Facebook's January announcement for fourth quarter 2012 revealed 1.06 billion monthly active users on the site and, with those numbers, marketers expect their reach to be vast within the social network. Instead, they were disappointed. A 10-15% view rate of page posts isn't a number that social media marketers like, especially on the most popular social media platform available on the internet, but many continue to struggle with understanding how to be seen.
Facebook's EdgeRank Algorithm complicates the equation-literally. While the algorithm was put in place back in 2010 (following continued reports from the first years of Facebook that only 0.2% of stories made it to a user's feed), updates to the algorithm over the last several months have made it increasingly more complicated to make an impact using Facebook as a marketing tool. Research, from We Are Social and Socialbakers, shows that reach dropped 40% for the average organic post following the recent EdgeRank updates.
The algorithm has three main elements: affinity (the measurement of the relationship between the individual or company sharing content and the individual on the receiving end), time decay (how long it's been since the content was posted), and weight (the interaction that certain types of posts garner). It's far more complicated than simply understanding these principles and marketers are frustrated that Facebook isn't revealing more. However, most experts agree that abandoning Facebook altogether isn't the answer.
"Look, Facebook is still essential," Chris Warden, CEO of the marketing firm Spread Effect wrote in his December 2012 blog post. "Just like everything else in the Internet marketing world, we need to adapt, learn and custom-tailor our strategy to work with the changes rather than against them. Internet marketers can be real cry babies sometimes."
Warden explains that Facebook maintains secrecy with the algorithm in order to protect its users' experience. The goal, in his opinion, isn't to make money, but to provide Facebook users with the content they will be most engaged by and interested in. "If Facebook were to give out the EdgeRank Algorithm, then marketers would begin to find effective ways of manipulating the results," Warden says. "Facebook wants you to see what they think you care about, not what a marketer has tricked EdgeRank into thinking you care about."
Internet marketing specialist Jon Loomer believes Facebook's intentions with EdgeRank are pure. "There are always going to be ulterior motives," he says. "EdgeRank opens up opportunity for advertising and Facebook is taking advantage of that. But basically, they're trying to make it easier to navigate. I've seen leaked news feeds without filtering and it's chaos. It is to improve user experience but it does open up opportunities to make money."
The problem, according to Loomer, is that marketers aren't as interesting to Facebook users as they think they are and, because they're not seeing anticipated results and don't understand how to get better ones, they're frustrated with EdgeRank.
Tara Rawlins, owner of RAW Marketing, a social media management firm believes Facebook advertising is now key to optimal reach. "I've actually just put verbiage in my proposal to clients regarding EdgeRank," she says. "It's gotten so complicated and requires so much work to obtain a high edgerank that I've now made it a mandatory addition to proposals for companies that want us to manage their Facebook." The proposal text recommends that potential clients budget for advertising on Facebook, so that RAW Marketing can help ensure that the company is "maintaining a Facebook EdgeRank Algorithm higher than the standard 10% that Facebook allots its brand pages."
With that in mind, Rawlins recommends a modest advertising budget, even if it's just $10 a month, to start reaching more people on Facebook. "You should be tracking which of your posts are getting the most traction," Warden adds. "Study that data and make sure you're regularly posting content that your audience cares about."
Across the board, experts agree that Facebook shouldn't be the only digital marketing strategy in a company's arsenal. Warden recommends focusing on a blog and then utilizing social media for distributing content to build an interactive community that will result in a long term marketing asset no one can take away.
"Facebook is where I extend my reach," Loomer says. "I worry about what I can control first-my website and email--and then I reach Facebook. If Facebook changes, it shouldn't be that big of a deal. You should adjust as long as it's beneficial to you."