Pay Up: Facebook is Holding Your Fans Hostage

by Jamie M Swanson

Pay Up Facebook is Holding Your Fans Hostage

One of my biggest pet peeves over the last year has been all the hype about Facebook suddenly charging people to show up in newsfeeds when in reality nothing had changed except that they added the option to get even more views by paying. So you’d get the same views or more, but not less at all.

But last month that all changed, and Facebook finally lived up to all the hype and started charging for views.

Last month, they changed the algorithm to reduce page veiws by 5-40%, although many people (including myself) saw decreases closer to 60% or more on average. This was the case even with really great engagement which was the important part in the past.

That means unless I want to pay to promote my posts, I just effectively lost over half my fans. They’re still there, but they’ll never see my posts. Thanks, Facebook!

To get back my prior amount of views, I’ll have to pay Facebook between $10-20 PER POST to get the same views as before. That gets expensive. Seeing as Facebook is the main source of marketing for many photography businesses, this algorithm change could have a significant impact on your bookings.

So how should we as photographers deal with this? Is it worth promoting posts? What’s the best way to promote something? Let’s jump right in and look at it all.

What exactly is a promoted post?

Sponsored posts are different from past Facebook ads because they lack the targeting options you have with ads, and they show up in the newsfeed instead of just in the sidebar. This means that mobile viewers will see them as well.

They look much like regular posts, with the exception that they are inset just a bit and have the word “Sponsored” at the bottom and give you the option to “like” the page right from that story. Here’s one that is currently in my newsfeed:

What do Facebook Sponsored Posts Look Like

How do I promote a post?

At the bottom of your business page posts, you’ll see a promote button. Click it to get the following options:

Facbook Promote Post Options

The important thing to note here is what audience you select and what your maximum budget is. Make your selections and hit “Promote” and your post will get more views in the newsfeed.

You can track your progress with the quick stats which show up in the bottom left side of the post on your wall and look like this:

Facebook Promoted Post Quick Stats

Or, you can click on the button in the right-hand side to see more detailed statistics:

Facebook Promoted Posts Statistics

Should you promote your posts?

This is the big question, isn’t it?

The first thing you need to do is know what kind of outcome you’d want from promoting a post. Will it actually attract the right type of people to your business and get you the results you want?

Personally, I would only promoted to people who already liked my page because I have seen a few examples and heard complaints from people who have promoted posts to friends as well that they have been getting a lot of spam comments, likes, etc. This is a waste of your money. Lots of comments from people overseas who weren’t in their market at all. Easy as Pie recently had this problem:

Facebook Sponsored Post Gone Wrong

Clearly, if you are paying to have your post in front of people, you want to make sure they are people who are interested in hiring you. Because you can’t target your posts any more specifically than this, I wouldn’t promote to anyone but fans until this gets fixed.

I’d also save promotions for things like mini-session announcements or things that are specifically calling people to book you or make you money. If you’re tagging your clients in your images, they are going to be sharing them either way. Promoting posts to get more fans is also a bad idea, since if Facebook decides to change the algorithm again in the future, you lose a lot of value if they stop showing things to your fans. Fans who don’t see your posts are worthless to your business.

I think it can help you get more clients, but it has to be used wisely or you’re just throwing your money down the drain.

My personal experience with promoted posts

It hasn’t been great. I am currently promoting a sale I’m having right now since I just turned 31 years old on Sunday AND because we hit a huge milestone with over 10,000 email fans this past weekend (WOOT!).

Facebook Birthday Sale Promoted Post and Results

Honestly, the results haven’t been that great. I’m only getting about 20% more pageviews than I normally would, which is pretty low considering I lost about 60% of my views on average. (See the stats above; they come from this post). So I can’t even seem to pay to get my old results back. Super lame, Facebook. I want my fans back!

Let’s test this out

I’d love to do a little experiment with this, but I need your help. In the past, engagement has been the #1 key to getting results. I want to see how it changes the results of this post over the next few days while it is still a “promoted” post.

Here’s what I need you to do. It’ll only take a moment. Thanks for helping!
1. Click here to see the post, then leave a comment (even something as simple as “happy birthday”).

2. Click “like”

3. For bonus points, click “share” and share it on your wall or in a group, explaining the reason we’re doing the experiment or telling people about how awesome my stuff is if you use it and like it.

I’ll track how it changes results from before I publish this and afterwards, and we’ll see how it changes the results. I’ll send them out via email next week for you to see, so if you’re curious you can sign up using the form at the top of the sidebar to the right. ——->

And no, this is not a shameful attempt to get more people wishing me a happy birthday, although I’m shameless enough to do something like that, ha! I’ve been known to make trouble from time to time for sure!

