Are Facebook pages worthless?
I recently wrote an article on how my friend, Lawrence Watkins, reached 30,000 Facebook likes for his page with almost no paid advertising.
Despite the ongoing popularity of that article guide, when I initially published it I was surprised by the response it received on Reddit.
Several commentors questioned the value of getting likes on Facebook, going as far as saying they were flat out worthless and that Facebook was scamming page owners because of the ongoing drop in page reach.
Recalling how I had received little ROI after investing about $1000 in an experiment to attract Facebook likes 3 years ago, I was interested to learn more about this issue. So I did some research…
Today many businesses pages report only being able to reach 1-2% of their fans.
For some of you this might not be news since this has been an ongoing issue.
So here’s the real headline:
“Ok, we know this is happening — but why and what should you do about it? Should Facebook even be used as a marketing channel any more? Can they be trusted?”
I answer those questions and more in the video and 7 tips laid out below.
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Want to jump ahead? Here’s a table of contents:
- Understand (mathematically) why reach is declining – Facebook says it’s because of increased competition, but do the numbers add up?
- Will buying more likes help? Probably not (and you might be surprised why)
- Stop: unless you like wasting money your goal is no longer to grow your Facebook page
- Convert your fans and likes into email subscribers.
- Buy ads, instead of likes or “engagement”
- Invest in social media channels with higher value and engagement
- Never put all your eggs in one basket (especially when someone else owns the basket!)
Tip #1 – Understand (w/ math) why Facebook’s organic page reach continues to decline
Many people blame Facebook for the drop in organic page reach, saying that they just want to push page owners to pay to reach the audience they’ve already acquired.
Facebook blames it on an increase in competition for a limited amount of space in a user’s newsfeed.
I blame both, but let’s look at the numbers…
The average user on Facebook will get a filtered view in his or her newsfeed, seeing about 300 stories per day out of a possible 1500 according to Facebook.
In 2009, the average Facebook user liked 4.5 pages, and now that number is 40 (70 on average for Facebook users in the US).
In addition, consider that pages are posting more content than in the past.
In 2009, the average Facebook user only would have had the potential to see a manageable 22 updates per month in their newsfeed (4.5 * 5 average per posts per page per month)
Compare that to now where they have the potential to see a staggering 1,440 updates per month from pages in their newsfeed (40 liked page * 36 average posts per page per month).
This is where Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm comes in and attempts to filter out content that is less relevant or interesting to users.
But do those numbers and Facebook’s argument that “it’s increased competition for limited space” even make sense?
Let’s keep going…
- We know the average Facebook user sees ~300 posts in his or her newsfeed per day, which equals about 9,000 seen per month.
- The average user has 130 friends
- The average user posts about 4 pieces of content per day according to Veritassiaum’s research (video below). That number was about 3 per day in late 2012.
- So that means the average user has the potential to see 15,600 possible posts in his or her newsfeed per month or 520 per day.
Wait, but Facebook stated that the actual daily number is about 3x that: 1,500 potential posts per day.
Even when you account for the average 1,440 monthly posts coming from Facebook pages each month, that’s still only 568 potential posts vying for a user’s attention per day ( (1440/30) + 520).
So, is if posts from friends and pages are treated equally (I know they aren’t but bear with me) every post should have a 53% chance of being seen in a user’s newsfeed (300 / 568).
For pages, that equates to having a 4.5% chance of appearing in a user’s newsfeed ( (48 / 568) * 53).
When you account for other factors in their newsfeed algorithm (recency of post, whether it came from a page or a person, measured interest, etc.) you can see how that 4.5%, and Facebook argument about increased competition makes sense.
So although these most recent updatse to their newsfeed algorithm appears consistent with a desire to fight spam and improve the average user’s experience, it’s hard for people (including your humble narrator) not to be cynical, especially when we see more aggressive requests for us to pay to reach people we’ve already paid once to acquire as fans.
This whole situation leads me to wonder if Facebook is a sustainable marketing channel, as well as a sustainable business model?
Derek Muller, founder of the YouTube show Veritassium, has an excellent analysis of this question which I highly recommend you watch:
Tip #2 – Do not buy more Facebook likes
Maybe you’re thinking, well if reach has dropped I can still attract more people to my content and offers by buying Likes via Facebook ads, right?
Well as it turns out this method will probably get you a majority of fake likes. This was well documented in a separate video from our friends over at Veritassium.
