Facebook: the new media outlet. And why that sucks.

UPDATED: As hoped, Facebook has changed the rules I outlined below for promoted posts. Now, instead of requiring a page to have 400 likes to promote a post (to ensure all your followers are actually seeing that post), a business page only needs 100 likes. Granted, you still have to get to 100, but that’s far more achievable. Put promoted posts back in the marketing budget for your smaller companies, folks!

Facebook has consistently made changes over the years, but the latest changes are a money grab, and they’re leaving small businesses out in the cold in some cases.

While you may be keeping up with the Instagram privacy debacle (owned by Facebook) as well as Facebook’s messaging cash cow idea, you may have missed how some of the current changes have a real-world impact on small businesses.

Let me give you a true scenario to paint the picture. I was recently attempting to launch a campaign on behalf of a small client with a niche demographic, and realized these ugly truths:

1. Business page posts are seen by only a percentage of those who “like” a page. Facebook changed the algorithm on user’s timelines this year, stating that the content they believe each user finds most important will rise to the top of their timeline. So, if someone likes your page, but tends to talk to Shirley, Rose, and grandma most, your posts likely won’t show up. How will they learn about your latest specials or newest products? They’ll have to actively seek it.

A couple of months ago, when I looked at post stats for the client in question, the number of people who actually saw each post was about 15-20% of the total people who liked the page.

2. So the clever solution prior to today? Pay for promoted posts to ensure all your fans see it. Of course! Brilliant. When I looked at doing so two months ago, I’d only have to spend about $3 per post to ensure all followers saw it. It still seemed a bit underhanded to force a business’ hand to pay in order to be seen, but the inexpensiveness for this small client made it a decent compromise. Especially since we didn’t want folks to miss out on the most popular deal of the year.

Then the rules changed again…

3. Oh snap: small businesses can no longer pay for promoted posts if they have <400 likes. [UPDATE – SEE THE TOP OF THIS POST]. It’s not even an option. So, imagine you’re a small business starting out, you only have 100 likes so far, and you need to spread the word organically. You’re not going to accomplish it on Facebook, because only a percentage of the people who actually like your page will see your posts. That equates to fewer people to help spread the word about you. AND you now have no option to post to every fan via a paid option. You’re swimming against the tide.

What do you do now? Well, you can buy Facebook advertising in the hopes of getting more likes, or utilize a service that buys likes (which can often be fake accounts, so what’s the point?). But let’s just say you take this route…

4. You finally get to 400 likes, now what? You pay more. Now that you’ve reached 400 likes, yay! You can pay to have every one of them see your posts via promoted posts. Finally. BUT…Facebook charges by number of people who like your page. The more likes, the more you’ll pay for a promoted post. So now that you’re at 400, your cost went up. Imagine you have a tens of thousands of followers, but are still only getting to a small percentage of them and want to promote a post. Ouch!

And if you bought a service to get more likes for your page, you’re now advertising to a percentage of folks who aren’t real leads. Your cost per acquisition just went up.

Added *bonus*: Facebook is launching autoplay video ads in the Spring of 2013. In case you missed it earlier this week, it appears Facebook is going to allow advertisers to disrupt the user experience with video ads that automatically play, just like you’d experience watching TV, Hulu, or reading some online news sites.

Facebook in its need to profit has quickly become a media outlet rather than a social media platform. We were all big fans of it back in the day because it allowed small businesses with small budgets to grow organically from a local fan base.

But those days are apparently gone, at least in this marketer’s view. I’m sure what I’ve written here will become obsolete in the coming weeks as Facebook makes even more changes, but I can guess they’ll still be going for the gold in them thar hills. As for our client? Facebook will get less attention in the marketing mix. Time and money are probably best spent elsewhere.

Do you think Facebook is still a viable marketing tool for small businesses? And if so, what creative ways around these new challenges have worked for you?