Earlier this month, Facebook announced a series of changes to its algorithm that alters what kind of content shows up in people’s news feeds. But that’s not the real story. The story is that brand pages that publish content on Facebook have seen a 44% decline in their numbers—and they are not happy about it. Facebook’s latest attempt to push up its stock numbers and profit margins might just be what topples the social media giant once and for all.
Social media marketers began to see the writing on the wall last year. In April 2012, Facebook wrote that posts reached about 16% of a page’s fans without any ad spend. Though they did not announce it as such, it appeared that Facebook had throttled those numbers down from previous years in order to incentivize people to use their new and growing “promote post” option
Now, it seems, thanks to “tweaks” to its algorithm, Facebook has cut that number again—according to data from Ignite Social, publishers now can only reach 3% of their audiences without paying for a “boost,” no matter how engaged their users are. And, of course, getting people engaged (meaning that they “like,” share, or comment on something) is hard when they can’t see your content. Ignite Social also reported that engagement had declined across the board by 35%.
At least, for some. According to The Atlantic, large publishers were actually seeing an increase in traffic. Buzzfeed’s traffic from Facebook actually shot up by 69% since they made the changes.
This means big trouble for more people than just those who want to sell things on Facebook. It will fundamentally change the way non-profits and activist groups attempt to raise awareness for their causes as well. The algorithm changes have also resulted in a crackdown on image macros—photos with text—and memes. In a release earlier this month, Facebook explained that their algorithm changes meant “meme photos may show up a bit less prominently.“ Remember the red equal sign image that went viral when the Supreme Court heard two gay marriage cases this year? Reaching out and engaging users visually like that may no longer be possible on Facebook.
Publishers flocked to Facebook to begin with because getting their content out there was free or cheap. Businesses and publishers were able to put their content in the hands of their audiences and interact with them and only had to invest their time. Then, when they were able to gain some capital, they were willing to invest that in Facebook advertising to increase their revenue.
Now that Facebook is pulling the bottom rungs off the ladder, some social media marketers are considering pulling out of Facebook altogether and recommending their clients do the same if they can’t spare the dime for advertising. And social media sites like Pinterest (which has already proven itself to be a worthy contender when it comes to driving traffic) are going to be more than happy to take them.
And if Facebook’s new model is to put content that readers want to see in their feeds, what happens if those other half jump ship because using Facebook doesn’t work for them anymore without paying? Social Ignite reports that it has shared its data with Facebook and they are considering the problem. Let’s hope that they do. According to Mashable, Facebook currently has over 1 million advertisers, but that number is dwarfed by the 25 million small business pages that use Facebook to reach out to their audiences. Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter sees these businesses as an untapped “goldmine,” but thinks that only up to half of these small businesses and publishers will invest in Facebook advertising.
By attempting to increase ad revenues, Facebook is further alienating its users by keeping them from the content that they are genuinely interested in. And when the businesses and non-profits set sail to find fairer skies, so will the people who joined Facebook to connect with them in the first place.