It’s no secret that Facebook has been shutting off the free tap of organic reach to brand fans. Perhaps it was naive to think that a private company that has attracted nearly a fifth of the Earth’s population as customers would let marketers advertise to those people for free. It was nice while it lasted, but it’s coming to an end.
What now? Was all of the time and energy marketers invested in building Facebook communities a total waste? Should you leave Facebook like Eat24 did? No, I don’t think so. Smart referral marketing gives you two ways to make Facebook worth your while — and drive measurable revenue from it.
First some numbers. Facebook dropped organic reach to about 16% of brands’ fans in 2012 and further in 2013. By February 2014, according to an analysis by Social@Ogilvy, it sat at 6% for the average brand page and a miniscule 2% for brand pages with over 500,000 Likes. Word has it Facebook will continue to whittle reach down to levels as low as 1% or 2%. (For more analysis, you could do a lot worse than the Social@Ogilvy Facebook Zero whitepaper or Sam Biddle’s thoughts at ValleyWag.)
The first way referral marketing mitigates this decline is by taking the paid advertising you’ll need to reach a meaningful portion of your fans and amplifying its reach virally. It works like this: you purchase targeted Facebook advertising that directs your fans to your Facebook page, where you’ve set up a referral campaign that rewards customers for referring their friends on Facebook. Paying, of course, ensures you visibility among your fans that’s higher than anything you would have gotten organically since at least 2012.
And incentivizing your customers to share their referrals on their personal pages means that you’ll get unrestricted visibility in their friends’ feeds, which a free post from your brand simply can’t match. My referral of Nomad is an example: my friend Allan saw my post and was compelled to comment on how great their product is. (By the way, yes, Nomad is an Extole customer, but my referral was genuine. Their portable smartphone chargers are brilliant. Use my referral link to get yourself one.)
The second way referral marketing helps you on Facebook is through running a referral campaign from your site. By incentivizing your site visitors to refer friends on Facebook, you again drive an organic level of visibility through their personal pages. (And in this case you don’t even have to pay Facebook to reach fans with ads in the first place.)
Referral marketing on Facebook also has something else going for it beyond extended reach: namely, trust. Even if your brand post were able to reach the same size audience that your customers’ personal posts can, the people who see them treat them very differently. Posts by brands about themselves are sales pitches. Posts by customers, on the other hand, are personal recommendations among friends. (Allan probably wouldn’t have taken the time to comment on a post from Nomad themselves, but he did sing their praises on my post about them.) As a brand, you can have followers on Facebook, but you can never have friends. Your customers have friends. Referral marketing lets you leverage the trust they have with their friends in a way no other marketing channel can.
The free Facebook ride looks like it’s almost over. Facebook Zero is coming. But that doesn’t mean you’ve invested in Facebook for nothing. Referral marketing can help you do Facebook really right.