Over the last decade Facebook has given free and unprecedented reach to small business. Even the most embryonic startup brand has had the opportunity to go global, if they play the social media game well. Starting a Facebook page has been one of the first “to dos” on the list for the majority of startups and small businesses as they seek to build a community
around their brand and spread the message. But, like many social phenomena, Facebook has changed over time – and with it, the attitude of users and the market.
Firstly, there was the Cambridge Analytica scandal, where the personal data of 87 million Facebook users was accessed, almost entirely without permissions. Facebook is still recovering from that one, with chief executive Mark Zuckerberg offering a series of apologies and the company taking out national outdoor advertising in Australia in a bid to win back trust.
Then there was the algorithm change of early 2018, where the metrics of the algorithms were changed to prioritise what the company describes as “more meaningful content from friends, family and groups” at the expense of more blatant marketing material and, it was hoped, “fake news”.
“As we roll this out,” Zuckerberg said, “you’ll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands and media. “And the public content you see more will be held to the same standard. It should encourage meaningful interactions between people.”
These changes were touted as being either the end of Facebook marketing or a Y2K-like non-event which would change nothing.
Advice on how to game the new system proliferated across the internet, but so far there is no real consensus on the impact of the changes. What has happened, however, are rumblings of doubt about Facebook’s relevance in its second decade.
What do Facebook’s 2018 changes to the News Feed algorithm mean?
- More posts from friends, particularly those which have been commented on and shared.
- Less priority for brands and promotions.
- Sharing is more important than ever and, therefore, so are influencers.
- More about interaction, less about content.
- Be careful about promotions and contents. Makes sure they are marked as being “independent” of Facebook and that contests have their own landing page
“Given that my brand is a fashion label, I find that a huge majority of my marketing is much better done on Instagram,” says Santiago Cuba de Reed, a young entrepreneur with a streetwear label in Sydney called Secret Hvndshake.
“Plus, everyone markets on Facebook. Trying to keep off it makes what I’m doing feel more individual.
“For me, brands that put huge amounts of spend behind Facebook advertising come off as too needy or desperate for attention, and that’s not what I want for my brand.”
For every Facebook cynic who says it’s lost its cool, however, there are probably many more entrepreneurs who still see Facebook as the go-to social media platform.
Chris Wirasinha is co-founder of Sydney media company Pedestrian.tv, which is a big user of Facebook as a distribution platform for its content, much of which is paid for by clients. Pedestrian has been a leader in the new wave of content marketing to a younger demographic, creating its own news-based content for an audience it also delivers to its advertisers.
The company started in 2005, before the launch of Facebook in Australia, but has been using Facebook at scale since 2008.
“Social media allows us to put our brand in front of millions of people on a weekly basis, and it’s a fantastic way to find
new customers and readers, and help us connect our advertisers to the largest possible audience,” says Wirasinha.
“Facebook is not the biggest driver of traffic to our website; Google is. But Facebook would number two or three depending on how our direct email has performed each week.” He sees the algorithm changes as part of the evolution of Facebook as it matures as a business, and realises that it can afford to give less away for free.
“There’s been a shift going on since 2010 where, as more brands have got onto the platform, they have had to fine tune the experience,” he says. “Organic reach that you don’t have to pay for has become harder to come by, and there’s more of a push from Facebook to say that, if you want to reach that audience, you have to pay.
“It means that some people, who were used to the way Facebook used to be, now feel that it is becoming more expensive, and getting harder to reach an audience that you were once able to reach.”
“Organic reach that you don’t have to pay for has become harder to come by, and there’s more of a push from Facebook to say that, if you want to reach that audience, you have to pay.”
PAY TO BOOST
At boutique wine distribution company Vinomofo, head of marketing Chip McMillan says he uses both organic reach and paid Facebook advertising as part of the strategy. If he sees one of the posts is performing well organically, at that point he’ll put money behind it and give it a boost.
“We use all platforms, but we still see Facebook as the king as far as acquiring followers and driving traffic,” says McMillan.
“We haven’t noticed a huge difference with the algorithm changes. Our philosophy is that, as long as we are posting really engaging quality content, we can leave the algorithm up to itself.”
Facebook accounts for around 50 per cent of the company’s advertising spend, but the way Vinomofo uses the platform has changed over time, although not necessarily as part of the algorithm reset.
