You Can’t Rely On Facebook To Reach Customers (And Never Really Could)

A year and a half ago in the comparatively ancient era of 2016 I wrote a blog post emphasizing that in lieu of freaking out about Facebook’s algorithm change, the best approach was to simply create good content that people wanted to enjoy and partake in. This also came with a massive caveat: Specifically that you couldn’t rely on Facebook to reach your audience, which has been true for years.

At the same time, I also wrote about how relying on a mobile app in lieu of a website is a horrible idea insofar as small businesses are concerned and alluded to this same concept applying to Facebook. It’s been true for years that Facebook pages only reach about 25% of their audiences for a given post without promoting it, if not even less. Using Facebook as your primary vehicle for  small business marketing essentially means that you’re putting yourself at the mercy of a company known for being notoriously cagey about its newsfeed updates that it tends to do quite frequently.

“Create great content” isn’t really an effective solution when Facebook is actively gating off your own followers to an ever-increasing degree. When you get down to brass tacks unless you’re prepared to pony up a monthly budget to promote your Facebook content you’re not only going to have a hard time attracting followers in an era of Facebook page saturation, but even reaching them is a problem. Yes, even if they’ve subscribed to see all of your page updates.

This is the part where I say that the only way to guarantee reasonable visibility in the newsfeed is with promoted posts, but even that’s not true anymore. Promoted posts, much like brand page content in general, has absolutely saturated Facebook to the point where it’s almost unheard of to not see promoted content.

What’s worse, promoted content is usually of dubious relevance depending on how well the page managers are actually targeting. I used the example once of being targeted by a computer store owner in Seattle who doesn’t know how to target properly because you clicked “Like” on the PlayStation 4 and Facebook subsequently stored you as a “technology lover.”

So I get why Facebook is doing this. The Oatmeal, a talented webcomic artist whom I’ve referenced before, noted in his update and comic about this that Facebook is trying to clean up peoples’ newsfeeds in spite of their own financial incentive for encouraging promoted posts.  To be candid, Facebook newsfeeds have become a dumpster fire littered with ads, discount codes, clickbait, and other promotional content.

Yes, unfortunately that may include your business if you’re reading this, but I’m not trying to name and shame specific businesses. Businesses that carefully target their promoted content and make an effort to make it interesting, relevant and enjoyable aren’t part of the problem in a way that companies spam-targeting all of Fairfield County with irrelevant discount coupons are, but then, this is the problem.

Algorithm changes are blind and this affects creative, interesting promotions as well as local businesses who have come to rely on Facebook just as much as it affects clickbait and poorly targeted advertisements, let alone creative professionals like The Oatmeal. The end result is that Facebook is throwing the baby out with the bathwater with a sledgehammer approach that makes no effort to analyze promotional quality or user feedback.

So what can you do?

In the past I’ve compared social media to a Roman Empire where the more you stretch your resources the more likely your empire is to collapse. Unfortunately, this analogy doesn’t work anymore. If you really want to reach more people without regularly promoting and boosting advertisements – and let’s face it, if you’re a small business you probably don’t want to spend a limited budget on this – be sure to regularly use a variety of social networks and outreach tools. Actually use them too – don’t just automate posts, because that doesn’t do anything other than make people click through to a network they’re not using.

On this additional point I readily admit my own bias since I develop these for a living, but notice how in The Oatmeal’s comic he references that websites are how people used to reach you? Websites have always been the central focus of an online small business presence: They’re more searchable than social networks, you control your content directly and you aren’t at the mercy of a larger publisher (web host regulations notwithstanding). With the rise of open source platforms like WordPress it’s as easy to update your website as it is a social network. Rather than spending all of your time on Facebook’s playground, why not use your own? Make your own rules!

Relying on Facebook entirely to reach your audience in lieu of a website is akin to attempting to use the hammer in your toolkit for every part of constructing a building. Use the tools in your toolkit for when you need them, but if you learn to rely too much on them you’re in for a rude awakening.