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The Ugly Truth About Facebook for Small Businesses

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Yesterday, I was scrolling through my favorite photo blog when I noticed a headline that caught my eye, We’re pulling the plug on Facebook. Yes, one of my favorite bloggers, TheChive, was removing their content from Facebook. This move would have been unthinkable just a few short years ago!

Why are they removing their articles, photos and videos from Facebook? Simple. Because they’re paying attention. They, like many other small businesses and bloggers, have realized that Facebook decided to change the rules. So, TheChive decided to stop playing the game.

In the past several years, Facebook has raised rates for ads and reduced the number of a people who see posts made by businesses.

The ugly truth is, Facebook encouraged small businesses to invest time and energy into their platform and then stole their visibility.

Facebook’s Raw Deal

In 2011, Small business owners were sure that Facebook was a game changer for their advertising efforts. For the last few years, you’ve probably walked into countless small businesses and seen signs that say, “Like us on Facebook”. Many of the more savvy retailers even encouraged you to like their Facebook page in exchange for rewards, or discounts at their store. After all, your “like” was sure to sign you up for a lifetime of connection. Mom & Pop retailers poured hours into growing their likes in the hopes of establishing a strong data base of well connected customers to communicate with. Facebook users didn’t complain. Willingly, they liked, commented, shared and otherwise engaged with the businesses they liked —  both digitally and in-person.

Those were the good ole’ days. Back when more than 16% of your Facebook fans would see your posts. If your posts were really good, even more people would see it. Then 2012 arrived…

Facebook Game plan

Between 2012 and 2014 Facebook’s organic reach dropped approximately 10%. Unfortunately, small business owners were slow to get the message. In fact, many small businesses who were aware of the change were still slow to adapt their strategies. At precisely the same time Facebook was executing their plan to create decline on Facebook, store owners were ramping up their efforts to collect page likes.

Store owners I worked with at the time spent hours designing in store signage to promote their Facebook page. Small business owner’s ads on radio, newspapers and circulars all touted the line – “Like us on Facebook”. Stores designed incentives to encourage employees to acquire likes for the business. Retailers rewarded customers with discounts, free products and rewards when they liked the business Facebook page. All the while, Facebook reduced the amount of fans that would see the posts on your page. Instead of collecting email addresses, improving their websites, working on their local SEO or sending email blasts stores collected likes. Now, the opportunity cost for small businesses is real.

Today, Facebook posts made by small businesses will reach less than 2% of the people who like their page. Sadly, this trend is only going to continue. Facebook recently announced plans to further reduce the amount of business content in news feeds.

So how do you communicate with all those people who like your business now? You have to pay…

The Big Mistake for Small Businesses

The mistake countless independent retailers make is to assume Facebook hasn’t changed and that it will continue to serve as a valuable tool for their business.

Here is an email we received at one of our web development companies from a customer just a few weeks ago:

“Sorry to inform you but as of today 02/14/18 we will cancel our web page service. We are just not needing the service. We use Facebook for 100% of customer contact.  Everyone one was very helpful in the building of the web page.”

This retailer is not alone. Actually, 31% of small businesses without websites just use their social media profile as their website instead. These retailers are effectively killing the online exposure for their businesses. They are removing a web page for their business while simultaneously investing completely in Facebook, a platform that is actively reducing their ability to organically communicate with their customer base.

Without realizing it, independent businesses have been duped. They’ve familiarized themselves with Facebook, made it the sole social platform for representing their business and have never budgeted to pay for continued exposure. To make matters worse, retailers continue to forge ahead with little thought about the future of the platform or what that means for their business.

New Social Media Game Plan for Retailers

What can independent retailers do about it now? Two things: Expand & Spend.

  1. Expand Your Social Media Presence. Don’t limit yourself to a single platform. Retailers can no longer expect that Facebook alone will be the silo for their digital marketing efforts. Expand into other social platforms that may have better exposure and application for your business. Try Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, Houzz, Google Plus and Snapchat. These won’t all be a good fit for everyone, but stores will find varying degrees of success by expanding to additional platforms. (Concerned about managing multiple platforms? There’s tools for this. Check out our post on tools for managing multiple social platforms.)
  2. Spend money on social platforms. Social platforms are seeking ways to make money. The best way they know how to make money is by charging businesses. Social platforms can and should continue to be a part of your digital marketing strategy, but from the beginning, you should be prepared to pay for exposure. When you use their platform be prepared to play on their terms.

Facebook changed the rules. They were allowed to, it’s their platform. But small businesses need to be aware of the platforms their investing time and energy into for marketing purposes. Make sure that your business plan matches that of the advertising medium you’re using for your business. Remember, these platforms change over time.

Facebook, can (and probably should be)an important part of your digital marketing plan. However, your strategy today, should look very different than it did in 2012 and will probably look very different again in 2020.

 

 

 

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