Fast Fade: Unpaid brand posts on Facebook are getting rarer by the day.

Lower ReachIt was just a matter of time.

Once Facebook ramped up its advertising program in order to monetize its platform and mollify its investors, unpaid posts by companies and brands were sure to be the collateral damage.

Sure enough, the recent monthly stats show that the “organic reach” of unpaid content published on company and brand pages on Facebook has been cut in half from where it was just a short time ago.

To illustrate, look at these stark figures gathered in an analysis by Ogilvy of 100+ country-level brand pages measuring the average reach of unpaid posts:

  • October 2013: 12.2%
  • November 2013: 11.6%
  • December 2013: 8.8%
  • January 2014: 7.7%
  • February 2014: 6.2%

What these stats show is that within the span of less than six months, the average reach of unpaid brand posts dropped by nearly 50%

To go even further, an anonymous source familiar with Facebook’s long-term strategy is claiming that its new algorithm could ultimately reduce the reach of organic posts to 2% or less.

Actually, the reason for the squeeze is more than just Facebook’s desire to increase advertising revenue.

Here’s a dynamic that’s also significant:  A Pew Research study conducted in mid-2013 found that the typical adult American Facebook user has around 340 friends.

That average is up nearly 50% from approximately 230 friends in 2010.

Of course, more friends mean more status updates eligible for feeds … and Facebook’s not going to display them all to everyone — even if it wanted to.

Also, Facebook users “like” an average of 40 company, brand, group or celebrity pages each, according to a 2013 analysis done by Socialbakers, a social media analytics firm.  That translates into an average of ~1,440 updates every month.

Compare those figures to five years ago, when the average number of page “likes” was fewer than five … yielding fewer than 25 monthly updates on average.

Clearly, there’s no way Facebook is going to to be able to display all of these updates to followers.  So … the content is squeezed some more.

The final nail in the coffin is the rise in “promoted” posts – the ones that brands pay dollars to promote. It’s only natural that Facebook is going to give those posts priority treatment.

Thus, the hat-trick combination of more friends, more likes and more promoted posts is what’s causing “organic” brand posts to go the way of the dodo bird.

In retrospect, it was only a matter of time before a major social platform like Facebook would seek to monetize its program in a big way.

In some respects, it’s amazing that the free ride lasted as long as it actually did …

The Free Lunch Ends on Facebook

Promoted posts on Facebook is the only way to get exposure anymore.
Promoted posts are the only way to ensure decent exposure on Facebook now.

It had to happen.  Suffering from a raft of unflattering news stories about its inability to monetize the Facebook business model and under withering criticism from investors whose post-IPO stock price has been battered, Facebook has been rolling out new policies aimed at redressing the situation.

The result?  No longer can companies or organizations utilize Facebook as a way to advance their brand “on the cheap.”

Under a program that began rolling out this summer and has snowballed in recent months, businesses must pay Facebook anywhere from a fiver to triple figures to “promote” each of their posts to the people who have “liked” their pages plus the friends of those users.

And woe to the company that doesn’t choose to play along or “pay along” … because the average percentage of fans who sees any given non-promoted post has plummeted to … just 16%, according to digital marketing intelligence firm comScore.

Facebook views this as a pretty significant play, because its research shows that Facebook friends rarely visit a brand’s Facebook page on a proactive basis. 

Instead, the vast degree of interaction with brands on Facebook comes from viewing newsfeed posts that appear on a user’s own Facebook wall.

What this means is that the effort that goes into creating a brand page on Facebook, along with a stream of compelling content, is pretty much wasted if abrand isn’t  willing to spend the bucks to “buy”exposure on other pages.

So the new situation in an ever-changing environment boils down to this:

  • Company or brand pages on Facebook are (still) free to create.  
  • To increase reach, companies undertake to juice the volume of “likes” and “fans” through coupons, sweepstakes, contests and other schemes that cost money.
  • And now, companies must spend more money to “promote” their updates on their fan’s own wall pages.  Otherwise, only a fraction of them will ever see them.

Something else seems clear as well:  The promotion dollars are becoming serious money

Even for a local or regional supplier of products or services that wishes to promote its brand to its fan base, a yearly budget of $5,000 to $10,000 is likely what’s required take to generate an meaningful degree of exposure.

Many small businesses were attracted to Facebook initially because of its free platform and potential reach to many people.  Some use Facebook as their de facto web presence and haven’t even bothered to build their own proprietary websites.

So the latest moves by Facebook come as a pretty big dash of cold water.  It’s particularly tough for smaller businesses, where a $10,000 or $20,000 advertising investment is a major budget item, not a blip on the marketing radar screen.

What’s the alternative?  Alas, pretty much all of the other important social platforms have wised up, it seems. 

For those businesses who may wish to scout around for other places in cyberspace where they can piggyback their marketing efforts on a free platform, they won’t find all that much out there anymore.  Everyone seems to be busily implementing “pay-to-play” schemes as well.

FourSquare now has “promoted updates” in which businesses pay to be listed higher in search results on its mobile app.  And LinkedIn has an entire suite of “pay-for” options for promoting companies and brands to target audiences.

It’s clearly a new world in the social sphere … but one that reverts back to the traditional advertising monetary model:  “How much money do you have to spend?”