Is Facebook’s Free Ride Over for Nutrition Firms?

January 30, 2015

Four ways nutrition marketers can still find value in Facebook advertising.

Nutrition brands are still smarting over Facebook’s 2013 decision to severely limit their ability to advertise for free over the network.

It’s virtually impossible now for nutrition brands to make promotional posts to their Facebook home pages and expect those posts to appear in the Facebook news feeds of everyone who has “liked” their brand on Facebook.

Instead, Facebook distributes only a tiny fraction of those posts to the news feeds of people who have “liked” the brand. If nutrition brands want to reach all their followers, they now have to pay Facebook to “boost” their promotional post to everyone who has “liked” their brand.

“Facebook wants us to pay for real estate that we used to get for free,” said Leslie Nuccio, creative strategist for Meltwater, in the company’s blog. Meltwater is a social media monitoring and press relations firm that helps Campbell’s Soup market its heart-healthy line of soups.

Before the policy change, there was no reason for nutrition brands and other businesses not to love the Facebook “like” system. Any person who clicked a button and “liked” a nutrition industry business on Facebook regularly received posts from that business in their Facebook news feed.

The “like” was a marketer’s dream. It allowed a nutrition brand on Facebook to stay in constant-sometimes daily-contact with customers by sending out interesting posts related to their product or services. Indeed, even a major vitamin and supplement maker that had 300,000 people who “liked” their business page on Facebook could post a text-and-image message to the social network, and all 300,000 people who were followers of their business on Facebook would see that message at absolutely no cost to the business. (Read more below.)

 

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The smartest of these businesses also quickly realized that the way to stay “liked” among current and potential customers was to engage in an authentic “conversation” with Facebook users, rather than launch old-school posts in promotional blast form. In the technical jargon of marketing, this ability to send posts for free to everyone who “liked” your business page on Facebook is known as “organic reach.”

Sadly, that cozy relationship between businesses and Facebook users began to degrade about two years ago when Facebook decided to severely throttle the reach of posts that businesses were sending people who had “liked” their page.

The result: these days, as little as 6% or less of people who have “liked” a business page on Facebook actually receive any particular post that the business sends over the social network, according to an article by Marshall Manson, a managing director an Ogilvy & Mather, an advertising firm that helps Coca-Cola market its Vitaminwater, Powerade, and other nutritional drinks. Moreover, Manson predicted that it’s “only a matter of time” before the organic reach of businesses on Facebook will plummet to zero.

Officially, Facebook insists that the reason businesses on the social network are now only reaching a fraction of the people they used to reach is due to an enhanced content-filtering process the social network has been fine-tuning during the past year.

Essentially, Facebook says its users are being inundated with too much content on a daily basis from both businesses and other users. So the social network is increasingly filtering the content that shows up in users’ news feeds based on the data Facebook finds in those users’ Facebook profiles and in their activity on Facebook.

“Rather than showing people all possible content, news feed is designed to show each person on Facebook the content that’s most relevant to them,” said Brian Boland, lead, ads marketing team at Facebook, on Facebook’s website. “To choose which stories to show, news feed ranks each possible story-from more to less important-by looking at thousands of factors relative to each person.”

This filtering process is an entirely benign, entirely innocent attempt by Facebook to ensure that Facebook users’ news feed is absolutely as relevant and interesting as humanely possible, according to Facebook’s Boland.

“In our tests, we’ve always found that the news feed ranking system offers people a better, more engaging experience on Facebook,” Boland said. “We’ve gotten better at showing high-quality content. And we’ve cleaned up news feed spam.”

Maybe so.

But in the view of many nutrition brands and other businesses that have spent thousands upon thousands of dollars over the years reaching out to Facebook users-cajoling them, tempting them, rewarding them-to “like” their business pages, Facebook’s move to severely limit their ability to post to those Facebook followers feels more like a bait-and-switch.

“To be fair to the brands here, Facebook has put on a real dog-and-pony show over the past several years to convince companies that building up their followers is a great idea and that the big payoff is the earned media [free distribution of posts] that we were getting in those news feeds,” said Meltwater’s Nuccio in her blog.

Indeed, Facebook’s Boland was quick to note that any business that wants to override Facebook’s content-filtering system and get a post into the news feed of all the people who have “liked” their business page on Facebook can still do so.

You just have to pay for it now.

In Facebook terms, that override is referred to as the aforementioned “boost.” And it’s available to any nutrition brand that is willing to pay for that added reach-often billed on a per-thousand-user rate scheme.

Again, this “option” smells more like a bait-and-switch to many Facebook business users. But like it or hate it, Facebook's “boosts” and its trumped-up content-filtering system appears to be here to stay for the long haul.

While it may take many nutrition brands some time to cotton to that new reality, they still have some ways right now to deal with the new regime. Click below to read four top tips for Facebook advertising success.

 

4 Tips for Effective Facebook Advertising

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Joe Dysart is an Internet speaker and business consultant based in Manhattan.

 

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