Facebook Finally Admits That You Do Have to Pay for Ads to Reach Your Fans

Facebook Finally Admits That You Do Have to Pay for Ads to Reach Your Fans

Julia Claire Campbell Facebook, Marketing, Nonprofits 26 Comments

Facebook Finally Admits That You Do Have to Pay for Ads to Reach Your Fans

Everything I’ve been preaching about success in Facebook marketing has been a lie.

I’ve stuck up for Facebook repeatedly over the years, despite the frustration it has elicited from nonprofit marketers with small budgets.

I disputed myths, patiently explained all the changes to the Timeline and News Feed, read countless articles on EdgeRank, and blogged repeatedly about ways to organically increase engagement on the network.

I should’ve spent those hours explaining that if you nonprofit doesn’t have a dedicated budget for Facebook Ads, only 4% (or less) of your fans will see any of your posts.

“The best way to get your stuff seen… is to pay for it.”

AdAge obtained a sales deck sent out to Facebook partners last month, where the social network tacitly admits its pay-to-play system.

While not surprising – Facebook is a money-making business after all – it is disappointing.

The found sales deck confirms what I have always claimed was just a conspiracy theory – that Facebook employs a “pay to play” system where they persuade people to create Facebook pages, build up their fan base and then force them to pay to get their posts seen by those fans.

In the document, titled “Generating business results on Facebook”, the company says:

“We expect organic distribution of an individual page’s posts to gradually decline over time as we continually work to make sure people have a meaningful experience on the site.”

In plain English, this means that “organic distribution” – posts that are not sponsored or promoted – will go way down. Already, less than 15% of your fans see your posts. Now it could plummet even further.

And then, as if to twist the knife, they say this:

“We’re getting to a place where because more people are sharing more things, the best way to get your stuff seen if you’re a business is to pay for it.”

This goes directly against what most Facebook marketers have learned and espoused to be true.

Facebook marketers teach clients to generate awesome, compelling content that is of value to the online community. We say that if you consistently post great photos, videos, questions and other interactive content, you can reach your fans.

This is no longer enough.

Pay For Fans, Then Pay To Reach Them

Yes, Facebook has continually encouraged brand pages to pay to gather up more fans – this is no secret.

But why encourage brands to pay to acquire fans, and then inform them that they have to pay again to reach those fans? This seems counter intuitive.

If more and more brand pages can’t reach their fans except by paying to promote each post, won’t they leave Facebook for other greener social media pastures?

I like the analogy made over at The Social Media Hat:

“It’s like a city that keeps raising taxes on residents. As taxes go up, more and more residents decide to move someplace else where the cost of living isn’t as high. But that results in lost tax revenue for the city so to compensate, they raise taxes on the remaining residents.”

I know that reach and numbers of Facebook fans are not what really counts – engagement does.

But the alarming revelation that you do actually have to pay to reach your fans in order to get that engagement is disconcerting. Especially for the non-tech savvy marketing professional trying to build a fan base on Facebook the old fashioned way.

If only 4% of your fan base is seeing your posts at all, how are you going to get the required engagement to stop your posts from sinking like bricks in the News Feed?

Stop Drinking the Facebook Kool-Aid

Most people on this Earth are not social media experts. They are not tech-savvy and they do not understand how to use social networks to connect with their prospects, customers and supporters.

For many of these people, Facebook seems like a bright, shiny bullet – a free and easy solution to their marketing woes. How wrong they are.

Expectations of Facebook marketing are higher than ever, but on the ground, it’s almost impossible to gain traction on the site if you are starting from scratch.

Also, most Facebook content sucks. Most people are just selling, self-promoting or asking for things on their Facebook page.

If you are a small nonprofit, your content is probably not as engaging as you would like, because you don’t have professional writers, graphic designers and content creators on hand. You are busy doing your job every day.

You may be doing everything you know that you are supposed to on Facebook: Sharing impact stories, asking questions, being authentic and connecting where you can – but it’s not enough.

People are spending less time on the site. Yes, Facebook is growing in terms of numbers of users, but these users are interacting less and less with content from brand pages.

The reality: If you do not have the resources to launch a Facebook Ad campaign or pay to promote your posts, you will not get the results you want from your Facebook Page.  

I always believed that the little guy could succeed on Facebook with enough hard work and creativity. I don’t believe that anymore.

It makes sense for the Facebook business model. Of course they want to compel us to advertise. But this is just not a reality for most small businesses or small nonprofits.

And they are the ones who will be left behind.

photo credit: greg westfall. via photopin cc

What is your reaction to the recent news about Facebook advertising? Are you surprised or not at all? How will your social media strategy change? Leave your thoughts below.

