In this regular Street Fight feature, local marketing gurus David Mihm and Mike Blumenthal kick around some of the biggest ideas affecting the local search ecosystem and the broader industry. Send us an email or leave a comment if you have specific topics that you’d like them to touch on in future columns!
David: Well Mike, it was a rough return to reality for me after the holidays but I’m finally feeling like I’m back in a groove. We have a couple of great new features coming out at Tidings later this month and next, and I’m looking forward to doing the next one of these in person with Dana and Mindy at Street Fight Summit West in Los Angeles.
On the content side there’s already been a TON of upheaval in the local marketing world this early in the year — from voice adoption to Echo sales to a new Google Search Console. But I thought we might turn our attention to Facebook this week and its two major announcements around visibility of business pages and local news partnerships.
Mike: For me the holidays didn’t seem like a break as I was working on some cool new features at GetFiveStars as well… but given that it is now RAINING here, I am looking forward to Los Angeles. If I can’t cross country ski I might as well be where it’s sunny.
How many times can Facebook announce that they are reducing organic visibility? Haven’t they done this every six months for the past few years? How much organic visibility was left to reduce? I am curious does this impact the reach of Boosted posts?
It seems like soon that businesses will be paying to read their customer’s feed.
David: Ha! Certainly it’s the continuation of a very long trend in declining organic visibility for businesses on Facebook. I find this overlay of the inverse relationship between organic reach and Facebook’s stock price particularly compelling. And while that graph stops at $70, $FB is now at $180!
As far as I can tell, most large brands are reporting average organic reach under 2% these days and smaller businesses under 6.5%. Some of the savvier businesses I talked to at our Assembled event in November were already starting to feel this effect; others I suspect will start feeling it in earnest this year.
As far as the latest announcement, a similar experiment in Eastern Europe late last year was described in the tech press as “killing” small businesses.
I wouldn’t go that far — Facebook remains a critical channel on which to engage your customers, and businesses are right to love it. Posts Boosted to the right audience are a productive investment for small businesses.
But not every business has the budget to Boost every post, and this trend was my primary rationale behind the genesis of Tidings. To bastardize the old tree-forest adage: if businesses create great content on Facebook, but no one’s around to read it, does it make an impact? Moving forward, the only way it does make an impact is if it’s Boosted or repurposed in other channels (such as email).
Mike: Although I did notice that the announcement was followed by a stock dip yesterday so there appears to some concern on Wall Street about Facebook’s ability to grow their income.
David: Right, which is why they’re trying to monetize every asset they can, including Messenger, and why I see Instagram ads proliferating in 2018.
(For what it’s worth, Google is under the same pressure, though maybe even more severe, because of the nature of voice search and the incredible leg up Amazon has there.)
Mike: It will be interesting to watch how much SMBs’ costs go up with Facebook to achieve the same level of engagement that they have been enjoying. As Google expands their many local offerings, this might just play into their hands by forcing businesses back to Google My Business.
The other announcement, that Facebook will be highlighting local news sources in test markets, is somewhat more interesting to me.
Particularly in light of the recent findings that Google was dominating general news sites with their AMP offering and that Facebook’s Instant Articles was in decline. Local newspapers have been slow to join the AMP world and this might give Facebook a way to capture them. Although if Google follows their AMP playbook, a Google local news offering won’t be too far behind them.
David: At the risk of losing my Tin Foil Hat Society presidency, Google seems to be legitimately interested in helping publishers survive in the new digital economy — whether through revenue-sharing or innovations that help local publishers scale their operations.
While Google typically gives little to no thought to how their products will impact society and no empathy even when seeing the effects of those products, News somehow seems to hit a little closer to home for them and is a little easier to understand.
Mike: I think this is largely due to the class view that engineers bring to their Google experience. Most of them grew up reading the New York Times or the Washington Post and have a worldview that has empathy for the position of these news icons. And as I have learned they are equally limited by that view so that they have NOT a clue what it is like to be a small business person.
But I would also add that given Facebook’s rapid rise, perhaps a more “generous” economic response is Google’s best business tactic in this situation.
David: That’s true. Probably worth wooing influencers into your corner when faced with the somewhat existential threat posed by Facebook.
Back to Facebook, though, what do you see as their endgame with Do you think the local news experiment will eventually be folded into the Local App?
Mike: I would hope so. The Local App is one place where I actually engage with Facebook because of its emphasis on local events.
Facebook has long seemed confused about the local space. The combination of events, food, bars and news in the Local App might be enough to make an impact in the local arena (finally).
David: As with Facebook’s entire history in Local, though, there’s so much potential and it’s always a question of prioritization and execution.
Perhaps Wall Street’s continued pressure for growth and the shrinking number of options for that growth mean Local will finally get a seat at the big boy table.
2018 is obviously a critical juncture for the position of media in society, and I’m a strong supporter of any initiative by Facebook, Google, or anyone else that helps publishers better-fund journalists. If partnering with local publishers becomes an easy way for Facebook to draw more engagement (and ad inventory) into the Local app, it could be a win-win and a win for society as a whole.
After more than a decade in local search, David Mihm now runs Tidings, an email newsletter platform for small businesses that leverages their everyday social media activity, and his own weekly newsletter, Minutive. In 2012, he sold his former company GetListed.org to Moz, helping over 3 million businesses get better visibility in Google and other search engines. Along with Mike, he’s a co-founder of Local University.