Social Media changes, and how they affect you if you’re trying to build an audience

If you’re an author trying to build an audience, and you’re using social media to do it, you should probably read this. I’m gonna go 100% marketing nerd and drop some knowledge about how Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and more have changed over the last couple of years, and how you’re not reaching as many potential readers as you may think…

Facebook's logo

Facebook first.

Over the past couple of years, Facebook has made a lot of changes to how things show up in people’s feeds. A lot of authors I know created pages in order to separate the things they only wanted to share with close friends and family, and the kinds of content more attuned to their fans and readers in order to grow their audience. This was inline with what just about everyone was suggesting you do at the time – including Facebook itself (and me – I taught more than a few classes about this very topic at various writers conferences).

The concept was: build a page for your brand, whatever that brand may be – including your author brand. Encourage all of your followers to like said page. Then, when you post things on that page, because they liked it and said they were interested in your stuff, the content would show up in their feed. This allowed authors to separate their Facebook social profile into two silos – personal and professional.

Facebook Pages

And almost as soon as just about everyone went to this model, Facebook announced that people were unhappy with seeing so much clutter in their feed from all of these pages and added things like drop downs to check that you wanted to actually see the content from that page you already liked. And that didn’t really work well, either, and Facebook again said feeds were far too cluttered with things people didn’t really want to see and they were gonna clean it all up.

In 2017, this took a dramatic turn and Facebook reduced organic reach on page content to next to nothing – less than 2%. Facebook defines organic reach as: the total number of unique people who were shown your post through unpaid distribution. Originally, if 100 people liked your page, they all saw your content (eventually). Now it was 2 people. At best.

Facebook ad account showing CPM and CPCFacebook’s solution to anyone who had a page and wanted people who liked that page to see the content on it, was to pay for it. Pay to boost your post, and the people who liked your page might see it. Might. It depends on all sorts of algorithms and the auction – which is where they auction off to the highest bidder that space in your audience’s – or potential audience’s – feed. But, it was your best chance to reach those people who you used to reach and maybe even brought to Facebook to follow your updates in the first place. (Facebook appreciates that, btw.)

Which is why Facebook’s CPM (Cost per Thousand impressions) increased by 171% during the first half of 2017, going from $4.12 to $11.17. Impressions just means you’ve paid for people to see the post in their feed. Could you afford $1100 per post to reach the 100 people who liked your page?

There’s also CPC (Cost per Click) which increased 136% from $0.42 to $0.99 during the first six months of 2017. This is what you pay when someone clicks the post they see in their feed.

Which means, if you truly wanted to reach those same people who you used to reach for free, you needed to pay. Or else un-silo your Facebook again. Or create two accounts – one personal, one private.

Then there’s the neat thing where, if you’re trying to get people to see your cool new blog post on your website, Facebook gives preference to things that don’t do that, over things that do. Essentially, Facebook doesn’t like it when people leave Facebook to go read an article, or watch a video. They want people to stay right where they are to do those things – to stay on Facebook. (You may have noticed in the Facebook app on your phone, links now open in a Facebook browser instead of your native or chosen web browser. That’s on purpose.) To encourage people to stay on Facebook, they weight anything that links off of Facebook below things that don’t. So, native Facebook content will always be given preferential treatment over content that lures people off the site/service.

Example: you have a new book trailer you’ve uploaded to YouTube and you want people to see that trailer – especially the large following you have on Facebook. So, you create a post announcing your new book trailer and include the link to YouTube. Because you’re encouraging people to leave Facebook, when it comes time to choose what to display in people’s feeds, Facebook looks at what content is available and sees there are 9 things that don’t take people off of Facebook. It will most likely choose one of those 9 things to display before choosing your video.

Example 2: you have a new book trailer and you upload it to Facebook and share it with people on your wall. When it comes time to choose what to display in people’s feeds, Facebook looks at what content is available and sees you have a new video you’ve uploaded. According to FB algorithms, people LOVE videos in their feed, so it serves up your new book trailer to the people who it thinks will be interested.

And this has moved beyond Facebook.

Instagram KB search

Instagram doesn’t actually let you link to anything in your posts there, only in your profile. Twitter has begun promoting, or featuring even, tweets that would be considered ‘self-contained’ and don’t link off of the service. LinkedIn is another one that is dampening the visibility of anything linking out and away from their site, providing more visibility to anything using their internal blog-type functionality.

