Facebook and Instagram are Pay to Play, Not Social Media Anymore

On the first day, there was Facebook and it was good. On the second day there was Instagram and it was better. On the third day, the board members decided not to let anybody have decent marketing on either for free, and it was worse. But is it dead?

Being relatively new to the social media advertising game, I have to more or less take the word of the old-timers here when they say that organic Facebook marketing used to net you likes and follows as long as you put out good content. Being even later to the Instagram game, one sees years-old profiles with tens of thousands of followers, putting out marginal content, and the myths of hashtag glory fuelling dozens or hundreds of followers a day start to ring true.

We have recently both taken over established brands’ social media and launched brands from the first post, so we can provide some insight into how the platforms have changed. Through managing social media as well as providing digital marketing for a variety of insights, we have some first hand insights into just how tough it’s become.

To start with Facebook, in the last year and a half we took over social media for brands with over 1500 followers each. We would do our daily, or 3-4 posts per week quota, and would see numbers like 38 impressions, 131 impressions and zero engagement. Now we understand that upon acquiring Instagram, Facebook has become more about solidifying your brand rather than expanding it, so you won’t be attracting new clients organically, per se. Fine, but what about our existing followers, how are the posts not being shown to them? The answer as Facebook would tell you is that organic reach dropping to below 2% in some cases is a result of ever increasing amounts of users on news feeds, thus making the odds of your post being seen drop. Of course, Facebook is pushing for ever increasing amounts of users because they’ve altered the algorithms in order to make it a paid advertising platform, rather than organic reach. That’s all well and good, it’s their company and they have quarterly reports to juice. Hold on for a solution while we address Instagram…

…which has essentially suffered the same fate. Whereas even a year ago we run a campaign from the first post of an account, using hashtags to grow an audience and we’d get dozens of new followers per day. But as recently as yesterday (December 12), a new update to Instagram revealed what to me is a disturbing trend: under “View Insights” it now shows how many of your impressions come from hashtags versus your followers. I should digress here; a year or more ago on our company Instagram page we would routinely get multiple thousand impressions and 70-100 likes. Now we get the same amount of likes but 1/5 the impressions, with double the followers. Also, pages we’re running get at most 200 impressions per post, but routinely 60-100 likes. Back to the View Insights issue, only 1/4-1/3 of our impressions are from hashtags, and only between 1/3-1/2 of our organic-to this point-followers base sees our posts. So your followers see it less, and hashtags don’t produce enough organic impressions anymore to build a follower base. So how to build an organic follower base in the new algorithm age of Instagram? You can’t, short of being a well established brand or having some degree of fame.

The point is, now that we’re all addicted to crack, the dealer is making us pay. This is understandable, maybe even expected. But how to navigate this new paradigm? The reality is you now need paid ads, strategically placed and bought. This doesn’t mean clients need to spend tens of thousands of dollars, but you need to put in more work to discover how to target for your product, what works as an ad, what is too “selly” and be vigilant to the trends within Ads Manager. This doesn’t mean no one needs a regular Instagram or Facebook posting schedule; it shows stability of a company and helps craft brand awareness. Imagine seeing a good ad then checking their Instagram or Facebook pages and only seeing a post every two weeks. But the days of passing oneself off as an organic social media wizard are more than likely over.

A better understanding is that Facebook and Instagram are now fully established advertising platforms, rather than social media. Their raison d’etre is to SELL ads, not let you reap the benefits of their platform for free. It was too good to last, and it didn’t. As potential clients of a social media marketing firm, understand that anyone promising truly organic growth-especially from a new brand/ company/ product is either fooling themselves or you. You will need to maintain “social media” pages, but if the bulk of your expenditure isn’t going towards ads and ad management (the “new” social media management), you’re wasting your money and time.

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