Goodbye, Facebook, and thanks for all the fish…

Build engagement. That’s what social media is about, isn’t it? Engaging with the people who’ve chosen to like your page in order to build a relationship and hopefully nurture a purchase or recommendation from them. Build a community and talk to them frequently about your brand to create an army of adorers.

I, for one, have been a staunch advocate of social media in the past years, and most notably, Facebook as a platform for businesses of all size to reach their target market, or their biggest fans. But I fear it’s time to say goodbye, pack our bags and discover a new way for the SMBs, and even the bigger boys, to engage with their fans.

Let’s use our Facebook page as an example. We have 1200 fans and, dare I say it, genuine fans. Maybe they’re not all potential clients, but they’re certainly people who are interested in what we have to say. We post four or five times a week – not excessive or heavy use – but interesting things we think people will want to read or look at, discussion points and the odd piece of self-promotion.

Our average ‘reach’ over the past 10 posts is 195, or 16%. Sometimes just 94 people see a post, even those posted during the day or at peak traffic times.

A client we work with does a really good job posting to his page on a daily basis. Their page has 5400 fans and the average ‘reach’ over the past ten posts is 657. This is just 12% of the fans. By contrast, their recent email campaign was opened by 28% of his database. If they sent an SMS campaign that would be opened by over 90%.

A further client has 4500 fans and hardly posts at all. Maybe 10 times in the last four weeks. Their reach is 19%.

It’s been well-documented across the blogosphere that these reach numbers are dropping, as Facebook’s algorithm develops to encourage business owners to put their hands in their pockets and spend money to reach fans that freely opted in to hear from the brands they want to know about.

The logic, for Facebook, makes sense. All other avenues of communication for brands cost them money, so should social media. If a business wanted to tell their fans about a special offer in store, they’d have to design a poster, or a flyer, get them printed, and hand them out. So why shouldn’t Facebook make money out of brands talking to fans online?

Because this wasn’t what Zuckerberg talked about when he presented the social web. It was based on cooperation, sharing, following something you liked, engaging with them. It wasn’t based on who had the most money pushing the little guys aside. Facebook isn’t seeing fans as a community anymore, they’re seeing them as numbers. And when you see someone as a number, you start worrying more about what they’re spending than what they’re sharing.

We tried sponsoring a particular post several weeks ago and opted for the ‘people who like your page and their friends’. Now, we’re an Australian business with the capacity to deliver in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. We ended up getting 8445 people seeing the post and 180 likes. Great! Lots of interest on our post and there’s bound to be one or two potential clients there, right?

Wrong. Here are five of the names from those who liked the post:

  • SuperKid Niia Underpressure
  • Rhuudy Trd Speed
  • Jumadi Crooz Metaldeathstreetteamtangbar
  • Abdoel Idttu Gakgpherluepintehrr
  • Coorniajustine Thumberlikes

95% were like this. All based in SE Asia and if genuine at all, totally useless to us. Facebook had found the cheapest route to spend our money by showing the post to thousands of people linked to just two or three of our fans.

Facebook’s IPO several months ago delivered a high expectation of profit from a platform built and developed on the principle of sharing for free. These two things were always going to be mutually exclusive of each other and now the proof is starting to show through.

I would suggest that building a Facebook community and fan base for a small business is now bordering on being too costly for the ROI it will deliver. And not only costly in a financial sense, but incredibly time consuming. So what are the alternatives?

How about we take it out into the real world instead? Spend that time, money and effort not on social media, and spend it in a face-to-face dialogue. I recently spent a weekend at Grand Designs Live in Melbourne watching 30,000 people walk through the doors over three days and engage with 100 different exhibitors. Those exhibitors that were collecting data, selling off their stands, allowing customers to touch and feel what they were selling and handing out information had a huge success. This is engagement. We’re not just talking and touching, but we’re collecting data and really explaining our product to potential purchasers.

