Free Ride on Facebook Ends for Financial Marketers

If you think fewer and fewer of your institution’s Facebook fans are seeing your updates and posts, you aren’t imagining things. Facebook says you have to pay up if you want people to see your content.

You manage a Facebook page for your bank or credit union. Last year, your fan base grew 200%. Maybe you even landed on one of The Financial Brand’s Power 100 lists as one of the fastest growing financial institutions on Facebook.

You should be thrilled, right? Wrong. You could have three times as many ‘Likes’ as you did 12 months ago, but fewer and fewer people are seeing your status updates.

This is no accident. Facebook has very deliberately cut back the number of your fans that will be seeing your content. Analysts who have been watching Facebook closely for many months now say things are going to get worse. Organic reach of posts is quickly dropping off, and Facebook is signaling that it will continue suffocating content as part of its strategy to squeeze page admins for ad dollars.

Facebook defines “organic reach” as the number of unique people who saw your post in their News Feed or on your Page, including people who saw it from a story shared by a friend when they liked, commented on or shared your post, answered a question or responded to an event.

“Competition for each News Feed story is increasing,” Facebook explained in a post on its website. “We’re seeing more people sharing more content, and pages will likely see changes in distribution. For many pages, this includes a decline in organic reach. We expect this trend to continue as the competition for each story remains strong and we focus on quality.”

( Read More: 15 of the Best Facebook Pages in Banking to Watch )

“The best way to get your stuff seen if you’re a business on Facebook is to pay for it.”
— Facebook Spokesman

This has not sat well with page administrators, who have seen their posts go from reaching about 16% of users who ‘Like’ their pages down to two or three percent. Yep, you heard that right… if you have 10,000 fans, roughly 250 of them will see your posts. If you have less than 1,000 fans, you might wonder if it’s even worth the bother.

A study in December 2013 encompassing some 1,000 Facebook pages found that the only organization that were seeing any increase in organic reach were those that were also buying ads.

“We expect organic distribution of an individual page’s posts to gradually decline over time as we continually work to make sure people have a meaningful experience on the site,” Facebook explains in a document it released to its advertising partners late in 2013.

Bottom Line: If you want your content to be seen on Facebook, you going to have to pay.

“Facebook’s move highlights a frustrating reality for advertisers: social media efforts operate at the whims of companies that own the platforms.”
— Mashable

This is a big about-face for Facebook, who a little more than a year ago vehemently denied that it would do anything as sinister as stifling updates from company pages simply to spur marketers to spend more on ads.

Facebook explained in its document that “content that is eligible to be shown in news feed is increasing at a faster rate than people’s ability to consume it.” Now it looks like financial marketers will have little choice but to buy space if they want to achieve any meaningful reach on Facebook.

The three-page document also contains a section that repositions how marketers should think about fan acquisition: as a tool for making paid advertising more effective. (Translation: Forget about free distribution of content.)

“Your brand can fully benefit from having fans when most of your ads show social context, which increases advertising effectiveness and efficiency,” the document states.

( More: What Financial Marketers Need to Know About Facebook’s Star Ratings Now )

“In other words, the main reason to acquire fans isn’t to build a free distribution channel for content,” wrote Cotton Delo for AdAge. “It’s to make future Facebook ads work better.”

A spokesman for Facebook told AdAge that the overall organic reach of Facebook posts from brands was in fact in slow decline.

“We’re getting to a place where because more people are sharing more things, the best way to get your stuff seen if you’re a business is to pay for it,” the spokesman said in an interview.

AdAge concludes that paid distribution on Facebook will be required if page admins want to maintain the reach they may have once had when Facebook was a younger network.

In December 2013, The Financial Brand shut down its Facebook page over this very issue. Facebook was choking down updates to the point that only around 5% of fans would see any given post. This practice, known as “throttling” in internet parlance, just doesn’t fly for a publishing and content distribution company like The Financial Brand. The calculus behind our decision was pretty straightforward. The Financial Brand was trying to use its Facebook page to give financial marketers helpful and educational tips about Facebook best practices — that’s not something we’re going to pay to promote. A business like The Financial Brand that’s supported by ads doesn’t buy ads to promote its own content. At the end of the day, we can’t justify investing time and energy into creating content for 50-100 people when we could be using that time to produce articles that will be read by thousands (like this article here). So bye bye Facebook…

We aren’t alone. David Salama, CEO of a web app company, told Mashable that, in light of Facebook’s content throttling, they aren’t going to bother “throwing resources at things people won’t ever see.”

“[Facebook] has cost us a lot of time and resources that, frankly, we’d rather be spending elsewhere,” Salama said.

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