The steady decline of organic reach on Facebook has in the last few months become a freefall. Unless you are paying to ‘boost’ your posts you can now expect only two percent of your audience to ever actually see what you’re putting out.

We decided to take a look and see what this change means for your small business.

Small Business Week is with us and the lovely people at multi-billion dollar tech behemoth, Facebook have decided to honor America’s entrepreneurs by holding a series of ‘boot camp-style events’ for small business owners. Which is nice of them. A cynic might remark that these bootcamp events will actually be taking place in August and they are only announcing now to help Zuckerberg and Co. bask in the feel-good factor of appearing to care about small business.

But we’re not cynical here at Counter Culture, we’re optimists – so we’ll choose to see the glass as half full and assume Facebook genuinely want to help small business owners get ahead.

The thing is though that any small business owner paying any attention at all will have realized that the number of people seeing, liking and engaging with their posts has dropped measurably over the last six months.  Emarketer estimates that median organic reach worldwide fell from 16.0% in February 2012 to 6.5% in March 2014. A fact that has understandably raised hackles among business owners. Sim Partners go one step further estimating it at around 2%, meaning that for every hundred followers you have only two people will ever see your posts.

In fact, online food delivery platform Eat24 became so incensed by these changes that they publicly ‘broke up’ with Facebook with a pithy and pointed public letter.

So, what’s actually going on here and how is it going to impact your small business?

In a nutshell, users are liking more and more ‘fan pages’ (for movies, businesses, charities, etc), and yet, they are spending about the same amount of time reading their Newsfeed every day.  As you can imagine, this means you are competing with more and more people for that coveted spot in your followers’ newsfeed. In short, less and less of your followers will ever see that carefully crafted cupcake image or your lunchtime menu post.

This is, of course, a fact that marketing experts and big businesses have been aware of for some time now.  The idea that a platform launches with relatively easy and cheap pickings for brands looking to advertise only to become competitive and expensive as more brands get involved, is not a new one.  The same trajectory was also evident with Yahoo and Google in their early years.

The key difference for small businesses is that the average small business owner wasn’t told that Facebook was going to be an advertising platform. They believed it was a social network where they could build up a community of followers and then keep them up to date with daily menu offerings and/or new clothing lines.  Local coffee shops, food trucks and clothing boutiques have spent years driving their customers to like their Facebook page because they believed it was going to be an ‘owned’ communication platform. It was, for many, the holy grail of small business: a ‘free’ marketing platform.

While this may always have been wishful thinking, this most recent drop in organic (read: unpaid) reach should leave the average small business owner in no doubt about one thing: there is no such thing as free.

So, what can you do to hold your own?

1. Diversify

Small Businesses that are relying on Facebook as their sole means of communication with their customers must diversify.  It’s time to start building out your own website and blog, and looking into alternative social networks.  Perhaps the most exciting opportunity right now is Pinterest, (depending on your business type).  Although again, investments of time and money should be made in full awareness that Pinterest could easily ‘do a Facebook’ at some point in the future.

For a definitive guide to the alternative platforms you should be using, make sure to check out Yamarie Grullon’s definitive Small Business Guide to Social Media.

Note: Despite how much I loved Eat24’s break-up letter, now is not the time to quit Facebook. For now, Facebook remains one of the key places a consumer will discover and assess your business online, and as a result you must meet them on their terms.

2. Do Less, Better

According to Facebook, everytime the average user logs in to check their newsfeed, their algorithm is choosing from up an average of 1500 stories from friends, people they follow, and Pages.

They have chosen to tackle this problem by aggressively curating the posts that appear in the newsfeed, according to predefined criteria.

The questions they ask of the content include:

  • Is this timely and relevant content?
  • Is this content from a source you would trust?
  • Would you share it with friends or recommend it to others?
  • Is the content genuinely interesting to you or is it trying to game News Feed distribution? (e.g., asking for people to like the content)
  • Would you call this a low quality post or meme?
  • Would you complain about seeing this content in your News Feed?

Facebook have essentially declared that they are no longer in the ‘social network’ business of connecting people to each other, regardless of what is being said – they are now in the business of curating ‘high quality content’.  In short, this means you must say less and focus far more on creating compelling content.  Be timely, be creative, be funny, be interesting, and whatever you do, don’t be self-serving.  There’s a reason that the Facebook wall is now filled with media outlets, including buzzfeed, upworthy, et al. They spend time and money to create cool stuff that people want to read, like, and share.

For anyone paying attention, marketers have been screaming about the need to stop marketing and start content marketing for some time now. It’s now more important than ever that small business owners take heed.

If you’d like to know more about content marketing, you can check out my guide to Small Business Content Marketing.

3. Pay Up

In marketing, as in point of sale systems, as in life, there is just no such thing as free.

Facebook provided early adopters with a fantastic and hugely cost effective platform to connect with their customers. Unfortunately, that game is now up.

For big businesses, like Coca Cola and Walmart this change really doesn’t mean much.They will simply adjust their annual spend by 0.5% to cover the drop in reach.  For Small Businesses it presents a more complex problem.

As with all things, the key here is to operate in a lean, data-led manner.  It’s about marshalling your resources in the most effective manner possible. This means it may be time to post less but put a little bit of money behind your best posts.  It may even be time to pay a local marketing agency to create those posts for you to ensure the best results.

In practice, this means understanding your goals when using social media. Are you trying to boost name awareness?  Are you hoping to share a specific sales promotion? Understand your goals, allocate a small budget to experiment with, and try to drive the customer action you’re looking for. If you have a clearly defined goal, you’ll be able to operate with much more confidence when spending on platforms like Facebook.

Good Luck and let us know your thoughts on Facebook for Small Business in the comments below.

Paul Nugent

Paul Nugent

Paul Nugent is a small business advocate who uses his background in the startup space, along with his POS system expertise, to allow small business owners to make informed decisions within their specific budgets.