How to Avoid Facebook Blackout with Phillip Blume
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When I joined Facebook in 2004, it was still targeted at students on just a handful of college campuses. By the time we established Blume Photography in 2008, the social site, rebranded as Facebook, began developing Pages for business. Small businesses (especially work-from-home photographers) were over the moon. The bright promise of a new tech age (with free advertising) had dawned.
We should have known better.
As Milton Friedman pointed out a century ago, “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” Now Facebook is reaffirming the famous economist’s theory with a new pay-to-play policy that’s sending shockwaves through many industries—including ours.
This month, Facebook is testing a plan to move all nonpaid Page posts away from the newsfeed. The Guardian reported that tests by Facebook (in six countries outside the U.S.) caused a devastating 60 to 80 percent fall in user engagement on business Pages. A story on Medium.com described the change as “death to small businesses.” It certainly could be . . . if you don’t know how to adapt.
Here’s everything you need to know to avoid the impending blackout before it hits your business.
Branch out to new social platforms.
The information in this article has nothing to do with loopholes or “hacking Facebook.” Advice like that would probably be outdated by the time this article hits newsstands, since Facebook and other companies are constantly making changes and clamping down on workarounds.
Technically, you could set up your business on Facebook as a personal profile. We have colleagues who’ve tried this. But it goes against the site’s terms of service, and we’ve seen profiles like that (and all the content on them) get shut down. Even if it escapes Big Brother’s watchful eye, a personal profile won’t give you the few useful tools being developed for businesses.
My advice: Play by the rules, but think outside the box.
You can share posts from your business Page via your personal Facebook profile. But do so with care. Though Facebook allows it, sharing too much can fatigue your friends. (Just think how many of your friends’ profiles you muted when they became essential-oils sales channels.) Still, this might be the only way you’ll be able to make posts show up in a newsfeed at all now. There’s speculation that even personal tagging won’t work, which has been the best way for photographers to organically spread page posts up to now.
I’ll touch on worthwhile paid advertising ideas in a moment. But for now, just remember that Facebook’s new hardline policies don’t seem to apply to Instagram, which it also owns. So make sure you’re on Instagram. It’s an amazing platform that younger people use more than Facebook, which now caters to an older demographic.
Even without your own Instagram account, you can create and run Instagram ads from your Facebook business account. So it may be worth something after all.
Take control of your website.
It’s not about the Page. Remember when business Pages were new? Your marketing posts reached your fans organically. You appeared in the newsfeed right alongside friends’ selfies and artfully captured lattes. It made sense. Those people liked your Page because they wanted to hear from you, right? But giving away free access to the world’s most powerful advertising platform was never Facebook’s endgame.
Have you pinned too much of your marketing strategy (and your survival) on the empty hope that social sites won’t change? With the birth of Pages, my wife Eileen and I saw waves of photographers enter the online space for the first time. We heard chatter from countless newbies about “efficient” new businesses they’d started with zero entry cost. They were not interested in “wasting time” on SEO. Many even swore off personal websites, with their “unfair” hosting and design expenses.
Never build a business on that kind of risk. You need to actually own the foundational parts of your business.
No matter what changes with social media, your online face will remain under your control. But what good is that face if it’s hard to find? Next, let’s focus on making our sites just as magnetic as social media’s good ol’ days.
SEO is not a four-letter word.
To make your site magnetic, it needs strong SEO. There are libraries of books written on the topic, and I didn’t write any of them. I’m not a tech wizard. But I do practice the basic SEO hygiene any photographer can do. It makes a real difference.
First, invest in a reputable website design and host. Make sure both are optimized for modern SEO—the behind-the-scenes coding that Google cares about but that makes my brain feel squishy. A lot of photographers still use WordPress blog sites, as we did for the last seven years. WordPress has lots of functionality and good SEO potential. But it isn’t designed specifically for photographers, and even pricier WordPress add-ons (like ProPhoto templates) aren’t as beautiful or original as we’d like.
