There are a lot of mixed messages around about Facebook right now. In the last few weeks I’ve seen it described as a ‘utlilty’ and I’ve seen warnings it’s the ‘beginning of the end’ of the network’s dominance. What is the likely future of Facebook and is it a platform worth investing time and advertising revenue in?
Globally, a staggering 41% of businesses have a presence on Facebook. Despite this, many of the clients I speak with seem reluctant to use it. Some of them tell me they find the content there too personal. They feel comfortable with the more professional, business to business tone of LinkedIn. They may dabble in other less-troubled platforms, like Twitter or Pinterest, but they generally seem averse to the idea of trying to forge a professional, business-first presence on Facebook.
Facebook as a utility
It’s easy to see why most marketing and PR professionals will tell you to choose Facebook, almost whatever your line of business. Facebook’s audience is so vast it seems unavoidable for anyone trying to raise the profile of their business. This opinion is echoed in the Ofcom Communications Market Report 2018:
“More than three-quarters of UK internet users (77%) have a profile or account on a social media or messaging site or app in 2018. Facebook remains the more used social media platform, reaching 41 million internet users aged over 13, equivalent to 90% of the UK internet audience.
Insight: The dominance of Facebook services appears unaffected by the data privacy issues that it has faced in the past 12 months. It has become a utility.”
It has become an accepted truth that, with such a large captive audience, you’d be missing out by not being on Facebook. There have been effective ways for businesses to grab their customers’ attention too. Facebook Live has been a good way to gain engagement since the platform promoted its use. Facebook groups can help define a more niche group to operate within and close out the noise of competitors. For some organisations, having an effective channel to showcase their services has been a game-changer. A leader at sports tour company, Inspire Sport told us, “There is no hiding the fact social media has had a huge impact on the sports industry. In particular, it’s allowed us to give our audience visual insight into what they can expect from one of our tours.”
Declining organic reach
Until recently, the business benefits of being active on Facebook have been clear. Now they seem to be changing. Danielle Mottram, Centre Manager at Rombourne Serviced Offices explains, “As a business that has embraced social media, we’ve witnessed the positives of engaging with our audience on a platform they are familiar with. It is frustrating to see the organic reach take a dive due to a number of changes with algorithms etc but still massive value in utilising social media as a whole.”
Danielle is not alone in her complaint that organic reach on Facebook has been declining. This has been proven to have substance. Research published in August of this year by Buffer and BuzzSumo paints a picture of rapid decline in audience interest on Facebook. Based on the performance of 43 million Facebook posts from leading business pages, the report points to a massive drop in engagement (likes, shares, reactions and comments) or over 50% in the past 18 months. This decline in engagement was consistent, regardless of how many times per day content was posted on a page.
Increased competition on Facebook
The Buffer article points to an increase in competition as the key reason for declining reach on Facebook, particularly now that most businesses are taking the need to create quality social media content seriously. Their advice for succeeding on Facebook includes creating more innovative, attention-grabbing content and paying to ‘boost’ it. As paid advertising is increasingly prioritised on timelines, organic reach will continue to dwindle.
It will be interesting to see how these changes affect the popularity of Facebook. Having apparently weathered the storms of the recent data security issues, can the network maintain its popularity as it shifts towards paid advertising? Will businesses get tired of a continued decline in engagement and find alternative platforms for dialogue with their customers?
For some, the decline in organic reach is not a reason to change their plans to use Facebook for marketing. London-based company Sweepsmart praise the effectiveness of the paid advertising model, “Organic reach has never been a strong point for us on social media and probably never will be. It’s the paid for aspect where we find a good return, in terms of being able to target by post code, that’s a superb feature for a chimney sweep.”
For other business owners, having a presence on socail media is key, but they prefer to be flexible to change so they can focus on networks that serve their business best. In the highly visual business of floral design, one company has found greater impact from platforms that focus clearly on visual content: “As an online retailer of flowers, we’ve got a lot of time for social media, especially the likes of Instagram and Snapchat. These platforms enable us to showcase our products in one of the world’s shopfront windows.” Todich Floral Design.
The future of Facebook?
Perhaps this change in the organic reach of business content is a step in a new direction for Facebook that their audience will respond well to. After all, it has maintained its dominance until now through innovation and reinvention. Rhys Jenkins, Social Media Manager at Traffic Jam Media notes that, “Whith the launch of Facebook ‘Portal’ is appears the world’s largest social network is taking even further steps to integrating with people in their homes and personal life.”
It will be interesting to see whether Portal will succeed and Facebook will continue to anticipate the needs and expectations of its audience. And if Facebook does grow to become an indispensable utility, will it live up to the likely regulatory demands of that level of privilege?
All remains to be seen. In the meantime, I think it would serve most businesses to stay aware of both the current size and dominance of Facebook, as well as the reality of dwindling organic reach. Perhaps maintianing a Facebook presence at cost may become more of a necessity than a competitive advantage.
Ofcom Communications Market Report 2018, https://www.ofcom.org.uk/research-and-data/multi-sector-research/cmr
We Analyzed 43 Million Facebook Posts From the Top 20,000 Brands (New Research), https://blog.bufferapp.com/facebook-marketing-strategy
With grateful thanks to everyone who contributed to our post.