Once upon a time, the Internet was like the Wild West. This new frontier was populated by social networks that grew their populations while living off startup funding like little towns built around prospectors in search of gold. It was an exciting place for companies that wanted to more affordably market their goods and services. They were free from the shackles of having to pay for getting their message out through conventional media channels like newspaper, radio, TV and billboard advertising.

Facebook currently sits on the throne as the social media platform that even your grandmother is finding her way on. Like any company, Facebook has to have a business model to avoid becoming a ghost town. To users, it is still a free service — although, as the saying goes, “if you aren’t paying for it, you ARE the product”; their eyeballs being what Facebook pitches to advertisers.

To encourage Chattanooga TN businesses and brands to pay up, Facebook began limiting organic reach, lowering the number of any given Page’s followers who are able to see posts from that Page in their personal News Feeds. Adjustments in Facebook algorithms have reduced organic reach for non-paying business pages from 16 percent in 2012 down to 2 percent in February 2014, according to a White Paper published by ad agency Ogilvy & Mather.

In a sense, this would be equivalent to a realtor welcoming you to build a house on free land where all of your friends live and then charging a fee to lower a fence if you ever want to talk to them in the backyard. The landlord sets the rules…

Similarly, Google uses algorithms when churning up search results that can virtually bury a website in a competitive market if it isn’t optimized, rarely updated and not very useful to anyone. To guarantee that your business gets found by people on Google precisely when they’re searching for the things that you offer, you can either buy AdWords or optimize your website or, ideally, both.

The free ride is over, but there’s a reason (other than just making money) why social networks and search engines filter what their users see. Like a Cul-de-sac that might see an exodus and a dip on property values if a loud neighbor moves in, social networks have a vested interest in keeping their platforms appealing to users. People go on Facebook to see what their friends are up to, not to get bombarded with sales pitches from a horde of stores. They can turn on their television for that.

Facebook’s limits on organic reach give brands incentive to share information that is of actual value to human beings – content that is interesting, engaging, hilarious, memorable, educational, or helpful rather than merely promotional. Google’s formula for search results penalizes companies that try to game the system while it rewards those who engage with relevant information.

Facebook has changed the rules for brands’ pages, banning practices that required users to “Like” a page before they could enter a contest, for example. The social network continues its push to smother lazy posts that promote brands without offering much of use to the users they’re targeting. Facebook routinely rejects posts that Page administrators want to pay to promote if the amount of text on a photo is not limited to under 20% of the space because they don’t want users News Feeds to look like a stretch of highway packed with obnoxious billboards.

Twitter, which flows updates from people you follow in real-time, announced on Nov. 12th that it is also planning to shift to an algorithm-controlled timeline that’s more akin to Facebook’s News Feed.

How are brands to adjust? Obviously, they need to be a lot more strategic in what they post and how often they do it. They need to focus on building engagement with users rather than simply collecting their Likes. They need to post compelling photos and videos that get shared. They need to experiment and study reports to figure out when their users are most likely to be reading their newsfeeds. In short, they need to blend in with a voice like casual users but focus like advertisers. Some posts can serve to simply express a voice or share something amusing. And yes, occasionally that means paying to promote posts if they want them to be seen by the largest possible number of people.

It is wise to diversify a brand’s social media presence. Putting all of your eggs in the Facebook basket – i.e., spending too much time focusing on building your number of Page Likes — could become costly if you want to actually reach them. There are other online communities (Google+, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, niche forums and message boards) that welcome brands as they grow their user bases. Companies also need to grow their email subscriber lists, update blogs on their websites to stay fresh and publish regular newsletters that link to those blog posts so they aren’t completely dependent upon any social network to speak directly to their customers.

Marketing firms like Riverworks stay on top of these developments to help brands improve their organic Facebook reach and their Google search results. While it becomes more challenging every day to drive eyeballs and ears to messages on social media, we work to drive engagement with brands to increase their recognition and authority, improve brand loyalty, drive buyers to act, capture traffic from search engines, and enrich the relationship with their customers.

To learn more about the ways we can help your company, call us at (423) 710.3855 or email info@riverworks.biz

Written by Steven Stiefel