Where previously Vinomofo would use Facebook as a direct sales channel, posting its regular deals on the Facebook page, today it is more about content. Video, says Chip McMillan, is particularly important, because he has observed that “engagement with videos is going to push our content up the ladder”. This includes videos, which the company shoots itself, and relevant content also produced by the boutique wine brands it sells.
With limited ways to engage with the company through the Vinomofo website, with the exception of sales, Facebook is the most effective way to engage with new and potential customers – having interactions which are about wine but not necessarily about selling wine.
“When I first came on board about four years ago we would post our deals to Facebook, but the business model has changed a bit. We’re not focussed on the deal-a-day type of thing anymore,” says Chip.
“Now we are trying to use it as a content hub where our customers and followers
can read about wine and learn about different aspects.
“That has come from looking at the results. We weren’t getting a huge lot of traffic coming from the deals when we posted them, while we are getting much more interaction and better-quality engagement with a content driven strategy – and with lower bounce rates.”
REACHING A COMMUNITY
Vegan Mama is a startup which delivers vegan meals to homes and businesses throughout Sydney. With little capital behind it, Vegan Mama turned to Facebook as a cornerstone of its marketing strategy, which began with joining vegan Facebook groups and reaching out to the local Sydney vegan community. Like Vinomofo, the hope is that people who engage with the brand through the Facebook page will then move to the website.
"We’ve also had friends like and share our content to their friends and this has led to direct sales,” says Maria Moraitakis, co-founder at Vegan Mama. “And, as well as leading to sales conversions, this has resulted in a more than tenfold return in Facebook followers for a very small financial outlay.”
Moraitakis says that Facebook has significantly outperformed other social media and online channels. “We’ve wasted a lot of money on Google ads and spent countless hours on the phone to Google helpers trying to hone our keywords to get the most from our ads,” she says. “The unfortunate outcome from this is that not one of these Google ads ended in a single checkout conversion.”
While Facebook has been Vegan Mama’s “friend” in establishing a customer base and spreading the word through the vegan community, there have been issues. “Our posts on vegan group pages are often seen by the same Facebook users, and they tend to glaze over and get tired of the spruiking, which is understandable. But, for a young food startup with limited funds for marketing, free Facebook posts are too attractive not to use,” says Moraitakis.
“Since the rules have changed with Facebook advertising, we’ve had less success with paid posts. We had hoped to hold some competitions where you like and tag and share the post, but it’s not really permitted within Facebook’s rules.”
LACK OF SUPPORT
Other small businesses complain about the lack of technical support and inflexible automation. Santiago Cuba de Reed’s streetwear brand Secret Hvndshake is not a huge fan of using Facebook, but his attitude has also been coloured by
frustration with the lack of contact with Facebook itself.
“Facebook is incredibly unhelpful,” he says. “I recently had an issue where I needed to contact Facebook for some assistance, and they have no legit no way of getting in touch with them.
“There’s no email, no phone line and your ‘support inbox’ only opens up in very rare circumstances. So, when the issue I want resolved needs actual human attention, I don’t get it and my issue goes through to some automated system that ends up giving me the same undesired result.” Cuba de Reed suspects that if he was a large corporate with major spend on Facebook advertising then he would get this assistance, and this is a point which goes to the sheer scale of the platform.
It also comes back to Chris Wirasinha’s point that Facebook has matured as business as it has become almost ubiquitous and it takes a more commercial approach.
“People talk about a golden age of Facebook marketing a few years ago,” says Wirasinha. “But even so, if you were advising a small business today on what they should be trialing as part of their marketing mix you would be doing yourself a disservice if you were not on Facebook in some way shape or form.
“Startups should definitely establish a Facebook page, because I think that for a lot of people it is one of the first places they search for a brand or a product and get in touch with the brand and give their feedback.”
Australian Small Business Online
Australian Small Business Online
- 66 per cent of small businesses have a Facebook page.
- 43 per cent of businesses don’t want a website and 60 per cent say they don’t have time to launch one.
- 57 per cent of small businesses want to limit their technology spent to $5,000 a year.
- 26 per cent of small business currently use Search Engine Optimisation, and only nine per cent use Search Engine Marketing.
- 67 per cent of small businesses say they have no intention of using paid social media.
Source: 2018 Telstra Small Business Intelligence Report