Facebook finally admits organic reach is diminishing, but (surprise!), you can buy your way back to relevance.

Last year two of my clients said the impact of their Facebook posts was falling fast. At the same time, I was seeing decreased reach in the two Facebook accounts I manage for clients.

Others — with better analytics than me — noticed the same drop, and while Facebook blustered about “median” reach not changing, I told my clients they’d have to start paying to reach more than a fraction of the audience they’d worked so hard to build.

In fact, it’s just possible I cynically suggested that was Facebook’s plan.

At the time, Facebook denied the changes in reach were designed to force more spending, but AdAge now suggests that’s exactly what they had in mind (you can’t see it, but this is my shocked look):

If they haven’t already, many marketers will soon see the organic reach of their posts on the social network drop off, and this time Facebook is acknowledging it. In a sales deck obtained by Ad Age that was sent out to partners last month, the company states plainly: “We expect organic distribution of an individual page’s posts to gradually decline over time as we continually work to make sure people have a meaningful experience on the site.”

And then the other (paid) shoe drops:

The three-page document also contains a section that repositions how marketers should think about fan acquisition: as a tool for making paid advertising more effective. While free distribution of content is mentioned, it’s the third business benefit listed after “improve advertising effectiveness” (through ads with social context, which is enabled by a substantial fan base) and “lower cost for paid distribution” (since Facebook makes it cheaper to deliver ads with social context.)

In other words, the main reason to acquire fans isn’t to build a free distribution channel for content; it’s to make future Facebook ads work better.

Nice. All that effort you put into acquiring those fans?

That was a warmup. Turns out you can’t reach them — or even a sizable fraction of them — without paying Facebook to do it for you. So all that talk about our role as “publishers” of content turns out to be largely rubbish.

Facebook is still losing ground with teens and new social media channels are popping up daily (like Snapchat), so I’m not sure Facebook’s best move is to make itself less relevant to its users and those footing the bills.

The Bigger Picture

Should Facebook falter and a client decides to move to an emerging platform, how do you download those likes? How do you extract the value of the audience you built on Facebook?

In simple terms, you don’t.

In addition, Facebook controls how your content is seen (and who sees it). It’s their black box, and clearly, they’ll tweak it to suit their needs, not yours.

Meanwhile, my clients — who have largely remained focused on their own platforms (blogs, search, email, etc) — haven’t seen those results plummet. They use Facebook, but could abandon it today without taking too much of a hit.

My peeve with the social media “gurus” who have come to infest small business marketing has always been their lack of long-term vision.

Encouraging organizations to focus on proprietary, walled-kingdom social media platforms they can’t control remains iffy over the long term, especially if that focus comes at the expense of more reliable and controllable channels.

Keep writing (and marketing intelligently), Tom Chandler.