(Interlude. Google does this now, too. If you are running a website and you scrub content off of someone else’s website to display on your own site, Google’s punishment will be swift and harsh because you’re an evil, evil person who must be destroyed in all ways possible. However, if you’ve ever searched something like a question on Google (What’s the population of Denver?), and seen how the results displays the answer from some website (682,545 (2015) Sources include: United States Census Bureau), with a link at the bottom that you totally don’t need because Google just gave you the answer right there on the search page (and in the case of my query, a nifty graph) – that’s totally legit because Google says you don’t REALLY want to go to that website to find the answer. You just want the answer. Which they gave you. By scrubbing that site of its content. Which you’re not allowed to do yourself. Clear?

Google search: What's the population of Denver?

End Interlude.)

Which leaves us where, exactly?

They say that content is king. Actually, I believe Bill Gates said it – but the point is still valid. Content, any content, is what people want. Video, books, games, etc. Distribution of that content is evolving (or perhaps devolving) into hundreds of silos all competing for your attention and your money. You have to control the content to keep the people coming back, and there is a LOT of money on the table if you control that content (remember the up 171% stat for advertising CMP at the top of this piece?). Netflix, iTunes, Kindle – these have all been aggregators of other people’s content in the past. Now, they’re becoming content creators or pushing for exclusivity because the licenses they used to enjoy keep getting pulled away from them so the movie studios and music companies can create their own distribution method (new Disney streaming service and KDP Direct, as an example) where they set the price and control everything. Social media has also been an aggregator of content, and now they intend to control it and keep you on their site as much as possible.

How do you still use the systems available to you to grow your audience and reach the people you want to reach moving forward?

1 – Adjust your strategies. You know now that it’s not a level playing field. They want you to keep everything on their turf or else they won’t give your content the exposure you want/need. So, give them some content and don’t link off to your site – but maybe mention your site. “If you want to read more about this, don’t forget to visit my website atfmb dot com.” No link. Will it work? Let’s find out!

WorldCon 2015

2 – Build your own content silos independent of social media. You (most likely) have a website. Do you have a mailing list? (Email, obviously.) If you don’t, start one. Use social media to drive people to subscribe by giving good content and mentioning, “Hey – if you want more great stuff like this, visit my website and sign up for my newsletter.” Again – no links. Appearing at a convention? Tell people there about your website and your email list. tease them with the great content you’re offering up. You can add something like MailChimp to your website with just a couple clicks and they’ll handle the rest for you. Don’t spam people! Write some unique content each month and send it out. Don’t sell, connect. Do giveaways. Engage people. The selling will happen organically.

2B – As part of your independent silos, keep your website fresh and up to date. Add content people want and they will come back to read it and connect with you.

3 – Dump your Facebook page. I know, I know – this is probably the most difficult part, but honestly – unless you have the money to spend to boost your posts there, that page is doing you little good (and keep in mind you are competing not just against other authors when you boost a post, you’re competing against ALL the advertisers jostling for position on Facebook – which is why the CPM jumped so dramatically). Likes on pages do not matter anymore, so why bother with them?

3B – If you want to keep a separation between personal and professional, I strongly suggest using locked lists to manage professional and personal information. My only hesitation here is that you have to be very cognizant of the ‘publicity’ setting, which is the little drop down next to the [Post] button. Forget to check that and you could share something with the wrong crowd.

4 – Start a closed Facebook Group. Right now, Facebook likes Groups. You could offer exclusive access to the closed group to your readers and fans as incentive to join your email newsletter above. But if you do, then you have to post content there that people will want to engage with.

As an added incentive, I wanted to mention that recently, Facebook has said our feeds are still not right, still not what ‘we’ actually want – and they’re going to do more to make the content we see more relevant to what we want. The prediction is that Page content will be reduced to -zero- organic reach in the next weeks and months. Pages will be 100% pay to play, so if your marketing includes having that page, you’re gonna need to add money to the mix an start competing for the very limited space boosted posts allow.

And I think very few authors can afford those tactics.

Ok – that’s it. All I got. Have questions? Leave em in the comments.