Facebook's Negative Impact on Nonprofits
In January of this year, our Facebook page with almost 11,000 followers was unexpectedly “unpublished” with no reason or warnings from Facebook. This was a shock, especially since 2021 was our best year yet on the platform, garnering a 293.3% increase in reach alone. The only clarification that we were eventually given was that we had “repeatedly violated community standards.” We had, in fact, never violated any community standards, as evidenced by the screenshot below, which was taken directly from our admin page of Facebook.
Knowing that accidents happen, we tried in vain to get Facebook to fix the issue and republish our page. Despite the clear error, trying to contact them was very time-consuming and didn’t lead to any resolution. In the end, we cut our losses and started a new page from scratch.
You may be wondering why this is such a big deal and why we are talking about this after having already started a new page?
We are a small, grassroots organization that depends heavily on word of mouth. We don’t have the budget that many other larger organizations have and depend on cost effective means to spread awareness about our cause of helping children in one of the most impoverished areas in Central America.
Not only did we have an audience of thousands of dedicated donors who would depend on Facebook to receive important updates or news of events, several also held fundraisers or donated through Facebook directly.
Having started the page in 2009, the early days of Facebook, we had grown our followers organically, which is not possible now. These days, you have to pay heavily.
The thing is, we are not alone, which is why we decided to share what happened to us. After extensive research online, we have noticed that this is a recurring issue for small businesses and nonprofits alike.
As a marketing agency, we see that Safe Passage is far from alone with this problem. Our clients consistently run into the following issues:
- Being unable to find account ownership and the business cannot then reclaim the page
- Posts are getting flagged for erroneous policy violations, with no reasonable way to appeal
- False policy violations lead to account suspensions with no way to recover (as seen with Safe Passage)
For small businesses and nonprofits, these problems are a constant headache. The modern marketing or communications manager wears many hats, and the bandwidth to try and resolve Facebook issues is not available.
There is simply no one at Facebook to talk to when it comes to sorting out these problems. If you happen to get a hold of a live person at Facebook after hours of trying, you are emailed back lengthy “How-To” guides that may or may not answer the problem. Almost all of the aforementioned issues are flagged via automation, with no path for resolution.
Beyond this just being a case of terrible customer service, the issue is much more problematic. To highlight why, we’ll explain how Facebook has evolved for small businesses and nonprofits over time.
How it Used To Work
As Facebook has evolved over the years, it’s become a pivotal audience for nonprofits to grow their causes and highlight some of the great work they are doing.
Initially, it was fairly easy to get page likes, have people share your page and grow an audience organically (read: without spending money). When businesses made posts in the past, everyone in your audience would then see that post. By garnering a large audience for a Facebook page, businesses could reach thousands of interested people with every post. Audiences were actively engaged because they wanted to see your message.
How It Works Now
As the user base grew and more businesses began utilizing Facebook as a key audience, the whole model became “pay to play.” Without spending money, SMBs and nonprofits cannot acquire new followers, nor can they reach existing followers. Posts will occasionally get more reach if they hit on a popular topic, however most require what Facebook calls a “boost” (paid investment) to reach its users. Amongst our clients, the average post without “boosted” dollars behind it will reach about 1-2% of total audience. As an example, spending $100 to boost a post to an audience of 10,000 would optimistically reach 4,000 people vs. a $0 investment, which might reach ~200 users.
In addition to having to pay to reach existing audiences, advertisers now need to run “Likes” campaigns. This leaves the onus on nonprofits to do the following:
- Identify audience targets that might resonate with their message
- Convince this audience to like their page
- Pay an average of $2-$3 per like, if the campaign was executed effectively
This means that at a minimum, Safe Passage could expect to pay $20k – $30k just to get back to the same number of followers. This doesn’t include the cost to message these people – or the fact that it’s a lower quality audience since it’s not the same one Safe Passage grew organically over the past 13 years.
To summarize, Facebook has created a dependency on their product for nonprofits by creating a platform to be able to share updates, fundraising efforts and upcoming events. It’s well within its rights to monetize the platform. Unfortunately, they’ve amplified negativity and fake news while nonprofits are literally left in the dust. Facebook is amplifying the bad, while actively punishing the good.
There are many well documented problems with Facebook, who recently invested $10 billion dollars into the Metaverse in Q1. Meanwhile, Safe Passage just lost 11,000+ dedicated followers to share updates on how their donation dollars are improving lives for children in Guatemala. Maybe some of that $10 billion investment can go to help serve existing customers and get those 11,000 followers back.
Chris Burnham is a founding partner of Sonar Digital, a Portland-based Digital Marketing Agency. He has spent his career doing Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Paid Advertising, with a passion for helping small businesses and nonprofits grow via online marketing.