How we got here?

Business pages have been around since 2007 on Facebook. They began as a medium for brands to communicate their message about product offerings, news, and provided the ability to have an engaged conversation with their end users (or ‘fans’ at the time). Like most promotional mediums, many marketers took this opportunity to continuously shout their message and relegated Facebook to be another push medium. In 2010, ‘Fans’ became ‘Likes’ and disdane elevated as those connected to their favorite brands felt overwhelmed with continuous promotion and desperate cries for attention.

And then the novelty wore off

Consumers responded by removing their connection (or ‘like’) to a brand, which caused brand marketers and agencies everywhere, to scramble for alternative ways to hit their growth and engagement numbers. Continued discourse took hold, and in September 2012, Facebook stepped in with updating their EdgeRank algorithm to throttle messages from brands. This change was to “de-clutter” the amount of posts from brand pages.  This was followed by a reported update in November, further throttling brand messages. At this point, Facebook claimed a brand’s post would reach 15-20% of their audience organically.

Not reaching as far

Fast forward to March 2014, when Facebook released their 4th occurrence of brand post throttling and anybody with a Facebook page (personal or business) has seen their organic reach decline. EdgeRank checker shows that typical organic reach for a brand’s page is now 6%, down from 7-8% in December 2013. These numbers are spread throughout all industries, and further digging shows that local businesses are lucky to hit 5% reach.

However, advertising giant Ogilvy concluded that even those numbers are lofty. Ogilvy’s manages 100+ Facebook pages for brands of all size and their numbers show an organic reach of 6% for brands with under 500k ‘likes,’ and organic reach of 1-2% for brands with over 500k ‘likes.’

The day we have all been dreading since the first throttling is at our doorstep. The day that Facebook no longer is the communication channel to engage with your brands, but another form of Paid Advertising, the likes of Adwords, and Bing. This should come as no surprise, as online marketers everywhere have been riding the hot hand of Facebook success (Grumpy Cat Meme with overlay text FTW) for years now.

But who is really to blame, Marketers or Facebook?

What was once a wonderful engagement engine of consumer interaction, quickly became a gamified megaphone, where every brand was competing for the same attention, not dissimilar than the SEO world. Instead of going the Google route and creating a more complex algorithm to understand consumer’s intent, Facebook chose to suppress organic reach for brands pages. Much like online marketers looking to reach their target audience on Google, this change forced marketers to find another way to reach their audience, pay for the audience.

Unfortunately, this means that engaging information, crafted in a way that provides value to your consumers, is no longer enough to reach the audience. Brands willing to put forth the spend, are the ones that will break through the noise, and reach their audience. With Facebook investors looking for strong revenue streams (WhatsAPP anyone?), Facebook is forced to suppress organic reach, in order to promote Facebook as an advertising medium.

So whats next for social media marketing?

Online marketers need to take a more holistic approach to social media, and cover more mediums. No longer can you build a Facebook page, share some ‘engaging’ articles, only to see the masses flock. Marketers need to treat Facebook as a Pay-for-play medium, and incorporate this medium into their Paid Search strategy. Similar to CSE’s (comparative search engines), reach is no longer earned, but purchased.

Surely, adjacent social networks will reap some benefits of increased attention from brands, but how long will that last, before the saturation point is hit on those channels. With more social networks going public or being purchased by public companies, pay for play reach is not going away. Brands, agencies, and marketers in general need to develop strategies that not only understand each platform’s benefits, but understand the brand’s connection to consumers on that platform. Let’s take the traditional route, would you have had a full page ad in Popular Mechanics if you were selling organic strawberries? The same applies today, as the medium must match the consumer. While Facebook has just about everyone’s audience, not all of them are spending as much time on the platform as we anticipate, or even enjoy their experience. As the network and audience consumption evolves, so must our strategies to reach those audiences.