Back in early 2017 I was on the phone with Joe Speiser, the CEO of Little Things—a content company with a Facebook page of 22,000,000 followers. We wanted to explore a partnership with him on a client’s behalf to build the client’s audience laterally. But then a huge Facebook algorithm change caused his company to close its doors.
That update delivered a huge blow to content sites. That’s because many of them relied on the social platform as a source of cheap traffic to the exclusion of all else. Little Things closed down because it relied too heavily on it, leaving the rest of the marketing world left to wonder how long their own social campaigns would last. Those paying attention knew they’d need to change their digital marketing strategies to avoid the same fate.
To be honest, though, this shouldn’t have caught anyone by surprise. Facebook rolls out updates more frequently than most of us think, shaking things up just a little too frequently to let advertisers get comfortable (and not in an endearing way). You can take some steps to minimize the impact of those changes, but advertisers will always be at the mercy of the platform they’re using.
I made this playbook specifically to help businesses protect against these kind of disruptions. This post will focus on using Facebook itself, while the next one will focus on how to diversify traffic sources to insulate against platform changes in general. Algorithm changes aren’t signals to abandon advertising platforms entirely. It has 2 billion users worldwide, after all (according to Zuckerberg himself), and you wouldn’t want to ignore that channel if all of your other digital marketing channels have reached maturity.
However, these changes do mean that all companies need to think about where to put their marketing dollars for the best long-term return on investment—not just what’s cheap and easy today.
That’s just good business.
Start a Facebook Group to Circumvent Slashed Reach
Did you know that half of Facebook’s users belong to groups?
Here’s why: Facebook doesn’t push your page’s posts to your followers automatically—not all of them, anyway. You can expect somewhere between 2% and 20% of your existing audience to see normal posts if you don’t “boost” them with some cash.
Why would a social media company limit itself like that? Simple: Facebook isn’t really in the business of “social media” anymore. It’s in the advertising business. Facebook earned $13.5 billion USD from advertising in Q3 2018. Google’s revenue stream works the same way. If Twitter made any money then it would work that way, too. Social media is pay-to-play these days if you really want to get anywhere with it. You can’t advertise on the New York Times or the Globe and Mail for free, and Facebook’s user base alone is orders of magnitude larger than both of those combined. Why wouldn’t it cost money?
The kind of Facebook algorithm change from years ago already cut down companies’ organic reach by 80%-98%, requiring them to “boost” posts with a credit card to reach people who are already following those companies’ pages. Let that sink in for a moment.
How Groups Counteract the Facebook Algorithm Change
Facebook groups help you circumvent that algorithm, as of writing. The logic follows that people join these groups to get updates and engage in communities for niche topics that they wouldn’t get in their regular news feeds. Facebook hasn’t restricted their reach as heavily precisely for that reason (for better or for worse).
Take advantage of that, especially if you run a business that relies on recurring revenue from clients. Groups let you add extra value to customers looking for help without much restriction for a deeper relationship—and you have access to all of those people when you actually want to sell something. Don’t be afraid to put some advertising dollars into posts that promote your group, either. Better to pay for customer acquisition once and market to them for free inside your group instead of paying again and again to reach the same people with regular posts, right?
Entice people with value they won’t get from a normal post:
- Exclusive content.
- Peer-to-peer support (particularly good for B2B leads).
- Live video working sessions.
- Entering contests or monthly draws (even a free assessment if you’re in professional services or a B2B industry).
Build Lead Ad Forms and Create Email Lists
Social media advertising platforms try to make you re-pay for the same leads over and over again even though they’re already following your page. That’s no good, but there is a way to make it work on Facebook. You can incorporate Lead Ad Forms into your social calendar to earn sign-ups for an email list. Once they’re on your email list then you can market to them on your own terms and your own schedule.
Remember: social media is just rented land. You don’t control it and you never will. But your website and email lists count as “owned land.” That’s why it makes sense to bring the leads you earn from Facebook over to your site or email lists. It mitigates your reliance on an (arguably) unstable advertising platform.
No Facebook algorithm change can touch your leads once they “live” in another part of your funnel, and that’s a key step toward insulating your business from external forces. Get the most out of Facebook by converting as many followers as you can into email leads.
Otherwise, you can expect to keep paying money to Facebook just to reach followers you already earned and bought in the first place.
Boost Facebook Posts Strategically (and Consistently)
Boosting posts is annoying, but it’s also the most immediate way to compensate for reduced reach in the wake of the Facebook algorithm change. Yes, that’s exactly what Facebook wants, but preserving your revenue-generating traffic base should be the immediate priority if you rely on this platform fairly heavily.
Facebook wants money, and—at the end of the day—it’s going to get what it wants. Set aside a monthly or weekly budget to boost your posts, but it doesn’t need to be a crazy amount. Even $20 per week can help if you get those leads onto your site or email lists.
Don’t just throw $40 behind every post you publish hoping that something sticks. I’ve seen that approach fail more than once.
Adopt an 80/20 approach here instead: Put most of your weekly budget behind your top-performing post. The post that gets the most engagement and earned followers is what you should amplify. You need to think of it like an advertising campaign because it is an advertising campaign. Only put your money where it’s going to generate the biggest results.
Host Video Events After a Facebook Algorithm Change
You can host events two ways on Facebook, and they’re both pretty handy in different situations.
- The first way is to create an event page for a real-life event. Event pages get more juice than regular company pages or posts with the recent Facebook algorithm changes. This tactic is particularly useful for event planners, caters, and businesses hosting seminars for high-value items.
- The second way is to shoot video events live, which get way more traction than regular posts. In fact, live videos got such a huge priority in February 2017 that they gained even more traction than posts with 3-4 times their engagement. Things have leveled out a bit since then, but the point is clear: live video is here to stay.
You won’t see a large audience for your live videos at first, but that’s okay. At an agency where I used to work, we gained around 20,000 video views on the first 20 episodes of it’s Facebook Live series—with more than 95% of those views happening after the show aired. That’s because Facebook circulated live videos throughout people’s news feeds for a fairly long time after the shows ended. Your brand could take advantage of this by partnering up with any kind of related business or organization to create an informal video chat, including:
- Related brands
- Chambers of commerce
- Networking groups
- Business improvement associations
Even if you don’t have an audience to watch the video at the outset, you can tap into the partner’s audience laterally to build your own (and they’ll do the same, creating a win-win promotion). Established podcasts do this regularly. If you don’t have the production resources to create a nice video, then just start an informal talk show with 2-3 people on the screen.
That’s it for Part 1 of the Facebook algorithm change survival guide! Stay tuned for Part 2, where I outline strategies to diversify your traffic sources for lead acquisition outside of Facebook—because even pages with 22,000,000 followers can take a hit when they put all of their eggs in one basket.