Should my nonprofit break up with Facebook?

In December, we showed you why your Facebook page was suddenly eating it and gave some tips for engagement. It’s time to revisit the issue, with the benefit of a few more months of testing.

Why don’t my Facebook fans see my posts?

Facebook decides what to show on your News Feed using a pretty complicated algorithm called EdgeRank. Put simply, it gives you timely posts that it thinks you are most likely to interact with (based on what you have liked and and commented on previously). In that mix are posts from your friends, advertisements, notices that your friends have interacted with page posts and posts from pages that you are a fan of. (For a more detailed look at EdgeRank, see this Mashable infographic.)

Content posted to a page without boosting (or paying for) it is called an organic post. Once upon a time, Facebook page admins could rely on a good number of their fans being able to see these posts in their news feed. This is no longer the case.

How bad is the Facebook page situation?

With 4.75 billion posts made by users each day, there is a lot of content that could be shown on a user’s stream.

Simply put, the situation for unpaid page posts is getting worse every time we look, and that is terrible news for nonprofits who have already heavily invested time and energy in Facebook and who cannot afford a huge advertising push.

How bad is it? Leading ad agency Ogilvy found that the organic reach of page posts had dropped sharply and was rapidly heading towards zero.

Here’s a horrible graph:

Social@Ogilvy says Facebook organic page reach is swiftly heading towards zero.
Social@Ogilvy says Facebook organic page reach is swiftly heading towards zero.

And here is a terrifying table:

Social@Ogilvy track organic reach since the end of last year.
Social@Ogilvy track organic reach since the end of last year.

So it’s clear we can’t rely on organic page posts any more.

Is it time to break up with Facebook?

This company thinks so. If you’re just getting started in Facebook – especially if your constituents are also on other networks – to be honest, it is probably not worth your time and energy.

However, most of us have already invested considerably in Facebook and it’s still the biggest network out there. I’m sorry to say it but it’s time you made some hard business decisions. You need to consider how many man hours you’re spending and look at your return on investment. How many people are interacting with your posts? How many shares are you getting? How many people are taking action based on your posts? (Website traffic can be a good metric for this.)

If you have no core of supportive people – those folks who always like and comment on your posts, and especially those who share them – it might be time to pull out. You don’t need to delete your page but if you’re getting nothing out of it, for goodness sake don’t waste your donors’ money.

Social media is all about people and influence. If you want to stick it out with Facebook, perhaps it’s time to rethink your social media policy and focus on developing relationships with your fans so they will advocate on your behalf. Treat them like volunteers – and treat your volunteers better.

Concentrate your efforts into turning your core of supportive people into advocates. These are your champions – nurture them. That’s what social media is about.

Is there a way to save my Facebook relationship?

In December, when Facebook dramatically changed its EdgeRank algorithm, I gave three tips for getting your posts seen: to post compelling content, especially pictures; to put your efforts into Facebook groups; and I said that a little bit of well-placed Facebook advertising goes a long way. I’m sorry to say the earth has shifted on us again.

New research indicates that Facebook pictures are not the darling posts they once were. Sure, people are more likely to interact with them once they see them but EdgeRank seems to be edging them out in favor of text-only posts? Why? Probably because so many brand pages know about the photo tip.

I’m happy to say Facebook groups seem to still be holding their own. Group posts go straight to the member’s notifications feed and therefore a compelling message is likely to be noticed more. And if it’s an open group, a member’s interaction with a post (ie: likes and comments) is likely to be shown to their friends. That’s where the good news ends, however. It’s harder to convince someone to join a group than it is to like a page; and everyone’s posts are weighed equally, so you can’t really control what’s happening in the group. Beth Kanter’s blog has some great advice about groups for nonprofits here.

But surely advertising still works? Well, it depends. Many brand pages have been complaining that they can’t compete in highly sought-after spaces like women’s clothing and coffee. Daily deals site Mamabargains, which has 145,000 fans, told PC World that an average post was now only reaching about 3000. CEO Jessica Kurtz said it would have cost $30,000 to reach an estimated 136,000-339,000 people – and most of those were people she used to reach organically when fans saw her posts.

That spells trouble for nonprofits that are using expensive keywords, like those working in healthcare, jobs and housing.

And Facebook’s silence has been deafening despite consistent calls from the nonprofit sector (and a 3000-signature petition) for a Google Adwords-style grants program.

We’d love to know what you think. Vent your frustrations and tell us what you’ve tried.

 

Lyndal Cairns is a nonprofit communications manager looking for work in the San Francisco Bay Area. She also writes on environmental science for the Sciengage blog and is working on a public relations toolkit for independent artists.