How Facebook’s Algorithms Harm Small Businesses with Small Budgets (And What You Can Do About It)
If you’ve been using Facebook for personal reasons in the past two years, you’ll have noticed an altered (and I think poorer) experience.
People's newsfeeds have become dominated by publishers and businesses posting ads. This has meant that, unlike in the earlier days of Facebook, you now see fewer posts from your friends and family. As more businesses and publishers have tried to get more customers using Facebook advertising, they have taken up prime space in our newsfeeds.
It's a bit like being at your own birthday party and finding that most of the guests in the room are journalists and salespeople.
Posts from your best mate Dave and your mum have been elbowed out and you are now left with a strange social experience.
As a consequence, Facebook has seen a decrease in interactions and that people have been using other social channels instead.
WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger for example are walled social gardens which keep advertisers from interrupting a user's experience. They are now where people go to hide from the bombardment of advertising and news publishers.
The reason that people have gone elsewhere is because Facebook mixed business with pleasure.
Social scientists say that when you mix market norms (i.e. trying to sell something) with social norms (i.e. trying to be sociable with no sales agenda) it often makes for a bad experience. Businesses are trying to sell people things when all people want is a social experience online. That's what's been happening on Facebook recently: nobody wants a salesman at their birthday party.
In response, Facebook has changed tack.
It has introduced a suite of new changes that makes it more difficult for businesses who aren't delivering 'quality content' to reach customers. This is worth paying attention to: last month a content publisher called 'Little Things' went out of business because the recent changes meant their traffic plunged by 75%.
So what do you need to be aware of?
One major change is that Facebook now promotes posts that appear to be a genuine conversation between people. Actions like tagging people in posts and long replies from people to posts will do well. This means a lot of text. So just when we thought it was all about video, it looks like text is making a comeback.
Facebook also suppresses posts that don’t indicate a genuine conversation. Some examples are:
Posts that trick people into commenting (also known as 'engagement bait')
Posts with short comments or one-word answers
Pre-recorded videos that don’t generate lots of likes, comments or shares
Flat visuals (these drive more passive engagement than active, so therefore don't get rewarded)
Paid advertising that doesn’t spark debate through comments or likes, and isn’t relevant to the audience
Adding links that take you out of Facebook (LinkedIn also does something similar to this)
Posting excessively and using multiple Facebook pages, both of which suggest you are spamming people's feeds
Paid advertising that isn't well-targeted and instead reaches a broader, poorly-defined audience
The new algorithm applies to all areas of Facebook.
Whether it is for a personal page, a business page, a Facebook Group or paid advertising, you can't escape the new changes. All businesses will have to adapt.
What does this mean for small businesses?
Small businesses will now have to pay more for advertising to get noticed by customers. Space to advertise will be less available, which makes it more competitive and costly to reach the same target audience.
Don't rely on organic reach either to get to your customers.
Organic reach (i.e. posting without paying for advertising) on main Facebook pages is effectively gone (and has been almost gone for a while). Organic posts reach less than 1% of followers. If you rely on organic reach via your main Facebook feed, the only people who like your posts are usually people who know you really well and are more likely to buy from you anyway. So if you want to reach more people, you will have to pay for advertising on Facebook.
Not all the changes are bad however.
Increasingly popular are 'Closed Facebook groups' (like 'The Lab’) and Facebook Live for one-to-one chats with followers. Both options are favoured by Facebook because they encourage genuinely useful conversations. You get to know the faces behind your Facebook likes, and it's not about direct selling.
Yes, there are some closed Facebook Groups that engage in high-pressure sales tactics though.
These groups push you to buy a product or service and quickly send you down their 'sales funnel'. It's neither a pleasant nor sociable experience. I hope that Facebook will look less favourably on these sorts of groups.
But there are some closed Facebook groups doing low-pressure marketing and offer an excellent social experience.
Check out The Drip Community, or Jon Venus’ Health & Fitness closed Facebook group – and The Lab of course ;). They show that marketing doesn’t always need to be about selling but can be about helping people and building a community without the pressure to buy.
In short, social media and business is changing for the better.
It’s no longer about spamming with salesy Facebook posts. It’s no longer about producing poor content or posts that do little to drive conversation or entertain. Facebook hasn’t been a ‘social’ space for a while. And now it has to be.
So what should you do today if you are a small business on Facebook?
Try setting up a community in a Facebook Closed Groups. Try Facebook Live to connect to your followers in real-time. The idea is to get to know the faces behind your Facebook likes and/or your newsletter subscribers and build better connections with them. It doesn’t require intense management either – it can be light touch and take up maybe an hour or two of your week.
Be warned however: if you continue posting on the main Facebook feed posts that offer little relevance to your fans, without spending money on advertising, then expect little return (apart from a few likes from your best mate or mum).
And remember, nobody wants a salesman at their birthday party.
That's it for now.