For a smaller business, we don’t have to be aiming as high as a larger-scale exhibition. Small engagement strategies can work just as well: a pet food company we work with is looking at developing sampling teams to visit pet stores and dog parks in order to help bring the brand directly to their consumers. Time spent on social media, or time spent putting the dog food into an actual dog?

There has always been a cost associated with activating social media, and despite the title of this article, I’m not suggesting we abandon social media completely. But Facebook has moved itself from a position where imagination superseded cost, to the point where both are now factors in implementing a strategy. Pure creative strategy doesn’t cut the mustard anymore – you need to pay for the reach.

There are other social networks that can deliver engagement in return for ideas and time, but the golden goose of Facebook is no longer laying its eggs. Being able to reach just 15% of your brand advocates who have opted in to receive your communication isn’t a great ROI for your time and effort. Facebook is no longer a must-have, but a nice-to-have. And if the numbers don’t stack up with a declining natural reach, it may even become a not-going-to-have.


Simon Dell
BY Simon Dell ON 30 October 2012
Simon is a former full-service agency managing director that ran for seven years and delivered for clients across Australia. He now runs his own digital consultancy working with Australian businesses helping with online communication and creative strategies. Find Simon on Twitter at @IAmSimonDell, on LinkedIn at IAmSimonDell and Facebook at SwitchYourBusiness.
  • alexanderwhite

    Hi Simon,

    This is a very good post and an important point, that face-to-face contact will never be replaced by digital interaction as the most effective way to get potential supporters/members/customers to do something.

    My own thoughts:


  • Faun Crabtree

    Hi Simon,

    Great article!

    I’ve been having the exact same discussion with colleagues regarding a facebook page I run for a residential apartment project in Melbourne. Our marketing team spends time producing content calendars so that we can post varied and interesting content 3-4 times a week and we only reach approx 15-18% of our followers. Where-as the eDM we sent to our database just yesterday afternoon has already achieved a 35% open rate and it will continue to grow over the next couple of days.

    I’m starting to question whether Facebook is worth the investment of time, when email and text marketing provides a greater ROI.


  • @CaitlinMDavey

    Hi Simon,

    Thanks for sharing! There is certainly a pattern that many clients are saying “I have to have a Facebook page” without considering what it does for their brand and how useful it is to their market given their current strategy, and Facebook’s recent changes.

    Completely agree with integrating engagement strategies across both offline and online media platforms. There is NOTHING better than face-to-face engagement for acquisition, people like people who are like themselves.

    If brands can steer away from a one platform push model for all of their marketing, and instead, focus on an integrated strategy across offline and one-to-one marketing, they will be able to utilise Facebook as an information provider and customer service platform, and make the most from their marketing budgets.


  • ZapMe Mobile

    Unfortunately when you send a company to an IPO and their only business model is advertising this is what happens. A publicly listed company is all about numbers and meeting analyst expectations, nothing else matters. This can cause innovation to suffer as hasty decisions are made each quarter.

    Also many people in marketing and advertising have now built carriers and businesses around Social media and they need to keep the platform relevant at all costs. I once had a “Head of Social” from a prominent Sydney agency tell me that the number of followers on a famous vodka brand page was a direct result of the retail sales figures, what the?

    Facebook is great at keeping up with friends and family, sharing photos and activity, not for pushing products.

  • moco insight

    Hi Simon

    Interesting article on Facebook and one that we are regularly beginning to see. I do find a fatal flaw with what you are saying and in general Australian marketer’s use of Facebook.

    Your efforts on Facebook shouldn’t be focussed on acquiring pure ‘Likes’. Pure Likes are indeed an extremely expensive acquisition exercise. Facebook is a cost effective data collection platform and also a space where a portion of your customers only interact with you (this will increase over time due to changes in consumer spending behaviour).

    Facebook should be viewed as the one of the richest platform to collect data on new and/or current customers. For example, at the exhibition where you collected data I am assuming people collected basic demographic data (which is great don’t get me wrong).

