197: Will Facebook’s Big Algorithm Change Hurt Your Auction Business?
I don’t know if you’ve seen this, too; but a number of my professional peers have expressed worry about the pending major changes in Facebook advertising. I’m not worried, and I’d like to help assuage any fears you might have.
A couple weeks ago, Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook will be changing their Newsfeed algorithm to emphasize “meaningful” content from your Facebook friends at the expense of publisher content. Whether or not the inventory of paid advertising will be reduced, what will definitely be on the chopping block is organic business reach—“free advertising” to the people who like your Facebook page.
Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs have grown entitled to free advertising. I’ve seen auctioneers complain that they shouldn’t have to pay to market their services or products on Facebook. Facebook is a business, though. Somebody needs to pay for all those coders and servers.
Zuckerberg’s initiative is just a continuation of a trend. Organic reach has been gradually dropping for years. For most business pages, unpaid reach has dropped below 50%—and in many cases below 25%—of the people who at one point liked those pages. Facebook has been testing zero organic reach in six foreign countries. It’s reasonable to assume that we’re months—not years—from zero or near-zero organic reach here in the States.
This isn’t just a money grab, though. Two other factors are at play here. First, Facebook has just about reached full saturation in the United States; and they’re seeing many users leave the platform. (I have a Chrome extension that shows me when my Facebook friends close their account, and I’ve had several friends shutter their profile just while I’ve been working on this blog post.) The algorithm didn’t serve these deserters content compelling enough for them to stay. That’s one of the reasons Zuckerberg wants to make Facebook content more “valuable.”
Second, the proliferation of fake news has brought public pressure on Facebook to remedy the problem. Whatever the motivations of foreign actors have been in giving Americans fictional, divisive content, they are sustained in part by the ad revenue generated from all that frothing traffic. One way to discourage their malignant content is to make them pay for it to be seen.
Even if zero organic reach becomes reality, there’s no reason to panic. Facebook marketing isn’t going away; they want to keep the lights on as much as we advertisers want access to Facebook’s users and its data on them. It might not even grow much more expensive, if you know how to use the platform.
How good is your content?
Facebook will continue to reward advertisers whose content achieves user interactions. That’s in both your best interest and theirs. The less annoying content there is in the Newsfeed, the more likely people are to stay. The more likely users are to stay and the longer they use the platform, the more advertising slots become available. So, if your content is compelling, the algorithm notices the uptake. If you know how to appeal to buyer needs and motivations, you’ll see less impact than your competition, who’s still pushing digital sale bills and their equivalents.
How is your marketing optimized?
Even organic posts aren’t optimized by Facebook to get people to your website. Neither are boosted or promoted posts. The stated objective of all of those options is to get you more likes, comments, and shares on Facebook; and Facebook’s algorithm serves your posts to people most likely to take those actions. That means people who don’t want to leave Facebook. In contrast, Facebook optimizes sponsored ads to actually leave their platform and go to your website. We don’t make money until people leave Facebook. So, in most cases, a sponsored ad—which isn’t going away—is your best bet, anyway.
Is your organic audience even your best audience?
The most efficient advertising is rarely to people who at one point liked your page. Are those folks your most likely buyers? The assumption by many is yes, but the reality in many situations is no. They may have hit like after seeing an event or asset or announcement that interested them. They may have bought what they wanted and satiated their need for further like-kind assets. They may have liked your page when you had an event in their area but not be interested in events in other geographic markets. They might have been friends of sellers. They might even have been people who clicked the like button on accident. So, why fight for free advertising to the wrong people?
Are you tracking bidder acquisition costs?
Finally, what happens if your Facebook actually does double or even triple in cost? It will still probably be your most or second-most efficient medium for getting bidders to your website. What’s your cost per website visitor from newsprint, signs, or direct mail? Are you even tracking that? How confident are you that your relatively-cheap email list contains the best prospects for what you’re selling? What’s your next best advertising medium when you book an asset outside your wheelhouse or an event outside your normal geographic market? Facebook will continue to be a valuable tool—if not the most valuable—in your toolbox.
If you were a publisher like Buzz Feed or Fox News, you should be worried by the loss of free distribution. A savvy marketer like you, though, has no reason to lose any sleep over Facebook’s pending changes.
Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com