As any Facebook Page Manager would know, Fan Page Reach measures the viral exposure your Facebook posts receive. If you manage Facebook pages and have noticed that your fan reach has plummeted in the past few weeks, you are not alone. Social media managers everywhere have been seeing the same trend.
For example, during the period from September 9 2012 and September 30, 2012, Dharma Cowgirl increased likes by 30%, but decreased “people talking about” by 10% and decreased reach by 66%. There were no promoted posts, and the new fans were acquired through offline promotion. There was no significant change in the posting style and all posts included photos or videos. The two metrics, “People Talking About” and “Fan Reach” should have a direct correlation, and until recently, they did.
One explanation might be that people have been less active on Facebook during the past few weeks. Internet usage in North America tends to pick up in September as people spend more time indoors. So this trend is the exact opposite of what one would expect to see going into the fall season. The only viable conclusions are that either the reporting mechanism is broken or Facebook is manipulating the algorithm that determines reach.
Geoffrey Colon of Ogilvy & Mather reported earlier this week that indeed, Facebook has indeed made an algorithmic change that decreases the number of brand posts in a social stream in order to address the amount of brand content delivered to mobile devices. More to the point, it appears that Facebook is forcing the hand of business page owners by creating a “pay to play” environment for brands. This doesn’t look good for the small business owner, as they will inevitably get squeezed out by the big brands with advertising budgets.
With this new algorithm we can anticipate two changes. The first will be an increase in competition for promoted posts which will drive up costs. The second will be an increase in organic post frequency by pages who want to try to achieve their previous reach by pushing more content. Neither of these outcomes look good for the small business owner.
Facebook users, who have enjoyed a platform where ads have been generally non-invasive, are going to be disappointed when they realize that they’re not seeing the pages they chose to engage with and are instead seeing the ones that can afford to buy their way into a social network. Facebook will need to exercise extreme caution in this high wire act as they try to balance an audience that dislikes promoted media and the market pressures of a publicly-traded company.
To satisfy stockholders, Facebook has to be profitable. If you were given the option, would you pay Facebook to block your exposure to promoted media?