    However did they like you can in Facebook collect an individuals list of friends name and whether they shared your product with them? Or did they collect a list of the other exhibitors they liked at the exhibition? To identify brand advocates is a marketing utopia.

    Did the exhibitors collect the other stands their vistors visited. You can collect what other Facebook pages an individual liked as well as their friends in Facebook. When they filled in the exhibitors contact sheet did they provide an email address and is it real. In Facebook you collect the email they have registered with Facebook and can send them notifications through Facebook.

    The above is a few example of the limitation of data collection versus the data collection opportunities in Facebook.

    My response would results we are experiencing from our marketing efforts within Facebook are signing we need to change our strategy. We need to view Facebook as platform to collect data on an individual (also of course consumer engagement) and not just a location to collect ‘Likes’. Because unlike Google there are cost effective ways to out game Facebook’s algorithm.


  • brandmentalist

    This is so spot-on. I realised this months ago when Facebook pages were launched to replace Groups and started to become really popular.

  • smarovitch

    There’s no doubt it’s becoming harder and harder to do well on Facebook whether it be earning likes or procuring clicks. Personally I think this has to do more with the fact that the curiosity gloss has well and truly worn off and people are engaging for purely social reasons. It’s difficult to disturb that process with an outright marketing message and expect it to be positively retained and engaged with.

    It’s worth remembering that Facebook is a social environment and just like our own offline social groups, we retain our likes from our existing friends by providing something they value. We collect new likes from new friends by engaging them on some level while offering them something they might valuable at the same time. Some of those new friends will stick with you. Some of them will push you aside as you will them.

    It takes time to develop lots of valuable relationships and you’re not going to get it right every time.

  • Simon Dell

    This is in reply to Moco Insight.

    As a business page, Facebook doesn’t allow you free access to fans’ email addresses, nor does it allow you to see what other pages your fans like. You can run a campaign to collect that via a competition or such like, but that’s no guarantee of collecting ALL fans data. Especially if only 15% are going to see your competition announcement.


  • joshuawithers

    You’re wrong.

    Marketing shouldn’t cost a business, it should pay for itself.

    With that said, Facebook’s strongest attribute is to connect clients (users) and your content. If it’s good content, that resonates with your brand and your tribe then it goes far for free. Or, you can push it further by paying for Facebook’s assistance. The reason you don’t like this is because it used to be free, but we’ve all got to get over it.

    Facebook’s not dying just yet, though everything has an expiry date, Facebook’s isn’t just yet. So abandoning Facebook and the advertising/content model it has changed to now will merely leave more room for others to grow whilst you do nothing.

    Best of luck with your plan to do nothing.

  • Simon Dell

    This is a response to Joshua Withers.

    “Marketing shouldn’t cost a business, it should pay for itself.”

    Right. But you’re talking about ROI. Which was my entire point of the article. What’s a good ROI for you? 100%? 300%? 1,000%?

    “The reason you don’t like this is because it used to be free, but we’ve all got to get over it.”

    No. The reason I don’t like it is that just six months ago, Facebook posts used to achieve 25% to 30% reach to my fans. Now it’s 15%. I accept Facebook’s benefits but I can get a better reach through e-news (30% open rates) or SMS (90% open rates) than I can through Facebook.

    “Best of luck with your plan to do nothing.”

    I don’t do nothing. Our own internal company marketing strategy has 43 streams, of which 25 of them are live at any given time.

    My point wasn’t about not working with Facebook. It was about the poor ROI its delivering for SMBs who generally don’t have the spare $$ to invest in this format. You’re entirely free to keep working with Facebook and paying $10 to $20 every time you want to promote a post.

    Funnily enough, for every negative comment saying I’m wrong, I’ve had 20 comments thanking me for confirming what they thought.

  • joepook

    Great article, Simon.
    Interesting how low the reach is on your posts. From my experiences, Facebook is better left as a tool to continue the connections with customers after they use your product(s).