We Need an Exit Strategy for Facebook

Have you watched somewhat helplessly these past few months as your Facebook interactions dropped rapidly? Has the “reach” of your posts dipped as low as you’ve ever seen it, no matter how great your content is?

It’s not your fault. It’s Facebook’s fault. And they’re doing it on purpose.

Here are just a few recent headlines from across the web:

The times they are a-changing (again)

This is an important topic and one organizations across the world are having right this very moment, from government agencies to high-powered marketing firms. Bottom line, we need to change the way we think about Facebook. It’s no longer a great communications tool (if it ever was is genuinely open for debate).

For many of us, the whole reason our organizations got on Facebook in the first place was to share information with the public. Well, recent changes to Facebook’s computer algorithm have made it increasingly difficult to reach our audiences, and it’s only going to get more difficult.

What’s changed? See my presentation below:

So what do we do now?

Facebook can still be be a great A) customer service portal, B) market research tool, and C) advertising platform. But it’s not a great communications tool any longer. Facebook has moved to a pay-to-play environment, meaning they have turned off what’s called “organic” reach and are asking us to pay money to reach fans (including our own). For the majority of public-service agencies, this is unrealistic.

That brings us to email and newsletters. Email has long been one of the most effective forms of digital communications. But let’s be honest — social media has distracted us a bit. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. We jumped at the opportunity to be cutting-edge, and rightfully so.

What’s cutting-edge now is to leave Facebook behind. Seriously. Ask your teenagers.

Email: Don’t call it a comeback

Here’s the one question we need to ask ourselves about Facebook: Who are we reaching? If we have 1,000 fans but can only reach 10% of them due to Facebook’s limited reach (hint, hint, see the presentation above), is that really worth the time investment we’re making to share information on Facebook? Paying a few bucks here and there to boost our posts is cheap and (kind of) works, but it adds up quickly.

On the other hand, if we invest our time and resources in building and nurturing an email list or newsletter with the same 1,000 people, we know we can reach everybody on that list whenever we hit send. Please keep in mind that we’re just talking about reach here (i.e. the number of people who actually “got” the message). On Facebook, we can reach 10% whereas on email we can reach close to 100% factoring out bounce-backs.

Of course, open rates and click-through rates are traditionally low on email, but not as low as on Facebook. At least with email we know we’re going to reach the audience. After that, it’s on us. We can work to improve subject lines, newsletter design, and content strategy. Those are things in our control.

On Facebook, we control very little. We can’t even reach our own fans. So it’s a matter of 10% reach on Facebook vs. 100% reach on email.

Those numbers are striking. We need an exit strategy for Facebook.

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Joshua Millsapps

This is a great post that has implications in both pub sec and private industry. I know we have significantly dialed back our efforts on Facebook. We simply were not seeing the benefits we had hoped for from our “organic” marketing efforts on Facebook. Sponsored posts work…but for maintaining a connection with committed partners and customers e-mail is still king. Thanks for this…

Cindy Lee

Great article and slide show. Very interesting and informative. I often wondered why I only see some things in my News Feed and why, if I sign in and out, the same things don’t show up. Thank you for this awesome insight to how FB works and how they have changed.

Sean Bennett

I want to thank you for posting the deck! With your permission, I’d love to reuse some of the information for an upcoming meeting. As Joshua mentioned, the implications for public sec in particular are huge especially for agencies that are just getting on FB. Kudos on the terrific research comparisons!

Scott Horvath

There’s definitely some serious implications for Government when it comes to the direction that Facebook is moving in. Social media, in my mind, has really always been a customer service channel. Yes, we push stuff out just like any other organization, but it’s also a customer service channel meant for answering questions, directing people to relevant resources, etc. Perhaps Facebook will become more of a customer service portal for agencies where it’s purely a Q&A environment rather than a tool for pushing out messages, news, etc. For that don’t have a customer service staff, it’s an opportunity for employees to become that staff…and then encouraging employees answer questions that others leave…even if they’re not admins or content creators for the Page?

Does this also mean there will be more of a shift to other places like Google+? Will more focus on sharing messages through Twitter and concentrate their efforts there instead of FB? Will we see “gov’t only” features introduced by Google+ to encourage the wave of those unsure about their FB efforts to migrate over to G+?

Many agencies do not want to use their budgets for modest gains in followers or for boosting a post on Facebook. Money is needed to be used elsewhere. Perhaps, FB strategies will change in the direction of “boosting” posts for those that are emergency only? Or maybe FB will build in a Twitter-like “Alerts” feature for emergency related organizations where those Alerts will be immune to the FB algorithm and everyone subscriber will see that emergency related post?

Lots of questions. Lots of ideas.

Note: comments are mine only and not those of my organization.

Gail Griswold

Thanks for the analysis. It seems like there are so many tools like Facebook that almost work for government but are not really designed for us. We spend a lot of time and effort making them fit, only to have the powers that control them go off in a different direction. It’s soooooo much easier working with tools that have the government element included in the front end. Our town has had good results with Nextdoor – gives us a targeted recipient system without having to maintain an e-mail list. What’s after Facebook? (blog)

Derek Belt

Kerry – I fixed the issue with the confusing bullet in slide 10. Looks like I hadn’t deleted all of a previous version of that bullet when I made some changes. But it should make sense now. Thank you!

Sean – Yes, feel free to use this information and slide deck. We’re all on the same team and this is a really important discussion to have with our teams.

Joel Nihlean

“…if we invest our time and resources in building and nurturing an email list or newsletter with the same 1,000 people, we know we can reach everybody on that list whenever we hit send.”

This is just patently untrue. You reach the people who opened and read the email. There are a lot of factors that go into what an organization’s open rates might look like, but I highly doubt anyone has a 100% open rate.

Derek Belt

Joel – We’re both right. What I’m talking about, and what I mentioned specifically in my post, is that reach = deliverability. Did the email get to the recipient’s inbox? Almost all of the time, that number is 100%. On the contrary, did the Facebook post show up in their News Feed? That number is in the 10% range (or lower if you follow recent reports).

There’s borderline nothing we can do about this on Facebook except pay money. Open rates and click-through rates via email are something else entirely. But that’s not what I’m talking about in this post. Whether people pay attention to our Facebook posts or quote “open” our emails is a different conversation. I’m merely stating that with Facebook, you can’t guarantee reach at all. With email, you can.

Joel Nihlean

Derek – It seems we’re talking about the same thing, but in different terms. Exceptional presentation, by the way. You’re definitely one of the ones who “gets it.” That said, I still won’t put much stock in email. It may work now, but its expiration date is coming up soon. Usage is down in every group except the 55+. It’s the second worst way to get a hold of me (only an actual letter is worse), and I’m 32 and in communications. Facebook clearly is no longer a viable option for the main social media vehicle, though it still has its place. Between pay to play models and continual audience fragmentation, some governments may not be able to afford to effectively communicate to broad audiences, at least not without the help of key citizens, groups and other institutions.