It’s not your imagination: Facebook is getting tougher for animal welfare organizations, nonprofits, and anyone else who operates a Facebook page.
While over the last several years Facebook has emerged as a vibrant platform for promoting pet adoption and reuniting lost pets with their people, recent and long-term changes on the service are making it increasingly difficult for those missions to be fulfilled.
Of course, some changes on Facebook have been helpful for nonprofits, like the introduction of donate buttons and peer-to-peer fundraising. The elevation of video and live-streaming on the platform has been a boon for animal organizations, too.
But beginning back in 2012, Facebook began restricting the number of a page’s followers who would see its posts in their newsfeeds. This restriction has been tightening more each year, and today social media managers are openly discussing what they call “Facebook zero,” the day when that number will hit literal zero for posts that aren’t being promoted as part of Facebook’s paid advertising platform.
While organizations with a few thousand followers may not be feeling the pinch too sharply, pages with hundreds of thousands of followers will find it almost impossible to keep their reach above 2 percent despite utilizing best practices for increased engagement. Facebook is even currently testing having page posts only show up in the newsfeed if they’re promoted, otherwise relegating them to a “pages feed” that will isolate content shared by nonprofits as well as other pages.
Unlike Google, Facebook offers no nonprofit program that might allow animal organizations to promote their posts at no cost to them (although it does have some tips for using the platform here). So what can shelters, rescue organizations, and other animal nonprofits do?
First, pay attention to what Facebook itself tells you about how its newsfeed algorithm works. Make sure you follow their blog, and when you see an announcement, Google it and see what page managers and social media experts have to say about it.
Many groups neglected their websites during the heyday of Facebook, and it’s time to reinvigorate them. Make sure your website is optimized for search engines, particularly Google, and sign up for Google’s Nonprofit Advertising Program to make sure your website gets plenty of exposure in search.
Another communication channel that saw some neglect as Facebook grew in popularity is the mailing list. Email has never stopped being the most effective way to reach your supporters, particularly for fundraising, so be sure you have a robust program in place to build your organization’s mailing list.
Should that diversification include other social platforms? While some organizations have done remarkably well on almost every social media platform out there, almost every one of them has significant drawbacks for a nonprofit looking for a Facebook substitute.
For example, while there is currently considerable adoption activity on Instagram, there are a number of reasons it’s not a good alternative to Facebook. First, it’s owned by Facebook, and is already implementing restrictions on reach and pushing paid promotion. Additionally, Instagram is not a platform designed for the type of connection on which Facebook built its massive user base, so the learning curve is steep for organizations making the switch — a curve that might not be worth it in the long run.
There is one exception: YouTube. Owned by Google, YouTube has a robust platform for nonprofits , designed to help you tell your organization’s story and raise money, too.
YouTube is also enjoying its own heyday right now, and is the third most-visited website in the world, with an increasingly engaged community that spends hours every week watching videos. What’s more, research suggests video is actually more effective than photos for getting pets adopted!
Next, animal organizations and other nonprofits need to accept that Facebook is the largest social network in the world. It’s bigger than all but the biggest nations. Nearly everyone you want to reach is on it, and there’s really no good alternative to it. If at all possible, start learning how to use the Facebook Ad Manager and find some money in your budget to promote your organization’s posts. Done right, Facebook ads are fairly affordable and very effective.
Finally, a few words of hope. Technology is constantly changing, and while it’s unlikely Facebook will go away or that a direct competitor will arise, new opportunities are going to emerge. One of those opportunities may well be the establishment of a Facebook Nonprofit Ad Program, so stay alert and follow both the Facebook media blog and the Facebook business blog, so you can jump on it the minute it launches.