Facebook Killed Free Traffic for Brands & Publishers: How to Fix It

Posted in Social Media

If you just want the tips, skip to the bullet points below. For a bit of background, read on. Recently Facebook re-boosted friend-2-friend visibility in feeds, nearly eliminating free feed distribution for company pages. Barely a boo-hoo from the Facebook community. Sure, the traffic and engagement were nice and added up for big social players. Smaller companies sent smaller traffic, but of decent quality. However, free distribution from company pages to followers was evaporating quickly anyway.

Facebook, in keeping with Internet tradition, slipped FB page purveyors the proverbial fish after brands undertook years of investment in their pages. Now that the denial is burnt, could Facebook Groups be the next new “old” thing?

The question we ask again is a timeless marketing riddle: Now that free FB company page traffic is gone, does any organic on-page FB posting unit yield enough distribution, engagement and results to interest marketers to invest in channel content? We’ve asked the same questions about free newspaper obituaries, radio news coverage and Google. Our favorite search engine behemoth ravaged free SEO with AdWords that simulated on-page units similar to previously organic free ones. Today’s AdWords Product Listing Ads (PLAS) look a bit like the old organic image results. You get the drift.

My brain is flashing back to 2007, I swear. Set the scene in New York, SMX Social ‘07, a quintessential early social media marketing conference. SMX’s Danny Sullivan (now Google PR) and Chris Sherman co-chaired, with coverage provided by foundational search journalist/bloggers Barry Schwartz, Kim Krause Berg, Lisa Barone, Derek Edmond, Tamar Weinberg, TopRankBlog, SearchEngineJournal, AimclearBlog and SEOmoz. I wrote TEN blog posts in two days, the marketing stimulation so great.

Reflecting on 2007, many of those channels have since vanished. Think digg.com, MySpace, del.ico.us and various long-term also-rans. The year 2007 was still early for Facebook. FB Ads would be released the following month. It was a few years yet before all Facebook hell broke loose on the marketing world with the advent of the coolest display adverts network in history. Reading back on Aimclear’s SMX social coverage, FB organic social marketing discussions were already fixated on the types of on-page Facebook organic units that yielded distribution.

Look back to our 2007 post, “Effectively Leveraging Social Networking: Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn” (Marty grimaces at headline). We noted back then that NOT every Facebook friend saw your posts in their feed. Depending on their feed prioritization, your content – along with any graphics you select and text from the page – gets pushed to their networks.” -2007

Facebook Groups – organic reborn

Facebook Groups were a fairly big deal in 2007. At SMX Social we heard case studies in which groups literally established brands, drove traffic and sold products/services/goods. Our coverage underscored the differentiator for groups: “Who you add or invite to a group is visible to your whole network. All of the different content items in the group end up in the feeds of their members and often are reflected into their personal networks as well.” -2007

Company pages began eroding the importance of Facebook Groups, though they’ve always bubbled under as great plays for meta marketers, connecting themselves and the few and influential to personal and corporate objectives. Actually, many marketers should rethink groups as a marketing solution for certain products and services.

When creating a group, owners choose from three privacy set­­tings: Public, Closed and Secret.  Group owners have options to manage members, moderators, administrators and content.  Reciprocally, group members can opt-out of group wide push notifications or individual threads.

  • Above all, give FB users a REASON to care about being in your group.
  • Groups have near 100 percent distribution, prominent, with many alerts in the little world, upper right corner.
  • Look to groups as being among the last holdouts of free organic propagation in Facebook other than the powerful Facebook personal profile.
  • Be delicate with your group. Users can shut you down for spam or overselling.
  • When deciding whether to go secret, closed or public, remember that private offerings are timeless marketing plays. The question becomes what can you offer? What information matters enough that a user will crave being on the inside, in the know?
  • Think of a Facebook Group as a gated content tool. Users who join “buy” entry to exclusive content by accepting all group postings by default.
  • A 1000-person group with 80 percent distribution will be seen by 800 members. That’s the same visibility, with better notification placement, than a 40,000 follower Facebook page with a 2 percent distribution rate.
  • Test low-cost internal Facebook feed ads to subscribe folks for cheap.
  • Move existing followers from your company page by cross promoting the group with ads. Market your group in email blasts.
  • Give users a spectacular reason to join, the real inside dope. In other words, what is the holy grail – the thing customers really want (something you can give them exclusively)? Think airline loyalty programs, concierge and other assistance, customer support, input to future products, exclusive service enhancements, early access to inventory, etc.
  • Allow various permissions on brand and user sides.
  • Watch for Facebook to steer brands, publishers and news to groups
  • Create groups surrounding events, clubs and other natural constructs in which human desire or deep affinity to congregate are fertile grounds for groups. In other words, look for natural human grouping tendencies. Where does or can your business actually bring people together?

Find a way to create maximum value for prospective members. For example, we know a secret Facebook Group with thousands of members who are all authoritative Amazon reviewers. There are so many discreet members, group organizers can cluster staggered user pods to take products hot on Amazon without detection. Authors and brands pay. That’s one kickass group with obvious benefits to elite members – money.

I belong to the SEOktoberfest Secret Group, along with some badass marketers. Membership means a super cool SEO insider content feed, speaking engagements, better understanding of channel executives, client work and social-business benefits. I’m also a member of the condo tenants group at the Rossmor Building. I gain closer relationships with some neighbors, the ear of our association board, updates on packages waiting in the lobby, the pleasure of helping a friend jumpstart his car or a heads up for an event in the ‘hood.

Facebook Groups are one of a few organic assets left, held out to brands and publishers. Give prospective members a great reason to join and understand the mechanics of administrators and mods. Lead with value and give people what they want and crave. Make members feel special, an insider, with unique privileges and special content. It is possible Facebook will allow free groups for the foreseeable future, so buckle up.

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