Facebook: Pay to Play

It’s not exactly news that Facebook’s levels of reach and engagement have somewhat deteriorated over the years. The increasing volume of content that is being uploaded on a daily basis has prompted the data giants to periodically re-engineer their algorithm.

For pages that don’t have many likes on Facebook, reaching out to users in a busy news feed has proven to be more than a challenge in recent years – even for the some of the well-established big players.

Last year, the New York times, a Facebook page with over 11 million fans, saw their engagement drop by 75% in a minuscule 6 month period.

Figure 1: The New York Times Facebook Engagement Levels | Source: Contently (2015)

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A recent shift in Facebook’s algorithm came as an unexpected surprise to news and media publishers. According to SocialFlow, news and media pages on Facebook are reaching 42% fewer people with each story since January.

“These algorithms are pretty complicated. I’m not sure even Facebook engineers know their impact, they just have to measure and respond” Jim Anderson | SocialFlow

Further reports from Social Times indicate that Facebook pages paid for 31.68% of total reach on posts in April 2016. These figures alone pay testament to the theory that Facebook have undoubtedly adopted a ‘pay to play’ strategy with businesses operating on the site, and it seems to have worked. Facebook now has a community of over 3 million advertisers, generating over $17 billion from ad revenues in 2015.

A recent article from Buffer intuitively points out a framework known as the ‘law of the double-peak’ which applies the notion of the diffusion of innovations theory to organic and paid content performance as social media platforms mature.

Figure 2: The law of the ‘double-peak’ | Source: Buffer (2016)

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Note that throughout the life-cycle, there are two phases that signify an opportunity for content distribution: organic opportunities, and paid opportunities. As a platform matures and critical mass is achieved, organic reach

As a platform matures and critical mass is achieved, organic reach declines and engagement levels plateau. Opportunities for paid content take the place of organic content, creating the ‘double-peak’ effect.

It was at this stage that social media marketers realised that what was first working for them during the golden years of Facebook (2009-2012), was no longer working. As Facebook moved towards EdgeRank in 2010, the glory days were over. The idea of paying for likes pre 2010 was pretty much unheard of.

Today, six years down the line, wary social media managers are stuck in a bit of a dilemma when it comes to their marketing efforts on Facebook. You only have to visit social media forums or blogs to see questions surfacing such as: ‘Is Facebook more effort than it’s worth?’ and ‘Should marketers ignore Facebook altogether?’. 

Most marketers would agree that we’ve certainly missed the boat with organic content opportunities on Facebook. But where are we in terms of paid ads? is this the beginning, middle or near the end of the paid advertising bubble on Facebook?


Also published on Medium.

By | 2017-04-03T23:38:13+00:00 May 28th, 2016|Marketing, Social Media|1 Comment

About the Author:

Jamie follows all things digital marketing, with a primary focus on brand-driven content on social media. With an interest in consumer behaviour and psychology, Jamie pays special attention to branding and campaign design.

One Comment

  1. Jess June 12, 2016 at 8:44 pm - Reply

    This is a really interesting article. On one hand I feel that I do waste a lot of time trying to increase post reach on FB, especially in the industry I work for, but then again a lot of companies have got it sussed. Take ASOS for example, if you click on a item on there site it will be in your feed with a lot of others items you have viewed. This strategy is quite impressive as it works as a sort of reminder that “hey we noticed you might have liked this, why not look at it again or other things very similar ? “, which is somewhat effective to online shoppers.

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