A dramatic headline? Perhaps. However, as Facebook strives to make even more money, it's making it harder for brands (businesses/orgs etc) to make any impact. In this post, I look at lack of reach without payment, exceptions to the rule and give advice on assessing if Facebook is actually a worthwhile endeavour for your business.

It used to be fairly simple

You would set up a Facebook Page, have a plan around what you wanted to communicate and who with, assemble the required content and start beavering away. Likes, comments and shares were forthcoming. The volume of those depended on the quality of your updates and the relevancy of your business and your offering to the Facebook crowd. What decided if your updates appeared in a users newsfeed? Edgerank. I don't want to waste pixels explaining Edgerank in this post, but you can find out more here. Infact, Edgerank may well now be dead, but more about that later.

As time inevitably passed, it has become tougher to ensure Facebook activity is worthwhile. The reach of the posts you publish has shrunk. The average Page post reaches 23.5% of a Page's 'likers' (source). 23.5% of the people that you have shed sweat, blood and most likely tears to attract are seeing your posts. Is that effective? I doubt it. This figure varies, and actually, Pages with more 'likers' (I'm going to call them fans from now on) can often see lower levels of around 9% reach. What can you do to ensure more fans see your posts? Well, Facebook will tell you that you need to publish posts that are interesting and relevant, which of course is important as without that, nobody will ever act on your posts, but that isn't enough (August saw changes to the newsfeed algorithm that are likely to confuse and indeed bewilder, and really saw the demise of Edgerank).

The only way to guarantee a strong reach (and at least some chance of people taking an action on your posts), it to part with some cash. One option is to 'boost' a post, which means your posts will be at least served to the newsfeeds of all of your fans. A boost has extended options that allow further serving, which are explained here. There are a wide-ranging plethora of other Facebook advertising options, but in all honesty I don't have the will to try and explain them here.

Creative commons image via http://www.flickr.com/photos/epsos/Creative commons image via http://www.flickr.com/photos/epsos/

Are you telling us to forget about Facebook?

No, but I am telling you to be realistic about how hard it can be to make an impact with effort alone. You need the following:

  • Updates that will attract interaction - those interactions in theory will increase reach and newsfeed visibility. Creating a valuable proposition will lead to growth of your Page
  • Time to analyse your activity and see what it is hitting the spot - Facebook Insights has recently been revamped and is actually pretty good
  • Cash - the above, coupled with some reddies, will help you to have a more successful Facebook presence

Are there exceptions to the 'you need cash' rule?

Yes, I believe there are. The first is big brands that are 'front of mind' - those that people want to actively seek out and get involved with. The second are businesses that solve a problem, or appeal to a niche. For example, a baby product - its key market is Mums and expecting Mums. If either (or both) of those categories apply, life should be easier, as it is more natural for people to get involved.

Should you be on Facebook in the first place?

Facebook does not suit all businesses. It is predominantly a business to consumer setting. Yes, some B2B (business to business) success examples exist, however the nature of Facebook (people keeping up to date with friends, family, sharing pics etc) lends itself to more consumer based business - things that aren't too serious. Is the Head of Accounting using Facebook to find a new accountancy firm to offer support to his employers business? Highly unlikely. The other thing to consider is what Facebook will actually do for your business? Wasting time on any marketing or communication activity that fails to deliver a key action (those actions could be leads, sales, customer retention, customer service, introductions to the funnel) is a disaster. If you are clear about what you want to achieve and have the means to assess if those achievements are being met, life will be a whole lot easier. Oh, and if somebody comes along and says 'I'll create you a Facebook strategy', run for the hills.