The issue comes from “click-farms” in south-east Asia and the middle-east.
People at these click-farms are paid pennies click to like both pages that are paying the farms for fake likes (i.e. because they want to look bigger than they are) and also clicking to like other advertised pages to avoid detection and deletion by Facebook.
Even on Facebook’s own security page with over 8 million Likes (which I checked today to make sure this was still the case) the most popular city is Dhaka, Bangladesh.
You can see a similar example of this on many other Facebook pages, like Google or even David Beckham’s page.
Tip #3 – Invest NOTHING new in growing your Facebook page
My buddy Lawrence, from the 30,000 Likes article, would disagree with this tip. He says:
The drop in page reach is real, but I still invest time in growing the avenue. It still helps with social proofing the company.
I don’t recommend it for the average page owner though.
Facebook as a marketing channel is questionable at best. There’s a clear conflict of interest in the way their social network works at I pointed out at the end of Tip #1.
It seems unlikely that the trend of decreasing organic reach is going to reverse anytime soon: they need to constantly put the user experience ahead of the interests of advertisers and page owners.
It makes sense because otherwise they’ll quickly go the way of MySpace (they might end up going that way regardless, but that’s a discussion for another day).
Furthermore, the ethics of Facebook’s founder and his team are also questionable.
As it was recently reported, Facebook, in collaboration with Cornell University (my Alma mater, oy…) conducted an unethical study to see how changing the content in a person’s newsfeed might influence their emotions.
My point here is: you can’t trust them and with reach dwindling, for the time and money you’d spend “boosting your posts” for $5-7 a pop, you could be gathering emails and getting REAL leads and REAL sales.
Conclusion: stop all Facebook page investment.
In fact, I’d go further and say should stop all passive investment as well.
If you have a Facebook Like box for your page on the side bar of your blog or elsewhere on your website, you are literally wasting money.
That space on you blog is like prized real estate and that’s exactly how you should think about it.
It should be replaced by a call to action to join your email list (or at the very least, your Twitter or Google+ profiles).
Tip #4 – Convert your Facebook fans & likes into email subscribers
This tip is probably the most important one out of the seven here.
Why? Because it helps you salvage what value is left from the Facebook page likes you’ve already acquired while also moving your audience there into a significantly higher level of value: on to your email list.
According to two pieces of data I compiled from a Direct Marketing Association’s research study, email marketing has a sales rate that is 10 times higher than social media, and even 2x higher than that of SEO.
This makes your email list your most valuable marketing channel (and also, quite conveniently, it’s one you have the most control over).
How do you convert Facebook likes into email subscribers?
Here are 2 easy to implement tactics.
- Automatically inform and convert likes into email subscribers – Signup for a free account on Zapier if you don’t already have one. You can then create a recurring “zap” that will post to your Facebook page once or twice a week with an incentive to sign-up for your email list and a link to a landing page. I recommend you create at least 2 automated messages to give your audience a wider variety of incentives.
- Reach out directly – This is the kind of task you’ll want to delegate to your assistant or virtual assistant. The first step is to make a list of your page’s most engaged fans. The criteria for this is whether or not they liked your past posts and/or if they left a comment. Once you’ve compiled this list you’ll want to begin sending direct messages via your page to 15-30 of these people at a time with a templated, but personalized message and a call-to-action link to opt-in to your email list. 15-30 a day sounds small (that’s on purpose because any more and Facebook would likely block your account), but by targeting it properly and giving an incentive you should expect at least a 5-10% conversion rate.
Here’s what that templated message might look like:
“Hey [first name],
My name is [your first name] and I’m messaging you because I saw you Liked us and you commented on / liked our posts in the past.
I wanted to let you know we’re moving away from Facebook since they recently made it much more difficult for us to provide valuable content to our fans.
If you want to stay in touch click this link and type in your email address [insert some great incentive]:
I will keep your email private, you can unsubscribe at any time, and I promise to only send you awesome stuff 🙂
[your first name]”
Tip #5 – Buy ads, and use Facebook for retargeting
Facebook shouldn’t be pushed totally off your radar just because Pages are no longer a viable and reliable distribution channel.
Thanks to Facebook’s massive userbase (over 1 Billion active monthly users right now) paired with mounds of demographic and — now — even “purchase intent” data, it’s possible to hyper target your ad campaigns and achieve high conversion rates at an reasonable cost.
