Facebook’s decision to throttle organic reach has drawn ire among the small business community, and led some in the technology industry to question the viability of the social network’s future. But the big question for Facebook is not whether the it is “dying” and more whether its focus on advertising is sustainable in the long run.
“Facebook has made itself nearly irrelevant to small business users,” Evan Spiegel, chief executive at Snapchat, said last year. “[Small businesses] were blindsided mid-year, when Facebook tightened its control over the flow of information to business and personal users, deciding what users would and would not see in their feeds.”
In many ways, Facebook’s recent decisions stem from a broader shift in the way social media businesses operate. As Street Fight’s deputy editor Steven Jacobs pointed out recently in the Wall Street Journal, small businesses now “rent” audiences on Yelp, Angie’s List and Facebook. Too many business owners have made organic reach on these platforms a consistent part of their marketing strategy, only to get their legs pulled out from underneath them when these large players change their strategy.
Consider Yahoo, which switched its review platform to Yelp in the spring of 2014, and neglected to tell existing businesses of the change. These businesses then saw years of curated content about them disappear overnight. On the one hand, it’s hard to argue with the changes these companies make, especially when they are offering the features at no charge. However, the decisions that Yahoo, Yelp and Facebook have been making make it very clear that the consumer, not business, is their focus.
Business owners that rely on these companies to market their brands need to realize they will never be the primary priority.
Facebook has gotten aggressive with boosting posts — most people I speak with express surprise at how often Facebook suggests that posts can be boosted for a “small charge.” It’s likely that charging as little as $5 will incent many small businesses to try a boost or two and see how it works.
However, just like most advertising done by small business owners, there will be few metrics to measure how effective the boosts are and what tangible results come from the effort. In addition, most marketing efforts are campaigns that occur over several months and target certain segments in a specific manner. Random boosts of posts or promotions are not likely to have any quantifiable effect.
Companies such as Facebook, Angie’s List and even Google and Yelp have large user bases, but not necessarily a focus on the users that you want to get to. Unlike a Google Ad, these promotions are paid for regardless of how many people see or click on them. And these companies have become so large that they need significant growth to maintain their lead, but in a market that is becoming saturated and more players jumping into the fray.
Facebook (and Yelp, Yahoo, Angie’s List) will not die anytime soon — but in order to survive, they have made a public and deliberate push to reduce organic reach and increase paid engagement. It’s clearly their best path to future growth, but it’s at the hyperlocal business’s expense.
Scott Barnett is a serial entrepreneur with 25+ years experience in Software Development, Product Management, Sales and Marketing. He is currently Founder of Bizyhood, a startup focused on Content Distribution and Engagement tools for local publishers and businesses.