More evil in the works, and some tips for dealing with the present situation

If you want to know more about the algorithm changes, this article talks about the impact, why they did it, and how Facebook’s goal is to have one out of 5 posts in your newsfeed be from sponsored posts!!!!! Dude. That’s a lot of ads. But they need to make money to keep their shareholders happy, so it’s only going to get worse. Here’s the info, as well as how to respond to the new algorithm changes to minimize the impact to your fan page.

Facebook is also looking at adding a pinterest-like feature with “want” and “collect” buttons. Leave it to the big guys to steal a great idea from a startup like Pinterest.

Finally, you also have the option to promote posts you make on your personal profile for $7. I tried this out too, by sharing a story from my page on my personal wall and promoting that, but it had even worse results. Don’t waste your money here AT ALL. The metrics are very poor as well so it’s not worth it one bit, and it didn’t increase engagement at all.

A final word and huge business risk revealed

Facebook has been free for a long time. I understand why they need to make money, and I wouldn’t even be surprised if they start requiring payment for fan pages. Yet it makes everyone angry when they decide to start making us pay for something that has benefited us but has been free in the past because we’ve relied upon it so much.

But here’s the thing that we need to remember. Anytime we base our business marketing on something that is free or run by a third party, they have every right to do anything they want and change anything. We don’t have to like it. They are a business just like we are.

I’d be absolutely livid if I spent lots of money in the past getting more fans, because the new changes would have taken away half or more of the effectiveness of the money I spent.

This is what you risk by building an asset on a third-party platform. They can do anything they want. And if your business has been built on their platforms and rely upon them, they can ruin your entire business.

So instead of relying upon third party platforms to build your business, build your business with things that you control completely and look at these third party platforms as benefits, not assets. Use them, but do not rely upon them.

The Ultimate Photography Website GuideThis is why I so strongly believe that people need to stop using free blogging platforms like blogger and wordpress.COM for their websites, and why it is vitally important to have your own self-hosted photography website using something like wordpress.ORG (not .com) even though it costs you $10 a month or less instead of being free. If this all sounds like gibberish to you, read my beginner’s guide to creating a pro photography website by clicking here.

I also think that every single portrait photographer should be building an email list with a service such as AWeber. That’s an affiliate link because I personally use them and think that they’re the best out there as well as the smartest service to use instead of using a free service like MailChimp, for reasons I’ll be explaining in the following few months. This will be your most important asset, perhaps even more profitable than your own blog for building repeat customers and booking yourself solid.

Any of these free sites or sites where you’re not in control completely carry this risk. Learn from what Facebook has done, use them for what you can, but don’t make them your only source of marketing and advertising or you carry more business risk than you might realize.

Build a smart business that YOU control, so changes to things like Facebook are a mere inconvenience and not a business breaker. Click here to tweet this quote.

How have the changes to Facebook affected you? Leave a comment below and share your experiences!

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Jamie M Swanson is a Madison Wedding Photographer with her husband Brandon. She enjoys photography, loves the business side of things, but truly comes alive by helping others grow their own businesses. Connect with her on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.

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Lea October 16, 2012 at 1:56 pm

Great post! And I’m guilty as charged because I’ve been using a Blogger blog for a couple of years now. I think I’m going to make the switch to a wordpress.org blogsite but frankly, I’m unmotivated to do the work. However, we’ll be moving in only four months or less and I want to have everything in place when we get there so I can hit the ground running!

Jamie M Swanson October 16, 2012 at 2:55 pm

Lots of people do it because it’s free and easy, but many have no idea that it’s a risk. Maybe not a huge one, but it’s there. Better to have all the control for yourself, honestly. I don’t think people believed Facebook would ever truly start charging for usage either, but that certainly has changed.

Kat October 16, 2012 at 4:57 pm

You are 100% correct. While I don’t like the changes [and I can only second the experience you reported with regards to page views], they have every right to implement them. We, in turn, have the right to not focus this much energy on Facebook and look into other avenues.

Jamie M Swanson October 16, 2012 at 5:01 pm

Yes, very true and good point.

Amanda R October 16, 2012 at 5:07 pm

I have to say it’s refreshing to hear someone talk about the Facebook has EVERY RIGHT to charge for it’s services.

They are a business and they need to make money and I would gladly pay for the service as it’s been incredible for my business. It helps ME make money!

We are part of an incredibly exciting shift in our world right now. Think about this 50 years from now – what we’ll be telling our great grandkids that we were born BEFORE the internet and cell phones. And we were some of the first users of Facebook. It’s amazing!