Comments 26

  1. fanfoundry

    We saw this coming. Any business that has “IPO” in its history is profit-motivated, and has to please investors. You might think altruism would prevail, but not so, once you have a stock ticker symbol and join the nano-second bitstream of online trading. Besides, online, free really isn’t free. It never was. Whenever you visit a website, your behavior is tracked. You essentially “rent out” bits of your identity, behavior and preferences to marketing technologists (like me) who leverage that data to improve customer and prospect relationships. The notion that Facebook is “becoming” a Pay to Play proposition ignores that it has always been about renting out your data so marketers can acquire it. Now the relationship is just becoming more formalized, cash-wise.

    1. Post
      Julia Claire Campbell

      There is no way I thought altruism would prevail – Facebook is a business after all and must act like one. It’s just a shame that they are telling us one thing – creating great content and your posts will be found – and doing another behind our backs. It’s not surprising at all, but it’s disappointing. Oh well. I have been disillusioned with Facebook for a while, and that is why I always recommend diversifying an online presence and focusing on blogging and email marketing instead.

  2. Karen Martin

    That was depressing! Without paying to promote our posts, are we wasting our time? What can we do?

    1. Post
      Julia Claire Campbell

      Yes, you may be wasting your time. It depends on how successful you are already. If you have hundreds or thousands of engaged fans who are sharing your posts and commenting/liking them, then you may be ok. If you are growing your fan base right now and not willing to promote posts or spend any money on the site, you aren’t going to get the same traction as those pages willing to spend the money. Just the cold hard truth unfortunately.

  3. Patricia Mandell

    Powerful post. This news is not surprising, although grim. I paid to grow my likes, and weird people liked my page. And people who use vulgarity online.

    1. Post
      Julia Claire Campbell

      I’m sorry about that! That’s the problem – you never know who you are going to get when you pay for ads. Or even if you don’t pay for ads. Lots of strange people out there! I hope you weeded them out!

  4. Stephanie

    Although I’m not surprised, I am a little disappointed. Saying that, this just goes to show that the “old way” of marketing (IE press releases, interviews, networking) still comes in handy when building ones business.

    1. Post
  5. Preston Odenbrett

    Mass exodus starting for small business. I can see Google + capturing a lot of this market. I have noticed far less engagement on Facebook 6 months ago. Glad I diversified into other social platforms that are out there.

    1. Post
      1. Ari Herzog

        G+ is a wasteland. It’s only used by Google employees and social media adopters like yourself. A business might see some return from it but only if their fans are one of the above two groups. And yes I’m sarcastic.

        I saw this Facebook news long before it hit — back in the spring of 2012 when General Motors made a fuss about pulling out of FB commerce because they couldn’t get a return on their investment for paying.

        And therein lies the rub: Just because you pay FB doesn’t mean you come out ahead. The more you pay and who you target is directly correlated to the frequency of your ad running and the people who see it. If you spend $30 to reach everyone and your competitor spends $60 to reach prospects in a given zipcode, the one spending more and targeting the ad will get a better result. Guaranteed.

        The answer is to integrate. Not to diversify, per se, by changing your wardrobe but by layering your clothes at once.

        1. Post
          Julia Claire Campbell

          I absolutely love Google+, because it’s not clogged up with personal photos, rants, complaints and memes (like another certain social network). I use it to find high quality, valuable information and often find myself discovering many new resources along the way. Facebook is going to become a wasteland for brands because the only thing on it will be ads.

  6. Aaron Mandelbaum

    Glad the source was leaked. i recently wrote about this as well before knowing it was planned.

    Yes its a pain for marketers but the upside is that we know fans who interact with our pages (without an increased ad budget) are truly engaged.

    On the other side, Facebook may actually go back to being a more personal service. Maybe this is another reason to focus your marketing on G+?

  7. Aaron Mandelbaum

    Glad the source was leaked. i recently wrote about this as well before knowing it was planned.

    Yes its a pain for marketers but the upside is that we know fans who interact with our pages (without an increased ad budget) are truly engaged.

    On the other side, Facebook may actually go back to being a more personal service. I agree this is another reason to focus your marketing on G+?

    1. Post
      Julia Claire Campbell

      Well, I don’t know about that – if only 4% of your fans can even see your post, how can you get an accurate representation of those who are truly engaged?

  8. ultra modern pet

    This is very frustrating, especially if you’ve already put out a lot of advertising money on FB to generate fans, as I have. I feel like all that money was wasted as I can’t even reach them unless I pay. FB is a business, but it’s already making money off advertising, this is just greediness. If it truly wanted to “make a more meaningful experience” for its fans as claimed, it should limited posts to maybe 1 every other day or every 3rd day, that way customers would only receive a limited # of good quality posts and likewise business would reach all of their fan base. That would solve their “experience” problem, but that’s just an excuse, as mentioned, this is just about greediness.

    1. Post
  9. Jeannie Stewart

    I found a hack if your fans use windows 8, connect facebook account to the people app and bam! i’m seeing posts from people and pages I have not seen for MONTHS. I posted about it on my own fan page facebook.com/calgarydyb please share it

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