For example, Ryan Diess, co-founder of DigitalMarketer.com recently explained how it was common for him to achieve a 40-50% email opt-in rates off a landing page where traffic was coming in from Facebook.
In addition, Facebook is still a perfect fit retargeting prospects so you can pull them back to your website to convert them into subscribers, leads, or sales.
If you’re not familiar with retargeting, I highly recommend you check out the article I linked to above as it is a very affordable means of acquiring leads and growing your email list.
Tip #6 – Youtube, Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter: more control, higher value & higher engagement levels
Don’t misunderstand me on this point. I’m not recommending that you focus on building your business on these social properties.
Building your email list should always take priority over building up your social media properties, ESPECIALLY if you’re a B2B service business.
Social media channels are there to help you create more demand at the top of your funnel by driving followers to your website and onto your email list.
According to research done by Sharaholic (a social media sharing widget used by thousands of popular websites), visitors from Youtube, Google+, LinkedIn, and Twitter sent websites more engaged visitors than Facebook.
The comparison of the social media sites ranked YouTube in first place based on overall bounce rate, pages per visit, and total time on the website.
It’s also not surprising that Google+ is ranked #2 here. Whenever I published a new article there, I actually get into real conversations with people at a higher rate compared to Facebook (guess my friends don’t love my articles as much 😉 ).
Furthermore, I can tell you from looking at autogrow.co’s visitor analytics data that we see the highest engagement and visitor-to-lead conversion rates coming from Google+ and Twitter.
Another advantage is that you receive a greater feeling of control on these alternative social media sites.
For example, LinkedIn’s network is much more closed off compared Facebook’s increasingly lax (by default) privacy controls. Plus you can easily export all of your contacts from LinkedIn for use in your address book or email list.
With YouTube, the incentives of all parties are aligned, unlike on Facebook where it’s a constant struggle between putting the needs of users ahead of advertisers who generate most of the company’s revenue.
And on Twitter, when you send out a tweet, it’s guaranteed to show up in the real-time feed of any follower who is watching at that moment. I like to think of Twitter as “one giant networking party, and everyone’s invited.”
And that leads us to my final tip…
Tip #7 – Never put all your eggs in one basket (especially when someone else owns the basket!)
As a young college student (with longer hair and a backwards hat to match), I had the opportunity to interact with some fabulously successful entrepreneurs.
One such person was Kevin Mcgovern, who came back to our college campus to give a lecture to students about what he’d learned as an entrepreneur and how he built up and sold his company, SoBe, to CocaCola for over $300 million.
I thanked him after his speech and we kept in touch. When I was ready to launch my first business (a digital directory of local coupons marketed to college students), I shared it with him and he liked the idea. I’ll never forget how he phrased it:
“It’s always good to own the distribution channel.”
He was referring to the fact that (a) local merchants paid to have their coupons on our site and (b) we owned the site, the audience that we would build around it as well as any email list attached to it.
We weren’t dependent on any middle man.
In the case of Facebook fan pages it’s a hard lesson to learn (harder for some than others).
The structure of the internet is constantly evolving. And the risks of building on someone else’s platform need to always be at the forefront of your thinking, especially because there’s still a lot of hype around social media marketing.
Email marketing might not be the best marketing and distribution channel forever — BUT it’s the only channel that been around and relatively stable since the beginning of the web.
We might not be able to trust Facebook, but at the same time we need to remember they are not the enemy, and “hating” on them is not the purpose of this article.
It’s their website and their business, and they can do as they wish.
So, be practical in your marketing choices and remember the following takeaways:
- Facebook page reach is likely to continue to go lower in the future due to increasing competition for attention.
- Buying Likes with ads is a waste of money (don’t do it).
- Basically, you should STOP all investment in growing your Facebook page (this includes passive investment too, like having a Page Like box on your blog)
- Work on converting your existing Likers and fans into email subscribers (I provided 2 tactics on how to do this above)
- Facebook is still useful for helping marketers laser target their ads based on a person’s recent purchase intent and/or identity. It’s also a perfect distribution channel for your retargeting ads.
- Research shows that YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google+ all send websites a higher quality of traffic in terms of engagement compared to Facebook. Prioritize building you email list, but consider those social media channels as alternatives.
- Never forget the big picture lesson here: will you be like the wise man who built his house on the rock, or like the foolish man who built his house on the sand? In other words: don’t invest much in building marketing assets that at the end of the day you don’t own or control.
What’s your favorite social media site for marketing and lead generation?