Do You Run A Business Page? Facebook Could Be About To Kill It
You already know how difficult it is to get much reach with your Facebook business page posts these days unless you pay for it, that is!
After all, organic reach is down this year to under 5%.
At least the odd post you make gets a good amount of engagement though, and if you're lucky maybe 50-75% of your followers end up seeing it and you earn a few shares and even a few organic page likes.
However, if Facebook fully implements the updates they are currently testing in six countries across the world, that is all about to change.
Facebook is currently trialling something that would make even a measly 5% organic reach almost impossible to achieve.
So far in this experiment - the first stage of which has already started rolling out globally - business post reach has fallen by two-thirds for some pages and a large number are seeing 4 times fewer engagements.
Not satisfied with making some massive changes to the business side of WhatsApp that they also own, this is the most dramatic transformation that Facebook will have made to their own business offering since they first introduced the opportunity to advertise on the platform.
Here's a closer look at how this will work, more detail on the tests that are being conducted as you read this, and the possible implications for you and your business.
So, who are we to blame for this impending slaying of business page reach and engagement?
(And that's 'slaying' in its true meaning rather than the way teenagers use it these days to compliment each other on their sense of style)
The prime suspect is something called the 'Explore Feed.'
Don't worry, you aren't the only one. I'd never heard of, or noticed it, either.
The Explore Feed is fairly hidden away at the moment, even less visible than Facebook Marketplace (that icon in the middle of the app, in between your news feed and notifications that you've also never used) but I promise you, unless you still own a Nokia 3310 it will be there.
Here's where to find it.
On the mobile app, it is currently one of those many icons in your far-right menu (using the 'hamburger' button) that you usually just scroll past - in the 'Favourites' section, several options down, you should see a red rocket icon called 'Explore Feed'.
And here it is on the desktop version, tucked away at the bottom of the left-hand menu:
If you click on it now in its current form, you'll be taken to a feed purely made up of business pages similar to your existing interests and likes, possibly not the most enticing thing in the world when you might rather be reading about what your Auntie had for breakfast or how 'that' guy from the office has been to the gym yet again.
Or at least, it WASN'T that interesting previously...
Unless you happen to live in Slovakia, Serbia, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Guatemala or Bolivia, that is.
(No, I've no idea why they chose to test it in those six apparently random countries, maybe some of the Facebook team just fancied those as holiday destinations while they 'develop' the Explore Feed)
In these six countries above, all posts from business pages - even the ones people follow - have been evicted from the main newsfeed and re-housed in the new Explorer Feed.
In fact, the only things left in their newsfeeds are posts from friends and family and, get this...Facebook Ads.
In order to see ANY business page posts, users have to actually click on, yes, the soon-to-be-infamous Explore Feed.
Unless you've paid for ads, of course.
I'm sure your brain is already running overtime with the implications of this, but before we look at those here are some facts on the consequences so far in those six countries above:
Reach of several pages immediately fell when the trial began last Thursday and Friday (19th and 20th October) by two-thirds compared to previous days
60 of the biggest Slovak media pages are seeing 4 times less engagements (likes/comments/shares) since the test began
This impact has been mirrored so far in Guatemala and Cambodia
Image: 'Interactions on 60 biggest Slovak media Facebook pages since Facebook began testing last Thursday' CrowdTangle via Filip Struharik/medium
Earlier this year, a Facebook spokesperson described the Explore Feed as a way of testing a “complementary feed of popular articles, videos, and photos, customized for each person based on content that might be interesting to them”.
I've had a brief look at mine and it actually seemed to be pretty well targeted with things that would interest me, but are people really going to venture off their normal newsfeeds on a regular basis, especially when the Explore Feed isn't accessible 'in one click'?
Or, could this be a masterstroke especially for B2B businesses that traditionally find it a bit tougher than their B2C counterparts on Facebook, with the Explore Feed becoming the preferred hangout for business users wanting to avoid the gym selfies, food pics and superficial drama on their main newsfeed?
The mainstream media have greeted the rollout of the Explore Feed with general positivity (see this from The Independent, where it's labelled a 'more interesting news feed'), but don't seem to have caught on yet to the test Facebook is currently running in the six countries I mentioned earlier.
What is Facebook trying to achieve with this new feed? The main goal seems to be to increase users' time-on-site/in-app (which already averages 35 minutes per day as readers of point 3 in my article on 7 Reasons You Should Be Using Facebook Ads will already know).
Raising usage time would consequently allow Facebook to serve users even more ads between content, in videos and elsewhere, meaning even more ad £££/$$$ for them.
So, what is the bottom line for businesses using the platform if the changes currently being tested are rolled out worldwide?
Basically, you wanna play on Facebook? You gotta pay.
'Fine, I'll just use Instagram, or Twitter, or even LinkedIn or AdWords more', you might say.
But with Facebook's dominance in the social media world and over 2 billion monthly users, this would only be cutting your nose off to spite your face.
It's where more of your potential customers are than anywhere else.
They are also conditioned now to seeing ads on the platform, meaning they aren't viewed as being as intrusive as elsewhere (for example some of the horrible pop-ups you get on the Google Display Network, especially on news/media sites many of which verge on unusable these days).
The other platforms can all work to an extent, as they already do. However, nowhere offers the access, audience and advertising options that Facebook does hence 5 million businesses already spend their ad money on it.
If you don't want to get left behind, that number looks like it's about to become 5 million-and-one.
What do you think of these changes and the potential impact on your business?
UPDATE: Facebook responded a couple of days later saying they 'currently had no plans' to roll out these changes worldwide. 'Currently'...
Gil is a Digital Marketing Consultant specialising in social media marketing and Facebook Ads. He has worked in sales, marketing and business management for over 12 years and has been a Facebook user since 2006, when his sister made the whole family create accounts just to keep up with her as she travelled the world for a year. Otherwise, he might still be on Bebo. You can also find Gil on LinkedIn here