Take time to get to understand this ever changing world and EXPECT it to continue to change. It’s AMAZING!

Jamie M Swanson October 16, 2012 at 6:12 pm

It is pretty incredible how quickly things are changing. I wonder if the internet will even be around in 50 years.

Rachel October 16, 2012 at 5:12 pm

Thank you for posting this. My reach had gone down by nearly 50% and I couldn’t figure out why. Fortunately I subscribe via email or I wouldn’t have even seen this article.

Jamie M Swanson October 16, 2012 at 6:13 pm

This is exactly why I encourage people to subscribe via email to make sure they get the posts. Glad you found it helpful!

Rosie October 16, 2012 at 5:13 pm

Oh…I use Wordpress to host my site with my own domain name. I didn’t realise there’s a wordpress .com and a .org one.
More work :( Hahaha

Jamie M Swanson October 16, 2012 at 6:15 pm

Once you buy hosting and install wordpress and a theme on it, it’s very easy to transfer your current wordpress.com content to your own self-hosted version. If you host with a place like Site 5 they can help you walk through the process. That’s who I use, and I highly recommend them.

eric October 16, 2012 at 5:13 pm

I have said it before and will say it again. Facebook sucks and it is for wannabe photographers. Not full time working PRO’s. Use your own website, blog, and direct mail pieces. Get your butt up out of the chair and find out who you should market to and create something special for just your studio. Wait a minute, you do have a studio don’t you and not work out of your house, correct? Oh now I see your problem, come on people, lets be professional about this, would you go visit your eye doctor at the local Starbucks? Would you visit FB to view work from your seamstress? Facebook is NOT a form of advertising that is worthy of my dollar for my studio.

Dave C October 16, 2012 at 5:42 pm

Eric, I beg to differ. Photographers, and most photographer vendors are currently seeing most of their site traffic and buyers through Facebook. Some of that may be because they let their blog site get stale, but don’t underestimate the business value of a facebook page.

Bogdan October 16, 2012 at 5:50 pm

The business value of a Facebook page just took a nosedive. Sorry. They went from free to stupid expensive in one shot. I don’t mind paying for any service (heck I charge money for service) but $30 in Google ads reach now MUCH farther.

Jamie M Swanson October 16, 2012 at 6:16 pm

I agree with Dave C, it still has value even if you don’t pay for something, just not as much. Huge value in fact. But it shouldn’t be your ONLY avenue to marketing or showing off your work by any means.

Megan October 17, 2012 at 5:43 pm

Eric, what’s wrong having a studio in your home? I’m spending a lot of money for construction of a nice studio in my home. And… FYI… Small businesses do run out of family homes. You’re not better than anyone else.

Megan October 17, 2012 at 5:47 pm

Eric! What is wrong having a studio in your home?? Many small businesses run out of family homes. And for myself, I’m spending a lot of money for the construction of a studio in my home. You’re not better than everyone else.

Robert October 18, 2012 at 3:04 pm

Oh Megan, of course Eric is better then all of us. Just ask him. There are all level of togs in various types of studios, home and commercial space, as well as no studio at all. Some part time pro, some full time pro. Some not so at being a tog, some phenomenal at being a tog. It takes all kinds to service the same variety of consumers seeking our service. Everyone needs to quit knocking the other and do what they can to improve their own skills and business.

Becki Dickinson October 16, 2012 at 5:13 pm

Excellent points. Having control of your own site makes you less susceptible to the whims of Facebook and other free services.

Jamie M Swanson October 16, 2012 at 6:17 pm

Yup, I agree. Obviously. ;)

Scott October 16, 2012 at 5:17 pm

100% in agreement with you!

Trying to build marketing equity on ANY third party platform (what Copyblogger rightly refers to as “digital sharecropping” <- love that phrase) — http://www.copyblogger.com/digital-sharecropping/ — is not a good strategy.

Your suggestions are almost exactly what we recommend to our own clients.

While it's tough to forgo the "instant gratification" and general hug-fest of Facebook, building your audience on your own "digital real estate" is the BEST long-term marketing strategy (harder but better).

Always enjoy your posts and your breakdown of this issue.

Jamie M Swanson October 16, 2012 at 5:31 pm

Thanks Scott. I certainly learned this from copyblogger – they influenced me heavily at the start of my business and I follow their models for online business pretty closely. They have some brilliant folks over there. :)

Bogdan October 16, 2012 at 5:20 pm

They have a right to make money, no doubt but under the new rules events like the “Arab Spring” would have never happened… The power of social media as a social tool draws from the reach one can have thru it. Facebook simply ceased to be that once the new rule hit and that’s unfortunate. As a wedding photog and page owner I can see the outrage of all the ones who spent money in getting now useless fans and I can also say they have every right to charge whatever they see fit. I deplore however it’s death as a democratic social change tool.

