People have been saying it for a while, and this week voices seem to be getting louder about it: it’s only a matter of time until Facebook is pay-to-play only. First this, then this, now this….I won’t take up your whole day, but I could probably keep adding links talking about Facebook’s declining organic reach for a very long time. Suffice it to say that the writing is on the wall: Facebook’s free lunch for brands is dwindling fast so don’t be surprised when the inevitable happens and Facebook truly becomes what it already has become for many brands: an ad platform.
So with this in mind, and given that Facebook is probably where the majority of organizations with little or no ad budget are spending most of their time and effort when it comes to social media, I think it’s about time to stop being shocked or in denial about the inevitable and instead start plotting your post-Facebook social media strategy. What if you woke up tomorrow and you suddenly had to pay to post to your org’s Facebook page, or at least had to pay in order to have anyone at all see what you posted? Would you be able to just re-tool the content strategies for your other social media channels and re-create any lost engagement, web traffic referrals, sales, leads or whatever else it is that you’re currently getting from Facebook on those channels? Or would your whole social media strategy be dead in the water? If it’s the latter, don’t worry...but do start thinking about it because it’s becoming glaringly apparent that the day is fast approaching when you’ll be waking up to this exact reality. And as we in the nonprofit world know, sadly we’re usually the last to know these things because we learn what Facebook is doing pretty much as they do it, not in advance through our ad reps (ha!) or other inside intel (double ha!).
I’d suggest starting by looking at what you’re currently getting from Facebook, as well as what you’re putting into Facebook. Is Facebook driving traffic back to your website? Are you engaging with members or customers there? Are you putting a lot of time into coming up with graphics to go with your posts, or spending time moderating a Facebook group? Maybe start thinking about some other ways you might make up for that lost traffic, or other places you might be able to engage with people, as well as maybe ways you could try to improve engagement on other social media channels that have played second fiddle to Facebook all this time. Take a look at Google Analytics and see which social media channels are driving traffic and engagement now, and think about beefing up your use of and/or presence on those sites. For instance, if Facebook is currently driving the most referral traffic, but Pinterest is second and Twitter is third, think about what you may or may not already be doing on those channels, and what you might do better or differently if you were able to shift staff or outsourced resources to those channels. Then start doing it. No need to wait until Facebook forces your hand; start now and you’ll be glad you did when the day does finally come when Facebook is completely pay-to-play.
And I know I’m a broken record about private social networks, but seriously--think about all the time and resources you’ve spent over the past few years sending people to Facebook, engaging with them on Facebook, building community on Facebook. All so Facebook can now turn around and say “hey, thanks for that...now pay if you want to keep using what you’ve built. Oh, and sidebar, thanks for making us billionaires in the bargain.” What if you had spent that time and money and effort building up your own community on your own platform? I’m not saying it’s apples and apples, because it’s not, but seriously--the return on that investment would now be something you could hopefully sustain and build on, not something being yanked out from under you. All I can say is this: as the Facebook ship continues to sink, PLEASE think twice about pouring additional resources into their coffers. Sure, you can pay to reach the audience you used to be able to reach for free...but why? In my opinion, it’s better to start diversifying and investing time and money in places that will help your org, not just help Facebook continue to rake in the cash and set us up for the next shakedown.