Last month, we finally moved our site to the new Showit5 platform. Though we looked at other easy drag-and-drop site builders like Wix and SquareSpace, their templates were just too rigid compared to Showit’s fluid interface, which is built with creativity in mind just for photographers and artists. Not only is Showit on the cutting edge of HTML5 and SEO integration, but it also hosts our site. So we dropped our HostMonster subscription and saved on design by easily customizing our own website with no coding involved. Now we are finally standing out on mobile, too (where 60 percent of web traffic travels).
Next, make it a habit to rename your photos for keyword searches. Web crawlers weigh images heavily, but only if they’re descriptive. When exporting images to your blog, you can create a Lightroom preset to default to a filename like “best athens ga wedding photographer,” which I tweak as needed. From there, if you use a popular rapid-blogging tool like BlogStomp, go into its settings and deselect any file renaming defaults that will undo all your hard work. Then you’re able to post the same images to your Facebook Page without actually going online; they may never show in the newsfeed, but at least Google has a chance to find them.
Another pro tip: Use original descriptive blog post titles (avoiding repetitious phrases, which earn penalties).
To go really deep on SEO, I highly recommend FuelYourPhotos.com. The articles are smart and accessible—even for a novice like me.
Great. You have a gorgeous SEO-optimized website. Now use it more strategically. For one, that means blogging better. Ouch—I know, most of us aren’t writers, right? But don’t let this weigh you down.
We keep blogging simple and effective by remembering the 80/20 rule. Eighty percent of our good results come from just 20 percent of the work most people do. So why not focus all your effort on just the things that work? When our clients book a wedding or portrait session, they receive a survey from us along with their contract. It asks them about their love story, asks them to describe their family, where they work, what their hobbies are.
Now, instead of grappling with writer’s block every time I have to pen an unoriginal wedding blog, I just copy-and-paste the text my clients wrote for me into each blog. Their friends are much more interested in reading the juicy details of real-life stories than they are about my useless descriptions of a beautiful photo shoot of the cutest couple ever.
Our survey also asks wedding couples for their vendors’ websites. So we can paste the full list plus backlinks into each post with minimal effort. It’s great for both SEO and vendor relationships.
It may hurt to say so, but planning a Facebook advertising budget may be a wise idea for your studio now. I’m optimistic about the potential changes to Facebook. It’s hard to appreciate the impact that Facebook has had on our industry over the last few years. I believe it is even more responsible than the digital photography revolution for the influx of inexperienced photographers into the market.
Facebook gives you unprecedented demographic information and access to audiences built just by you. It’s kind of Orwellian. And it’s totally worth the money. Just don’t squander your budget.
To make your dollars go far, remember one thing: Small photo businesses have to advertise differently than other retailers. Brand awareness is less important than brand trust. Sound confusing? That simply means that billboards and omnipresent logos might matter to brands like Coca-Cola, but they won’t help you. An ad alone isn’t enough. You need to link your ad to a landing page that helps guide every interested onlooker to book you immediately for the one service marketed in your ad. Software like StickyFolios helps you do this economically, is user-friendly and offers education to make the strategy of it all make sense.
As Facebook’s changes come online, they will only make it more difficult for low-budget, part-time photographers—anyone who can’t afford to advertising—to compete. Does that encourage you? Or does it scare you?
If you’re a young, upcoming photographer, it probably scares you. But it shouldn’t.
This is going to help you in the long run. Eileen and I have succeeded as full-time photographers for nearly a decade. We’ve watched throngs of photographers use their millennial tech know-how to build businesses fast; then we’ve watched almost 80 percent of them fail in less than five years.
Yes, Facebook’s changes might force you to focus on time-tested business strategies, real-life networking and building mentor relationships. But that’s good. Those are the tools that made us a fastest-growing business and helped create every thriving friend we have in this industry.
If you’re ready to put on your big-boy or big-girl pants and get involved in that kind of process, we invite you to join our community at TheBlumes.co.
For now, don’t panic. This is not the end for you. A new year is coming. This is only the beginning.