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Facebook advertising, posts, and the pay-to-play future of social media

According to 2017 data, approximately every 2 out of 7 people on the planet actively uses Facebook. What began as a small social network more than a decade ago has grown into one of the most potent and far-reaching content distribution systems in human history.

Businesses and Facebook have grown together in a symbiotic relationship: Facebook helps business reach current and new customers, while businesses provide the platform with a mind-boggling large revenue stream—in the second quarter of 2017 alone, $9.16 billion.

Traditionally, this relationship has been defined by two mechanisms:

  • Organic: Content and posts created on company pages that appear in the newstream of followers, leading to clicks, engagement, and shares.
  • Paid: Facebook advertising and boosted reach that allows companies to reach new customers and expand beyond organic.

However, as a recent test in six countries shows, Facebook is interested in changing this relationship. In this blog post, we’ll explore what changes could be on the horizon, and the ways in which the future of social media is more paid and less organic for businesses.

A brief history of Facebook advertising

It may be hard to imagine today, but there was once a bygone, halcyon time when businesses didn’t really “get” social media, including Facebook. This one platform has led to the creation of social media teams at almost every company in every conceivable type of business. Yet, when it first debuted, its business potential was untapped.

Where it all began

Facebook itself was unsure of its future. The first means of buying and selling products was through a classified-esque section, and was mainly intended for user-to-user sales: more Craiglist than Amazon.

However, only a year after its founding in 2004, Facebook was already in the business of cost-per-click advertising on a small scale. As more and more members joined the platform, the deals got more lucrative and the advertising system became more complex.

The introduction of pages

In 2008, Facebook decided to try something new. By allowing commercial and business entities to create pages, they could then have a pathway to sell them on advertising. This model has formed the basis for business interaction with Facebook since—even as the platform added further features such as mobile optimization, geographical targeting, and retargeting.

Today, social media managers not only create organic posts on Facebook to go into the “newsfeed” of followers, but also craft paid advertising posts and pay to boost those organic posts. However, that focus may be changing.

At 5 Fold, we build marketing campaigns designed to be flexible and built for whatever lies ahead.
What is changing about Facebook advertising?

Well, officially, nothing at the moment. It’s what could change about business pages that has the potential to completely change the weight and relative importance of advertising on the world’s largest social media network.

The test

Recently, Facebook ran tests in six countries where all the posts created by businesses were removed from the newsfeed and instead put into an entirely separate tab called “Explore.” The results were clear: this significantly reduced organic reach and interactions (likes, comments, shares) for these posts. That was for large media pages: the impact on smaller pages may be even more profound.

Now, this is just a test. It may never be something that Facebook ever implements here in the United States, or anywhere else, for that matter. However, it’s worth noting that it’s part of a long-running pattern of reducing organic reach for businesses. And, if this was implemented, it would be the death knell for many current social media strategies and organic posting.

How does this impact Facebook advertising?

During recent tests, something else was observed: paid Facebook advertising and boosted posts were not relegated to the “Explore” tab, but instead were placed in the newsfeed.

Effectively, this test illustrates a pay-to-play structure where companies will increasingly and more consistently feed dollars into ads and posts to get in front of their prospective or current customers.

Let’s be fair to Facebook: they are certainly not alone. In many ways, they’re only following a model set out by Google, who has increased the number, prominence, and length of paid ads at the expense of organic search results.

In spite of their ubiquitousness and cultural relevance in our lives, Facebook and Google are not public services or utilities. It’s their ball, their playground. They set the rules.

What are the implications of this?

If this test—again, only run in six countries—was brought to the United States as a full rollout, it would require a major shift in how agencies and marketing companies managed client social media campaigns.

It’s very possible that the costs (in time) of creating organic content could outweigh the benefits, leading some companies to ditch creating that content altogether and refocus their time and energy on paid campaigns.

It’s too early to make that determination: first, this would need to be introduced, and then we would need to first get data about how this impacts pages, reach, interactions, and more.

Again, let us emphasize: this isn’t a change that has happened yet, and it may not ever see a full rollout. However, the fact that Facebook is testing it—combined with their prior actions with pages—indicate they are at least considering the concept, or something like it.

If this change does happen, marketers will need to re-weigh the costs and benefits of organic posts.

How 5 Fold is preparing for the future

However, there are a few things we’re doing right now to prepare for the low-reach, low-engagement future of pages:

  • Creating Effective Local Content: While we can’t control Facebook’s algorithm or policy changes, we are creating content for our clients that is local and authentic. The best of this content gets people to share it, expanding reach.
  • Encouraging Our Clients To Rethink Facebook: Most people understand that Google AdWords is a pay-to-play system. However, we’ve been advising our clients that they need to anticipate that the old free-for-all age of Facebook posts is coming to an end, and they need to start thinking about Facebook advertising the same way they do other forms of paid advertising.
  • Research & Testing: You can’t deal with that which you do not know, so we’ve been doing our own research and testing to keep ahead of this changing situation.

Interested in learning more?

Here at 5 Fold Marketing, we study social media strategy and manage client campaigns on a number of platforms.

Want to learn more about us, or see if our work is right for your business? Contact us today, or connect with us on—you guessed it—Facebook.