In a recent test of the emerging “Explore” feed in the news feed, Facebook reportedly experimented with removing non-promoted posts from Pages out of the news feed entirely.
This change, as reported initially by Filip Struhárik, a journalist at Slovakian newspaper Dennik N, applied to users in Slovakia, Sri Lanka, Serbia, Bolivia, Guatemala and Cambodia, and apparently led to one of the biggest drops in traffic for Pages in those countries the world has seen to date - and that could be huge for businesses of all sizes on Facebook.
This shift in the news feed would essentially make Pages pay-to-play only for businesses, cutting out those free organic posts in favor of promoted posts only. That would mean saying goodbye to daily updates for free - businesses big and small would have to pay for everything they post.
Facebook has since gone on to do what is does best - duck, and cover for the drop in traffic. In a recent clarification just a few days after Struhárik's scoop, Facebook's Head of News Feed Adam Mosseri stressed that the test was limited to only those countries, with “no plans to roll this test out further.” It’s all part of Facebook’s goal to make the news feed as relevant as possible for users, he says, which usually means prioritizing posts by family and friends and pushing Pages to fight harder for attention.
This isn’t really all that surprising.
Organic Page traffic has been on a downward spiral for several years now, thanks to a combination of saturated Page likes for the average user and Facebook’s stop-gap efforts to slow the drop in organic posts from users.
One recent Guardian article on the change quotes Matt Littunen, an analyst from Enders Analysis who calls the shift “the classic Facebook playbook: first give lots of organic reach to one content type, then they have to pay for reach, then they can only get through to anyone by paying.”
While the change to the news feed might only be temporary for now, there’s really no reason to think Facebook wouldn’t be looking to move in this direction on a more permanent scale worldwide. Organic reach is declining, and Facebook is actively trying to combat the impression that the platform has become all ads - mainly, by directly targeting spammy and sales-pitch content to do so.
Call us crazy, but this seems like an awfully good way to shut out small businesses from the Facebook game, especially when the barrier of entry is raised to the point where the big dogs can just steamroll over anyone without a smart paid posting strategy.
If you don’t already have a dedicated paid ad spend as part of your Facebook strategy, now is definitely the time to start looking into paid posting. After all, you don’t want to be left behind when that paywall goes up.
UPDATE 10/25/17: People are taking this really seriously. Hold onto your hats for this one, folks.