Facebook Algorithm Changes Impacting Small Businesses

A quick Google search reveals there is no shortage of articles scrutinizing the recent algorithm changes to Facebook’s News Feed for Page content. But how are the recent changes affecting Central Ohio businesses?

In August, Facebook announced changes to their news feed algorithms in an effort to show more “high-quality” content and meet the ultimate goal of showing users the right content at the right time. Facebook used a survey to define what high-quality meant, asking questions about timely and relevant content, content from trusted sources, shareable content, and whether posts were low-quality, memes or complaint-worthy.

While Facebook provided some tips to keep content high quality, they ultimately issued a post saying, “Competition for each News Feed story is increasing. Because the content in News Feed is always changing, and we’re seeing more people sharing more content, Pages will likely see changes in distribution. For many Pages, this includes a decline in organic reach. We expect this trend to continue as the competition for each story remains strong and we focus on quality.”

And changes in distribution are what users saw.

Boutique Truck owner Catherine Shadeed said posts on the truck’s Facebook page typically reached over 200 followers.

“Over the past few months, it just gradually kind of decreased,” she said.

More recently, posts were viewed by as few as 17 people. The page currently has 530 fans, which adds up to roughly a 34 percent decrease in viewership.

Shadeed asked herself if the drop could be related to content, but with a look back, saw that many of her posts were similar to previously more successful posts.

At The Metropreneur, we post our daily article to our Facebook page, meaning steady content and similar types of posts over an extended period of time.

Overall, Metropreneur’s reach is down 35 percent from 2013 to 2012, despite adding 562 new page fans. However, an even more significant drop occurred from November to December 2013. Reach decline by 58 percent, even with 100 more likes.

“During this time, little has changed with our social media outreach strategy that would negatively impact our reach,” says Metropreneur Co-Founder and CEO, Walker Evans.

With reach declining for pages that already had a number of fans, what do the changes mean to new pages?

Dave Colina, Founder and President of formula O2, recently rebranded and realaunched his company from previous product, formula AM.

“Our page was dormant while we were preparing for our launch, and as soon as we became active again I noticed immediately how difficult it was to get your post seen without paying for it,” he says.

Paying for posts, or “boosting” is one of Facebook’s solutions to bolstering pages that are seeing decreased reach.

“So far we’ve been lucky to reach a few hundred people with a post if we don’t pay for it,” Colina continues. “Whereas if we boost (i.e., pay for) a post, it’s very easy to reach thousands.”

Many small businesses depend on Facebook to reach their audience. Shadeed says it was the number one resource she used to reach the Boutique Truck followers, but is now looking to other social media sites like Twitter and Instagram to connect with fans. The Boutique Truck does plan to boost posts out of necessity, but will monitor how it goes and if the costs are worth it.

Shadeed calls the changes smart for Facebook, meaning more revenue, but, “It defeats what you originally think of as social media,” she says. Social media is typically tied with an image of free, grass-roots marketing. Assuming that social media is free, small businesses may not have the budgets to boost posts to get their reach back to previous levels.

“We’re a small brand with a fraction of the budget of Monster or Gatorade, so we’ve decided to only pay for posts on an adhoc basis and focus on growing our brand organically,” Colina says. “We’re scrappy and creative, so I’m sure we’ll find different ways to be heard.”

For other companies, changes have not been as severe.

“We’ve noticed a slight change with our Facebook reach and engagement, but nothing that was cause for alarm,” says Homage Social Media Director, Matt Cook. Homage has significantly more likes than others that are noticing bigger changes, 135,000 plus to Metroprenuer’s 2,445, formula O2’s 687, and Boutique Truck’s 530.

Homage is focused on creating strong posts that would qualify as high-quality content, Facebook’s other encouragement to keep reach numbers up.

“With a strong content strategy, Facebook can change their algorithms as much as they want,” Cook Says. “Businesses and personalities producing exemplary digital media will always come out on top.”

Facebook isn’t shying away from their changes. A Facebook for business document says, “To maximize delivery of your message in News Feed your brand should consider using paid distribution, as it enables you to reach people beyond your fan base and move beyond the organic competition.”

As a bottom line, pages will likely have to pay if they hope to extend their Facebook reach.

“The end result is a larger fan base, with a much more limited access to them through organic, non-paid status updates,” Evans says of The Metropreneur’s page.

Shadeed sees cause for concern beyond the fact sponsored posts might not be an a company’s budget. “Are all of the other social media sites going to do something similar?” she asks.