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How marketers lost faith in Facebook

Zach Miners | April 11, 2014
Businesses that advertise on Facebook show signs of growing frustration.

Canty has paid Facebook upwards of $600 to advertise the shop's page and get more likes. For a while it worked, she said. But in the last couple of months views of her posts have dropped, even though the number of people who "like" the coffee shop has stayed roughly the same.

One day last week, a post advertising daily specials, like its sticky bun latte, received just over 200 views. A year ago, Canty said, posts were getting more than 600 views.

"Facebook is not nearly as useful as it used to be," she said.

Mamabargains, a daily deals site for parents and children, spent nearly US$60,000 on Facebook advertising last year, but that had almost no effect on the reach of its posts, said CEO Jessica Kurtz. Mamabargain's Facebook page has nearly 145,000 likes, which in good times could have ensured strong visibility for its posts. But recently, Facebook wanted Kurtz to pay $30,000 for her posts to reach an "estimated" 136,000 to 339,000 people.

"That's asinine," she said. If Mamabargains already has 145,000 followers, she wants to know, why should it pay all that money for its posts to be seen by potentially less people? Despite the strong following, she said, an average post today is seen by only 3,000 people.

Kurtz said she fields a constant stream of complaints from followers who don't understand why they no longer see Mamabargains' posts in their News Feeds. "I could hire someone just to handle our customer service complaints related to Facebook," she said.

Trying to adapt her posts to Facebook's constantly changing algorithms is also frustrating, Kurtz said. Sometimes adding a link provides more visibility, but sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes posts with photos work better, but sometimes not.

The company's sales have fallen by half in the past year, Kurtz said, and she holds the changes to Facebook's algorithms largely responsible.

Even if paying to promote a post generates more likes for a page, that might not help in the long run, said Josh Reiss, a photographer based in Los Angeles who uses Facebook to promote his work.

With so much content jostling to appear in people's News Feeds, having a lot of followers doesn't assure posts will be seen, he said. "So what if it gives you a few more fans? You still have to pay to promote future posts. You still fall back into obscurity."

Figures support the idea that the "organic reach" of marketers' posts -- the visibility they achieve without paying for it -- is falling. Social@Ogilvy, a marketing consultancy, analyzed more than 100 brand pages and found that organic reach hovered at 6 percent in February, down from nearly 50 percent in October. For large brands with more than 500,000 likes on their pages, organic reach in February was just 2 percent.


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