Community Building

Why Facebook can no longer help you with user acquisition nor engagement

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Acquiring new users is as simple as setting up a Facebook Page. Or is it?

Once upon a time, there was an amazing tool for user acquisition

User acquisition is the act of onboarding new members in your community; getting fresh blood. In the early days of any community, acquisition is more important than retention, simply because you need enough members to get your community started. Without acquisition, there is no community.

Now, in order to acquire new users, one needs to go where the potential users are. Thanks to all the online and mobile social networks, acquiring new users is as simple as setting up a Facebook Page. Or is it?

There was a time when this statement was true. I believed in it. But I now feel like a frog in boiling water

The frog in the boiling water

It is an urban legend: put a frog in a pot of boiling water and it will immediately jump out. But put the frog in cool water, and slowly increase its temperature. The frog remains in the water and boils to death.

Similarly, there was a time when Facebook was the nirvana for user acquisition. You could very easily set up a Facebook Page, grow a user base, and post content that you knew would reach the majority of your users. Sigh.

But time has passed, and several factors now completely hinder acquisition and retention.

1. More and more users on the platform

It’s good to have more users on the platform. More potential members for your community, right? Well, yes and no: although more users means easier acquisition, it also means that for each user, there are more friends, more posts, and less chances for your own posts to be viewed at all by your fans. The flow of data is just too swift.

And then there are priorities. Have you noticed how sometimes when you refresh your Facebook stream, you can no longer find a post you read one minute before? No matter how far back you scroll? Facebook cannot show it all, there’s just too much. So it picks the posts it believes you may like the most. Cool? But what happens to own posts? Are your page’s posts really considered as the ones your users may like the most? Don’t kid yourself. The post of a friend of your user will always have priority over your page’s one. Last year, Facebook announced it would make it possible for users to have a some control over what they will see first in their feed. This is a great step forward for users. Not so great for your page.

Now because of this incessant flow of information and the way it is prioritized, the best way today to acquire new fans on your page is to advertize it. Sure, you have to pay for that, but it’s actually not so expensive to gather likes. Ok, fine.

2. Less and less freedom of action

There was a time when going viral on Facebook was easy. Remember the first Facebook page you liked? Or the first game your friends played? Especially for Facebook apps, I remember literally drowning in friend requests, invitations, gifts, shared achievements, and other impossible posts appearing on my own timeline! What a time of abundance for game developers, brand managers and advertisers! But all good things must come to an end. And Facebook, slowly but surely, increased the water’s temperature. It tightened the noose around businesses’ necks to a point where today, you have to take out your credit card if you wish to make sure you reach your audience.

Wait. Let’s just rewind and repat:

You. Have. To. Pay. To. Reach. Your. Audience.

Mmh. So, you pay to acquire users. And then, you pay to reach them. Does any of this sound right to you? I’m not done yet. Keep reading.

3. Access to data

As Facebook makes it harder and harder to get visibility on its platform, it’s also starting to make it harder and harder for thirdparty developers to access user data with its API. I know that first hand: at Minsh, we offer community managers to sync their own Facebook Page with our app: a new post on Facebook automatically becomes a new post in the app. Neat! Yes, except that in order to do this, we have to use an older version of Facebook API, because the new one doesn’t allow us to do so. Yes, in a not so distant future, it will be impossible to integrate with Facebook in such a way.

Here’s a concrete example. This is a recent public post my friend Ryan published on his Facebook Page ‘Jigyasa The School’.

A public post on a Facebook page

Here’s the information one can still obtain using version 2.3 of Facebook API:

Facebook API v.2.4

This is pretty cool. You get the content of the post, the link to its image, links for calls to action (if you’d like people to like the post for instance), name of who liked the content, and some more information.

Facebook API v.2.3 will no longer be supported as of July 2017. We’ll have to switch to version 2.4. Here’s the information one can get using version 2.4 of Facebook API:

Facebook API v.2.4

We’ve started investigating, and my tech person tells me it may still be possible to find the picture, but it will require some hard work. Some other information simply won’t be available at all. Why is Facebook doing this? I can only assume they want users to consume content only on their platform.

So in summary: you pay to acquire users. Then you pay to reach your users. And oh by the way, it is becoming more difficult to do anything with your users outside the platform.

So what now?

I know I’m biased. It’s impossible for me to be objective considering what I do at Minsh. But seriously: when the platform makes you pay to get new users, pay some more to reach them, and makes it difficult for you to access the data, Something is rotten in the State of social media.

Dedicated online or mobile communities are tough on you, especially for user acquisition. But once you have acquired users, you never have to pay ever again to reach them, and the precious data, the nectar of community managers, belongs to you. So why not directly invest to acquire users on your own platform?

Time to jump out of the pot.