Guest blog for Social Media Today:

As we near the end of the year, it’s inevitable that we look forward to 2017. For some the thought of next year looming large on the horizon might fill them with excitement, while for others it inspires more a tinge of trepidation.

However, as the saying goes, to be forewarned is to be forearmed. In this article, I’ll run through how Facebook’s changes to organic reach this year has affected businesses that use the platform, as well as how these changes will continue to ripple through the world of business next year.

I’ll outline how you can make the best of these changes and get your business in front of more eyes.

1) Facebook is now a paid marketing platform, so use it like one

This year Facebook made some pretty huge changes to organic reach (how many people your business can reach for free). Facebook’s reasoning for the change is essentially that the Internet’s run out of room.

They of course have worded this a little more nicely, saying that, ‘more and more content is being created and shared every day and that there is now ever-increasing competition to appear on people’s news feeds. Facebook cites their own research and according to them, ‘there is now far more content being made than there is time to absorb it.

On average, there are 1,500 stories that could appear in a person’s news feed each time they log onto Facebook. For people with lots of friends and page likes, as many as 15,000 potential stories could appear any time they log on.’

Facebook claims they’ve made the changes to organic reach so they can clean up people’s cluttered news feeds, only showing them the content that they believe is most relevant to their users.

For the more cynical among us, we might interpret these changes as Facebook finally pulling the gravy train into the station. It’s time to exit through the gift shop folks – the free ride’s over.

Facebook’s changes to organic reach have had a massive effect in 2016. According to the social media optimisation platform SocialFlow, the number of people seeing the average published post has dropped by a staggering 52% (and these figures are only six months of data from January through to July 2016).

Facebook may claim they’re only making these changes to help their users engage with content that’s going to be of interest to them, but as Convince and Convert points out, the decline in organic page reach also coincides with a huge rise in Facebook’s stock price (gaining $20 in three months).

Advertising is Facebook’s biggest source of revenue, so a decrease in organic reach, forcing businesses to make the switch to paid reach, is obviously going to make them a more attractive prospect to investors, as well as make them a stack of money – it’s a win win for Facebook!

It’s pretty clear that the winds of change are currently blowing a gale, but how do you make sure that your business isn’t blown entirely of course by these changes? The first thing to do is accept the inevitable: relying on organic reach alone is no longer a viable option.

That ship has sailed.

Investing 10–20 hours a month into content for Facebook is really not worthwhile if only 1–10% of your fans see it. Facebook has evolved from a Harvard dorm room into a multi-billion dollar business. It hasn’t managed this solely through enabling people to share funny cat videos.

It’s time to think of Facebook as a money making machine, or perhaps more accurately, a marketing agency that will help you to gain access to potential customers.

You should consider re-allocating some of your budget towards Facebook media spending. It’s far better to switch to a 20–80 split: 20% content creation, followed by 80% heavy promotion. Some companies are still making a go of organic reach, but they’re now using it as a lead-in to their paid social media, which is having much more of an effect.

Just look at the figures from Castrol Motorcycle Oil. Their reach increased from 2.7 million with organic to 14 million with paid.

You need to start applying the methods of a PPC campaign to Facebook. Just like you would with a Google AdWords campaign, consider which content you’re going to use to help drive traffic to your site, drive downloads of content offers and free trials.

You need to embrace the changes Facebook have made, and instead of seeing them as constraints think of them as a way of filtering out the competition. If your competitors are only reaching 1–10% of their followers, you can target them with your paid social media, getting your content on more people’s news feeds.

You then need to check that all your hard work is paying off by using the Facebook Pixel plugin to track conversions on your site. This is also an opportunity to make Facebook marketing more measurable as you can set up an end-to-end funnel and be able to demonstrate a direct response to your efforts.

2) Text content alone won’t cut it any more

Facebook content is now richer than it’s ever been. There are photos, auto-playing videos, and recently even live video streams. As a result, there is now much more to stimulate but also to distract your audience.

It’s now way more difficult to grab people’s attention away from all the other interesting things happening in their news feeds, but one certainty is that text alone is not going to be enough. You need to consider how to make your audience’s experience richer.

You can do this by creating how-to guides, interviews, product demos, or live streaming content. You need to constantly be thinking of how you can innovate in order to continue to command the attention of your audience.

Meanwhile, it appears that Facebook believes that video is the key to attracting audiences. Nicola Mendelsohn, the head of Facebook’s operations in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, has been quoted as saying that in five years time Facebook ‘will be probably all video,’ because, ‘the best way to tell stories in the world, where so much information is coming at us, actually is video […] it conveys so much more information in a much quicker period.

So actually the trend helps us to digest much more information.’ It would seem that Mendelsohn is right. According to data collected by social media analytic provider Socialbakers, ‘video is now the most effective way to reach users in Facebook’s news feed, driving more than twice as much reach as photo posts.’

The evidence is pretty clear that the transition from text to video-based posts has already begun, so if you want to attract a bigger audience, you should start incorporating more video content into your marketing strategy now.

As producing video content is expensive, you need to be sure that that investment will pay off, the only way to do this is to use a paid budget, your content simply won’t make much impact without it.

3) Don’t build on already rented land

In 2012-14 many businesses rushed to Facebook, as well as other social media platforms, wrongly believing that they would be a replacement for email newsletters keeping customers up-to-date.

However, it turns out that the pages of Facebook were not paved with gold. As smart phones and social media has become ever more popular, businesses are struggling to get noticed, but the other major problem is that building a following on Facebook is the digital equivalent of building a house on rented land.

At any moment Facebook could come along and say ‘oh, this is a nice organic reach you’ve built up here, I think we’ll take this for ourselves.’ You don’t own your Facebook fans or the access to them, so at any moment Facebook could swoop down like a Dementor and suck the life out of your organic reach.

That’s exactly what they did in 2016. That fan base you lovingly spent all that time building now mostly isn’t seeing the content you’re posting, and you’re effectively wasting your time.

The solution to this problem is to go back to basics. Don’t let Facebook control your ‘fan list’, instead create and nurture your own email alternative. Use Facebook to grow your following on platforms you own the keys to, such as your blog or email list.

What next?

Make sure to first audit your blog content to ensure that it’s up-to-date and still relevant, check out Attract and Convert’s handy guide if you need help with this.

You can then use Facebook to promote your content and increase traffic and readership of your blog. Focus your efforts on converting these visitors into email subscribers by offering them further high-value content like ebooks, discounts, or free trials.

You need to offer people something in return for their email address, but once you have their details, you can then target your efforts however you like, but most importantly, you will no longer be at the mercy of Facebook.