Jamie M Swanson October 16, 2012 at 6:19 pm

It will be interesting to see how things play out, honestly. I think if they aren’t careful, they could really hurt themselves with this, but facebook hasn’t ever really cared TOO much about what anyone thinks, and now all they have to do is worry about what shareholders think which means they may not make the best decisions for the actual users.

Hayley October 16, 2012 at 5:23 pm

Isnt that always the way. change for the sake of change just when i am getting used to something. But its ok because as you say it is a free service so therefore they can change it any way they like. And i firmly believe that as with any change we will not only get used to it but figure out a way to use it to our advantage

Jamie M Swanson October 16, 2012 at 6:21 pm

Well, it’s not really change for the sake of change. The took on shareholders and went public with the company, which means they now have to hit profit goals or their stock plummets and shareholders get mad and it can hurt them significantly.

But your outlook on adapting and using it as best as we can is the best one to have. I’m sure once they get some of the bugs figured out that there’ll be benefit to promoting SOME stuff in some circumstances, but certainly not everything. I guess we’ll see.

David Walters October 16, 2012 at 6:23 pm

Imagine if GOOGLE decided to charge…email, documents, places, analytics.

Looking forward to the MailChimp vs AWeber.

Jamie M Swanson October 16, 2012 at 6:26 pm

MailChimp is a great service; but you have to pay to use their autoresponders and that’s where the true benefits for photographers lie. But more will come on this in the future. :)

Naomi October 16, 2012 at 9:25 pm

I had heard rumors of this, but didn’t really understand how it truly messed up things. Thanks for the great article! Reminds me again that while Facebook is good for some things, shutting off the computer for awhile and getting out there and meeting people face to face is where the best business building things can happen!

Jamie M Swanson October 16, 2012 at 9:44 pm

It’s worse than I expected, but oh well I guess. Just glad I didn’t build a huge dependency on it.

Christy Peterson October 17, 2012 at 12:42 am

Facebook hasn’t seemed to help me get business from people I didn’t already know, but I just launched this year. I did notice my reach went waaaay down and didn’t understand why. ugh. I am now motivated to build email subscribers; I didn’t do that before thinking FB would take care of it. Silly me, thanks for the hit over the head. I agree, we all need to put more energy and plans into local networking instead of being concerned about the next FB update.

Thanks Jamie!

Jamie M Swanson October 17, 2012 at 11:47 am

You’re welcome. Better to realize it now than a few years from now after building it up super big only to see it get hurt like this with no warning.

Mariah B October 23, 2012 at 4:12 pm

“I’d be absolutely livid if I spent lots of money in the past getting more fans, because the new changes would have taken away half or more of the effectiveness of the money I spent.”

This is my life. Sigh. I’ve used traditional Facebook marketing (the ads along the side) over the past year or so to reach brides, but have expanded my fan base because of that. It’s time to sit down, re-evaulate my marketing/social reach strategies, change my blogger blog over to a .com/blog site, and rely so much less on Facebook.

Jamie M Swanson October 23, 2012 at 5:30 pm

Ouch, Mariah. Sorry to hear that. Hope you find something that works just as well.

venkatesh October 26, 2012 at 1:58 am

My fan page has 63K + fans and now note even 10% of them are getting the posts from my page!! :(

Jamie M Swanson October 26, 2012 at 8:49 am

Yeah, it’s really brutal. Sorry to hear you are having that strong of a response to it.

Alana October 26, 2012 at 7:12 pm

hey Jamie! great article–it was floating around Clickin Moms. i’d love to hear your ideas (maybe in another blog post?!) about other avenues for online marketing. you mentioned blogs, websites, and newsletters (specifically AWeber) but what else? what do you do for digital marketing??

thanks again!

Jamie M Swanson October 26, 2012 at 8:33 pm

Hi Alana,

Fun to hear it was over on CM. I’m a member over there but hardly ever have the time to stop by. Oh well.

I’m actually planning an entire series on marketing coming up over the slow season (for those of us in the northern hemisphere, at least) since that’s when people have more time to actually do it, so hang tight and you’ll see more marketing posts coming soon. :)

Alana October 27, 2012 at 7:39 am

oh goodie! i’ll be sure to look out for those. thanks!

also, i am reading this article: http://dangerousminds.net/comments/facebook_i_want_my_friends_back

it at least makes my frustrations w/facebook feel valid. ;)

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