (because if it gets too hard, small businesses might decide to spend their time elsewhere – like Twitter or G+).

This not only hurts the small business, but also the user (Who actually want to see the posts). Nowadays, I directly visit the pages to see their posts, rather than scrolling down the wall looking for posts from the page).

Anyways, thank you for the post, Laura!

Jeevan – I think you’re right that businesses may start looking for other places to spend their time. I think Google Plus has a much better interface and opportunity for engagement. The problem is that there’s not much of the general population there just yet. Time will tell if another, better social channel pops up that will fill this growing void.

In the meantime, we have to figure out whether Facebook is worth the time.

So, why did you shutdown your FB page? Just curious!

Excellent issue you’ve brought to light which I think skirts a larger issue: Facebook’s $1B investment in Instagram.

I’d previously written how this move signalled a larger cultural shift for Facebook, one which only helps disenfranchise enterprise, corporate or dare I say “ad-buying” clients. I honestly don’t think Facebook is a serious location for business: it’s a teen playground and photo-sharing site, and the moves it continues to make do nothing to sway me.

“Try multi-media”. Very sensible! If you’re a company (or individual) whose products or services can be visualized, imaged, streamed, etc then I do think Facebook could serve as a decent conduit for you…

Steve – I agree that most people are there to share personal photos and updates and they care less about what’s going on at your business. However, I still think that Facebook has been a good option for smaller businesses because it gave a way to easily engage with prospects and customers without a huge marketing/ad budget, especially if you deliver interesting, entertaining and useful content.

Again Facebook moves to disenfranchise its paying customers. I’ve been trying to sell social as a viable option to my clients for a while with a focus on what you are describing above: good content, multi-media, etc. This strategy takes a lot of time but was possible since it didn’t have a marketing expense (save for time) associated. However, this is no longer enough. Now I have to convince clients that not only do they have to spend all the extra time, energy & focus on content PLUS they then have to pay Facebook to get people to see it with the hopes of like, comment and share it…oh, and with an unproven ROI model as well.

I think Facebook’s end game is that they believe they can survive on the revenue generated by the Target’s & Walmart’s who have the money to promote all of their posts. Small business are not their concern apparently.

This is fine though…there are plenty of other sources where small business can spend their time and money and get ROI. This will hurt FB in the end and adding an additional step to ‘get notifications’ is not going to pacify for long.

Thanks for posting Laura.

I’ve really enjoyed chatting with you about this, Kacy. You make a great point – for small businesses, the investment has always been time. Spending time (and now money) there becomes a lot tougher pill to swallow now that the game has changed.

Perhaps Facebook will be able to get enough revenue from the big guys. What will be interesting to see is whether small businesses will start abandoning Facebook – especially when a better option comes along. Time will tell.

The only way things are going to change at Facebook is if people quit using it or businesses start shutting their pages down or quit spending money there. I don’t see either happening any time soon, so I think this is the new normal.

Lots of good takeaways today:

* Small businesses are finding better success at G+ than FB it seems

* FB was an attractive point of entry for small businesses because it was low-cost (vs say, building out your own website); but that competitive edge is vanishing in the face of “promoted posts”

* FB seems intent on surviving off ad revenue from enterprise clients

* Does FB create a rich culture in which small businesses can thrive; and does it make investments in, and upgrades to it? I’m not so sure…

I’ve seen my Facebook traffic grow recently but I believe it has been helped along by other networks. Google Plus has been my network of choice this past year and I’ve found some of the most productive engagement especially as we have seem much more growth in other communities within G+. Although I will maintain my Facebook page most of my active engagement will be on twitter and Google Plus.

That’s interesting that Google Plus has been your network of choice. Why do you think that is? I think G+ has a lot of possibility, but there’s still such a small fraction of people hanging out there. I think you can get some good engagement depending on who your target audience is.

My Facebook page hasn’t been impacted too much, but I have a very small fan base. I also make sure to change up the content. I sometimes joke that my business page is a treasure chest, which is why I sometimes refer to the things I share as “finds.” They are, both for me and for my fans.

Every so often, a fan lets me know that they like what I’m doing on the page and with the site. Maybe I should write a post thanking them. They’ve often helped me to battle discouragement, and they’re the reason I keep trying to build Write Right into my full-time work.

I think thanking people is ALWAYS a good idea – no matter how you do it. Could be a thank you note, a blog post, whatever you think is best. When you reward behavior you want to encourage, you’ll often see more of it!

Thanks so much for this! I’m going to share this post with my husband; I don’t think he knows the extent to which his posts are being limited. His main complaint (he’s a musician with a band page) was that he was no longer able to post links to show information — to get around it, they’ve been posting the date, and then including relevant links in subsequent comments to that post. An inelegant solution, but one that will have to tide him over until all of this gets figured out…

Thanks for commenting, Sarah! I’m glad you found this helpful – I hope it helps your husband too!

As for his band page, he should still be able to post links on his page. Is that the issue or am I misunderstanding? Let me know and I’ll see if I can help.

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