A Facebook Author Page, Still Worth It?
Facebook’s decision a few years ago to limit page owners’ “organic reach”— and force them to pay to reach their followers— saw many authors getting frustrated at the dwindling number of fans who saw their posts. Several decided to shut down their Facebook author page altogether and switch to an “author profile”, a dangerous tactic as Facebook has strict rules about profiles and in particular profile names.
As indie author Jerry Stoute puts it: “First you work your tail off to get followers, then Facebook bleeds you to reach them through boosting. How about Facebook allow all your posts to be seen by your followers?”
Is Facebook being unfair? Should you really bother growing a fanbase there if you have to pay to reach it afterwards? The short answer is yes. For the long answer, we actually did a bit of research on different Facebook writing groups, asking authors how and why they keep a Facebook author page.
But I'll only reach 10% of my fans…
You might not reach everyone of your fans when you post something on your Facebook author page, but this is the same on other big social networks. Your tweets are seen by only a fraction of your Twitter following — not that Twitter hides them, but they soon get buried under hundreds of other tweets in your followers’ feeds. The same goes for Pinterest, or Instagram.
So, sure, say you’ll only reach 10% of your Facebook followers, that’s still something you can take advantage of. The way Facebook’s algorithms work to show users content is through analyzing what content you interact with. The more a given user will like, comment or share your updates, the more they will keep seeing them.
This means that these 10% you will reach will be your true, core Facebook fans. You definitely want to stay in touch with those, as contemporary romance author Christine Claire MacKenzie explained to us: “FB is the number one place I connect with fans. FB is where readers reach out to me. It's a slow process to build a valid reader base of rabid fans, but it's well worth the effort.”
How can I increase my Facebook Author Page reach?
How about, instead of reaching 10% of your fans when posting, you reached 50%? You don’t necessarily need to pay for that, you just need to make Facebook happy. In the end, Facebook works pretty much like Amazon. If it detects that users have a positive interaction with your content, it will reward you by showing it to more. So, though the standard “reach percentage” is around 10%, you can multiply it quite easily by consistently posting text, images, videos and links that you know your audience is going to enjoy and share.
Let’s take the example of author Rebecca Howard. Her Facebook author page has close to 4,000 people on it and she tells me each post is now seen by about 50% of those folks.
“If I can encourage comments on it or get a discussion going then that number rises. It just takes time to learn how to adapt to the changes and make them work for you. This post of mine, for instance, has been shared 99 times and seen by more than 14,000 people. Didn't pay to boost it.”
As with any way to reach or interact with readers, Facebook posting is a trial and error thing. Of course, there are some basic tips and guidelines for maximizing engagement, like posting images, keeping descriptions short and sweet, asking questions to spur a discussion, sharing useful links, keeping self-promotion to a minimum, etc. There are even professional studies out there on what types of posts (image, link, video, text) have a higher average reach percentage.
Though you should certainly strive to follow this advice, in the end it is all about finding what your audience wants to see. And there is no other way to do that but to try as many things as possible: offer a giveaway, host an author Q&A event, post an excerpt or a short story, post a picture with a quote, organize a poll for your fans to choose your next character’s name, etc. There are countless things you can do! Of course, if you fall into the routine of posting the same stuff every day, then your reach will progressively decrease because no one will engage with your posts.
I like this example Joanna Penn gives in her last podcast interview:
“I just did just a normal post on Facebook and I posted some pictures. I went to a cemetery, Highgate Cemetery, last weekend. I got the most engagement ever on my fiction Facebook author page with these pictures of graves. And I was like, ‘Oh, my goodness. My audience likes graveyards and cemeteries.’”
More often than not, your audience will have very similar likes and dislikes to yours — after all, they’re your readers, right? But you might have to think “outside the box” to find those. I imagine that sounds like a lot of effort to go through to reach even 50% of followers that you acquired. And if you want to reach more, yes, you have to pay.
I thought social media were free…
Surely, giving money to Facebook can’t be fair? Maybe not, but if you look at the alternatives, you won’t find any better. Here’s what author Alexis Dubief wrote me when I asked her that question:
"As writers we're supposed to avoid cliche, but when it comes to connecting with readers, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Email is, and deserves to be, the gold standard of connecting with readers. But email costs money (Mailchimp and Aweber both start charging when your list grows above 2,000 people) and even then, only 30% of your subscribers will open your email messages. So perhaps we need to let go of the idea of 'free' and focus instead on 'cheap and effective.'"
This “business” mindset is one that many independent authors have adopted, shifting the focus from “cost” to “return on investment”. As we have seen in previous interviews with Nick Stephenson and Mark Dawson, Facebook provides an advertising platform like none other, mostly because of how granular you can get in your targeting.
So, sure, you have to pay a bit if you want your posts to reach all your followers. But you can also pay to reach many more potential readers, and attract traffic to your website for amounts as low as $.01 per click.
Below is a screenshot of one of Alexis’ campaigns to support a post. It was seen by over 40k people and she only paid for clicks. She set it both for the post to reach her current fans and to reach people who fit her target criteria but were not fans of her Facebook author page. Have a look at the cost per clicks…
As she puts it: “Do you know where else I can get highly targeted traffic that cheaply? Yeah, neither do I.”
Of course, we’re not saying that every author should keep a Facebook author page, post regularly, and pay to boost some of their posts. Nor that everyone will have the same costs per click as Alexis. It vastly depends on your target audience, how active they are on Facebook, and how much testing and iteration you do.
The point here, however, is that you shouldn’t shy away from a platform just because it changes its rules, or suddenly seems “unfair”. Keep a cold head, do the math, and see if they work in your favour. More often than not, on Facebook, they will.
Do you use your Facebook author page as a marketing tool? Have you been discouraged by Facebook's "pay to play" change? Or do you pay to reach your audience? Leave us your thoughts in the comments below!