The writing has been on the wall for a couple of years now. Facebook, needing to more effectively monitise its massive user base, has been gradually changing the way in which content published on brand pages is shared organically with followers – so as to encourage more brands to pay to promote their content. Last year this decline in ‘organic reach’ hit the point where the average organic reach of brand page content was around 6% – and falling fast.
Then came the official statement that from January 2015 Facebook is “bringing new volume and content controls for promotional posts, so people see more of what they want from Pages”. A statement widely seen as heralding the final death of free organic reach for promotional content – and that includes content you publish on your organisation’s branded page promoting fundraising asks.
So, what’s a fundraiser to do in the new ‘Pay to Play’ world of Social Media Promotion?
Well, the first thing is not to panic. Despite repeated rumours of its demise, Facebook remains the most popular social network world-wide (outside China) and older consumers are becoming increasingly active users – which is handy, as they’re the consumers most likely to be donating to charity too. So, while you may well need to change the way you use it (and other social media – as Twitter looks like going the same way) there may well still be a role for Facebook activity in your fundraising programme.
Begin by conducting a careful and honest review of just how well your own Facebook activity is really performing in support of fundraising. Not just in terms of how many Page Likes you’re getting (although we all know how much senior management love those charts), but also assessing how your levels of reach are changing for different types of content, what traffic Facebook is driving to your website, and just what that traffic does when it gets there.
Then, get online and learn about what options exist for targeting paid social content. You’ll find that these range from traditional demographic, lifestyle, interests, and ‘lookalike’ targeting to Custom Audiences through which you can specifically target people who already donate to you. The latter is especially interesting for fundraising – as it offers a targeted Social Media extension to your donor development activity (and several fundraisers I’ve spoken to recently have reported good results from tests of this).
Once you understand the options, allocate a testing budget and design some proper, robust tests to assess the real potential of paid social activity to directly support your fundraising programme. Just as you would with any other paid channel, take the time to look around and talk to other fundraisers to find-out what is and isn’t working – both in terms of targeting and the content and fundraising propositions being used. Aim to make 2015 the year you get some good benchmark data on the potential of paid social for your fundraising – which you can build-on when planning for 2016 and beyond.
Lastly, if you come across anyone who is still under the impression that Social Media is a free extension to their digital fundraising programme then do them a favour and gently bring them up to date with the way the world is changing. As, despite discussion of failing organic reach having been ongoing for a long while now, the belief that ‘Social Media is Free Media’ remains hard to shift in some quarters.
Only time will tell, but I’m hoping the shift towards paid promotion will actually bring a much needed dose of realism to the use of Facebook for fundraising – and so help lead to far greater Social Media fundraising effectiveness overall. For too long the perception that Social is a free engagement channel has led to it being pretty badly managed by many organisations when it comes to fundraising. Now that we need to start paying for it, hopefully it’ll be treated with a bit more rigour and respect – and deliver a lot more income as a result.
This post is the third in a series suggesting things I think fundraisers should have on their 2015 Digital Fundraising To Do List. The first two are: