If your organization refuses to spend money on Facebook, then you aren’t firing Facebook. Facebook is firing you. And that’s way worse for you than it is for Facebook.
It’s not news anymore: Facebook has changed its algorithm to make its platform increasingly “pay to play” for organizations. A lot of organizations are upset about this change – after all, nonprofits tend to be cash-strapped entities and paying to boost posts on Facebook represents an unplanned expense into uncharted territory. (How much should we be spending? How do we develop an annual budget for something that keeps changing?! Where will this money come from?)
The result seems to be that many organizations are simply accepting their new lack of organic reach and not boosting posts or otherwise exploring paid ways to get on the “winning” side of Facebook’s algorithm. In a nutshell, many folks (unfortunately) seem to be saying, “We just can’t afford it, so Facebook is less important to us.”
Wait – Hold up! Is social media any less important to your potential constituents and donors? Nope. In fact, data suggest that social media is the strongest and most valuable communication channel in existence today.
What’s interesting about the reaction that some organizations are having is the astounding lack of business savvy or even baseline market awareness associated with the perspective. It is truly shocking to watch. If you’re not experimenting with boosting posts than you’re not firing Facebook, Facebook is firing you…and that hurts you way more than it hurts Facebook. In fact, if your organic reach is still decreasing, then Facebook wants you gone because it thinks you are noise cluttering up newsfeeds with stories that simply aren’t engaging.
I have no affiliation with Facebook. I specialize in overall engagement strategy (that specifically results in increased likelihood of long-term solvency) and do not receive any of my salary for knowing Facebook “tips and tricks” (which become outdated very quickly anyway). I have absolutely no reason for arguing that nonprofits should be experimenting with Facebook boosting aside from my experiences with my clients these last several months – both those that are boosting and those that are not.
Here is some perspective:
1) Organizations became acclimated to an economic inefficiency (which is dangerous because such inefficiencies do not last long).
The hardest part about the increasing “pay to play” concept on Facebook seems to be the idea that Facebook was “free” and now it isn’t. First of all, social media is not and never was “cheap” or free – but the issue here is that organizations didn’t need to pay the platforms directly.
Facebook plays an important role in shaping organizations’ reputations, allowing for personal interactions and “touch-points” with constituents, giving organizations a real-time voice, and aiding in perceived levels of transparency and mission impact. Facebook has played a starring role in changing not only the way that businesses and nonprofits work, but it has shaped market expectations about our brands. Facebook has, in many ways, changed the world.
Think about it: In order for the market to have changed so deeply, social media platforms needed to be “free” to enlist and engage the participation of massive numbers of organizations and consumers alike. (Otherwise, the initial cost to participate may have been an insurmountable barrier to trial.) Because we could all “play,” we all had a role in making the market what it is today – an audience more interested in trust, transparency, and personalization than ever before. But now we live in that changed world and businesses are getting a LOT of free communication and top-of-mind opportunities from Facebook.
Organizations are no longer all that important to Facebook for its solvency. Now Facebook is more important for the solvency of our organizations. Of course, market inefficiencies eventually come correct. We don’t expect to engage with traditional one-way communication platforms for free (TV ads, radio spots) – so it was only a matter of time before two-way communication channels (which are proven to be more effective in driving desired actions on behalf of organizations) demanded payment as well.
In short, organizations got used to an unsustainable market inefficiency. And the rules of economics underscore that those inefficiencies don’t last long.
2) Organizations increasingly understand the need to move from quantity of fans to quality of fans on Facebook. So does Facebook.
By now you’ve probably heard a lot about vanity metrics and why your number of fans is less important than having fans that care about your organization and are willing to act in its interest. This type of thinking is especially important for development and membership departments within nonprofit organizations. (Oh, and here are eleven ways you can start focusing on quality over quantity right now). We are getting it. We are increasingly paying as much attention to “going deep” with our messaging as we are to “going broad” because we know it’s better for the actual, long-term health of our organizations.
Facebook gets that, too. It’s less about having tons of organizations on Facebook making noise (quantity) and more about the right organizations on Facebook that help achieve Facebook’s long-term strategic plans.
Simply, there are two kinds of “quality” organizations for Facebook: organizations that provide consistently compelling content (because it keeps people logging onto Facebook and checking their newsfeeds), and organizations that pay them. An organization that pays them and provides compelling content is a double win because they pay Facebook to show stories in people’s newsfeeds that people actually want to see. Those seem to be the organizations and businesses increasing in reach right now. Also, it seems that when you boost a post, Facebook sees the increased engagement and gives you a bit of a bump in organic reach when you next post. These are smart business moves for Facebook – they are rewarding their best customers. This strategy makes perfect sense for any enterprise. We want quality over quantity now, too – even within our own Facebook fans!
But let’s look at this in a less-rosy way: If you’re not boosting, you are generally less likely to secure higher levels of engagement (thanks to Facebook’s algorithm), and then you will slowly slip from the newsfeeds of even your quality fans over time. Of course, you can alternatively only post the most engaging of content and go viral with your messaging all the time and you’ll have no problem (which is far easier said than done). Harsh truth: You’re being fired from your most effective communication channel for being bad at it. And you’re letting it happen.
If you have the money to send endless amounts of direct mail which data suggest are increasingly less effective, then perhaps you can spare some of the budget to talk with your audiences instead of talking at them.
3) There may not be a business incentive for Facebook to make exceptions for nonprofits
Consider: Audiences are increasingly sector agnostic and your voice is being drowned out by for-profit companies that, in some cases, have incentive to do what you do better than you do it because – thanks in part to the culture of transparency and customer empowerment we’ve created with social media – corporate social responsibility pays off.
Perhaps Facebook will come up with a program for nonprofits that aids in increasing reach for cash-strapped organizations that promote social good. But even then, it is in Facebook’s best interest to make sure that stories that folks don’t care about don’t end up in users’ newsfeeds. If your organization has “dropped out” or stepped back from creating compelling content, you may not be able to gain the traction back to demonstrate that your content is indeed compelling.
4) There remains a market inefficiency and this may be the best time to experiment with boosting posts
There is still an economic inefficiency and it’s in our best interest to keep capitalizing on it. Specifically, the buy-in to boost and keep organic reach a bit higher is in flux. Right now may be the best time to play with boosting posts because now is a period of experimentation in terms of quantifying the costs of accessing audiences on Facebook. Until Facebook gets a firm handle on what is the sustainable and appropriate cost of reach, then there is an opportunity for organizations to also engage in relatively low-cost experiments to help inform their future engagement strategies.
So, experiment! See what happens when you boost to your geographic area, or boost to your current fans, or boost based upon interest. Experiment and take note. Arguably, the cost to reach audiences may be lower than it will be in time. More to the point, the cost to reach audiences may amount to less using Facebook than it is on other communication channels. The point is: You won’t know the opportunity and the outcome until you complete the experiment. And, it is better to start experimenting now – when the cost of the experiment remains relatively modest – then at a later date when the costs may inflate.
We are in a time of change, and it is in the best interest of nonprofit organizations to begin to cultivate an internal structure that is agile and allows for opportunities to quickly capitalize on economic inefficiencies. But it is also critical that we think through our actions – especially the most important ones that affect our relationships with our constituents (and, thus, our bottom lines). Instead of retreating or focusing on their own, independent next moves, organizations may benefit from considering WHY platforms are making changes. What they uncover may be equally critical for their own survival.