Facebook’s Age of Free Marketing May Be Over

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) is planning to scale back the organic reach of its Pages, meaning that business will have to pay up if they want to reach their fans to the extent they’ve become accustomed to, according to a Time report on Saturday.

According to a study profiled in Time, business and celebrity pages reached an estimated 12 percent of their followers through news feed updates in October; that number dropped to just 6 percent by February, and supposedly Facebook execs are planning to scale back the reach of Pages further to a mere 1-2 percent of followers.

The last publicly disclosed figure regarding the percentage of fans that see posts from a typical Facebook page was released in the summer of 2012; at that time, the company said that approximately 16 percent of fans were reached by news feed posts from pages they’d liked.

In December, Facebook finally admitted that posts from pages are reaching less users than previously, which the company said it attributes to increased competition as more and more businesses and celebrities join the social media service. The typical Facebook user sees more than 1,500 posts per day from a combination of friends and Pages; of those 1,500, Facebook selects 300 posts to display on the user’s news feed, Time reports.

Facebook purposefully weeds out memes and posts from Pages first when selecting those 300 posts as part of an initiative to focus on more “high quality” content, according to Time.

It’s possible, however, that aside from an shift towards “higher quality” content, Facebook is hoping that by limiting the reach of Pages, the move will encourage businesses with a Facebook presence to buy advertisements. “Like many mediums, if businesses want to make sure that people see their content, the best strategy is, and has always been, advertising,” a Facebook spokesperson said in an interview with Time.

Facebook’s shift away from free marketing has received some pretty heated backlash on the internet. The tech blog that originally reported on the story, Valleywag, called Facebook’s new restraints on the reach of Pages “the best practical joke of the internet age,” adding that, “Now that companies have taken the bait, Facebook is holding the whole operation hostage.”

Purple Sneakers, an online Australian arts magazine, points out that scaling back the reach of Pages may be just a minor hassle for large groups with tons of revenue to throw at web advertisements, but many of the businesses that use Pages are tiny; artists, indie-label musicians, and small, one-person businesses. What will these businesses do if the  ”free marketing gravy train” suddenly comes skidding to a halt?

While it’s unclear just how big of an impact the shift will have on local businesses, Facebook is right about one thing, Slate.com notes — there’s simply not enough room on your news feed for all of the content Pages want to throw your way. The times they are a-changin’.

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