Warning For Facebook Page Owners: Pay The Piper Or Lose Your Following

As of today, I’m back to blogging as the epicentre of my social media plan. 

For the last few months, my Facebook Page has been my go to for posting updates related to my business, writings and my outreach.  Why not?  It was easier than a blog post, and once you figured out what Edgerank likes (hint, visually based content), you could garner significant reach. 

I started to buy FB’s “Promoted Posts” when one of my missives was working.  And by working, I mean that it had a 10% viral co-efficient or better.  By that, I mean that if the organic traffic was 500, then the viral traffic was 50 or better.  When I paid to promote it, say for $10 or $20 dollars, the post would catch on fire.  That proved that you only promote content that works, which is a win/win for me and my followers. 

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It was a bonanza for marketers that understood how to create content that works.  I set aside a reasonable budget, a few hundred dollars a month, and was satisfied with the service. 

But all of that changed when FB got greedy, and expanded Promoted Posts’ range from $30 to $300.  With that little change, EdgeRank’s goal (promote quality in your feed) was shoved aside for gold-old-fashioned campaign delivery requirements.  If I plunk down $300, I get over 80,000 reach with little little old 5000 base.  

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Starting last week, I noticed something: Unless I promote a post, my traffic is down significantly.  I can post the same quality of content, getting the same initial reactions from my following, and the post still decays quickly…unless I triple or quadruple my spend on promoted posts.  Because I didn’t spend more, even though I maintained the same editorial calendar, my traffic dipped a whopping 75%.  (According to this WSJ Online post, I’m not alone in this finding.) 

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Here’s my theory, and likely I’m not alone in this.  Remember when United and Continental merged? If you had status on either airline, you stopped getting upgrades as often.  Why? Because there were too many Elites in the system, crowding the scarce upgrade slots.  This is what happened at FB. Deep pocketed or spend thrift Page owners were buying traffic-to-the-moon and FB’s EdgeRank gave way to what I now call Paid-Rank.  To fill all the Promoted Post offers, FB now distributes content regardless of whether it had Weight, Affinity, etc. (the quality algorithm they built to deliver users quality content in their Top Feed). 

What does this all mean?  For users, expect more commercial noise in your stream, less quality and visual content – and an increasingly irrelevent platform to discover your world.  Unless you want to think of FB as a digital zine of sorts.  

For Page owners, it’s a subtle reminder that you should NEVER build your business on a free platform.  (I talked about this last year in this post.) Sure, FB might be a good referral source of traffic for your blog, but don’t let it be your online HQ.  If you put a hard ROI against Promoted Posts, you’ll be very disappointed with their value because there’s very little way to measure what you get for your money.  Google’s Ad Words, on the other hand, demonstrates value via it’s pay per click model.  If you fall for the ‘you got mega-reach for $300’ argument, remember, that’s not an advertising impression, it is a post impression which is much weaker in it’s call to action, creative and execution. 

Typepad (my blog provider) cannot and will not choke off my traffic unless I pay them more.  I pay a monthly service fee to ensure that.  So expect to see me blogging more and provisioning my FB Pages to drive traffic to it.  

It’s natural that FB, desperate to prove itself to Wall Street, would resort to tactics that undermine the user experience for the share price.  Apparently, Yelp has been doing this too.  When I worked at Yahoo, I saw this phenomenon back in 2001 with pop-unders, front page takeovers and suspicious user targeting programs.  What’s dissapointing in FB’s case is that they should have known better, or at least learned from Yahoo’s decline that in the end … you need to create marketing solutions that are user focused.  

(Note: This blog post refutes my claim of reduced traffic, but frankly, the data isn’t fresh enough. Check back on his analysis in a month, and I suspect I’ll be vindicated. This Indie-Wire post from Monday supports my POV.)