Is Facebook planning to make businesses pay?

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If you’re a small business owner who relies heavily on Facebook to promote your products and services, here is news that could foreshadow drastic changes to your marketing plan.

In six test markets, Facebook has moved all non-promoted posts from business pages and publishers (like Buzzfeed) to a secondary newsfeed. In plain English, that means any post they didn’t pay for has been removed from the main page people see when they log in.

Instead, Facebook users must choose to browse a separate, second-tier “Facebook Explore Feed” that houses this content.

What does the change mean for businesses?

Competition with friends

Facebook is, above all else, a social platform. Updates and memories from friends and family are the no. 1 reason people check Facebook. Right now, businesses have the advantage of slipping their content into that trusted feed, so people can’t help but scroll past it. If this trial were instituted across Facebook, would users be motivated to click on a different feed just to see your updates?

Pressure to pay

During the trial, publishers and business pages can still pay to promote posts or run Facebook ads that show up in the primary newsfeed. That is the most coveted place to be for optimal exposure and the widest audience reach. That means this change could signal the beginning of a pay-to-play dynamic that would hit small businesses and startups the hardest.

How are businesses impacted in the test market?

Countries included in the test market include Slovakia, Serbia and Sri Lanka. Last week, The Guardian reported on this Facebook change in a piece featuring interviews with impacted businesses. According to the report, publishers and analytics services are seeing the following:

  • 60-80 percent fall in users’ engagement with Facebook pages
  • 60 of the largest Facebook pages in Slovakia saw about 60-75 percent of their Facebook reach disappear

Will the Facebook newsfeed change affect my business in the U.S.?

The short answer is yes. The change may not be imminent, but this overseas trial signals that free access to your target audience won’t last forever. While it would be a huge blow for small businesses and startups that rely heavily on Facebook, it’s not a shocking development for observers of digital trends. We’re seeing a cycle that continuously repeats itself: A new platform emerges, grows in popularity, becomes indispensible and then charges for its use.

How should I prepare so my business isn’t impacted?

 Not surprisingly, The Guardian reported that larger businesses and those that don’t rely disproportionately on social media were not significantly affected.

Many small businesses that manage their own marketing focus on two key things: launching a website and creating/nurturing a Facebook presence. It’s a popular shortcut because, frankly, those two pieces together can make an impact.

For professional marketers, social media is a piece of the puzzle, but rarely the sole tactic. Here’s how you can expand your marketing approach to stay ahead of potential changes:

  • Create a comprehensive marketing plan: Do you have a strategy guiding all of your marketing activities? If you lead a growing business and want to keep reaching new people, a marketing plan lays out all the tactics you should use and how they work together for the best results. You can work with an agency to create the plan with you or offer consulting help.
  • Learn to love email marketing: Effective email marketing is about much more than sending plain text updates to your list. Unlike social media marketing, you are in full control of your email marketing tactics. You dictate the frequency of emails, how they appear and who they target. (As a bonus, some email marketing platforms, such as MailChimp, have free versions.)
  • Revamp your website: Your site is your domain (literally). It could be a landing page or a comprehensive site. Or, you may consider ways to attract traffic to your website through organic Google search. Do you dream of appearing in the top Google search results? Creating a blog, offering free downloads and making sure the site is completely optimized are all ways to maximize its potential.
  • Find out if other social channels could work for you: Don’t think Pinterest or Instagram are for businesses like yours? Are you sure? Explore creative ways to promote your products and services through images, photos and graphics. You will also open yourself up to a new audience. If you’re a B2B company, you should definitely create a LinkedIn page. You may find these pages helpful: 
  • Educate yourself on the benefits of promoted content: Paying once and while to boost high-performing posts, or running a targeted Facebook ad campaign, are actually smart ideas. Facebook wants to make it really easy (and fairly inexpensive) for you to take advantage of their paid options. You may be surprised at how easy and effective it is. Check it out for yourself: