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Why Social Media is ‘Pay to Play’ in 2018 (And How to Get the Best Bang for Your Buck)

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How ‘Pay to Play’ Social Media Advertising is Changing the Game (And What You Can Do About It)

Only about 4% of your Facebook followers are seeing your brand’s organic posts, and Facebook wants to keep it that way.

Organic traffic on its own has always been a little hit or miss, but paid social media advertising was supposed to be the answer to that. Pay a little more and you can extend your reach to grow your audience.

But now many social media sites are making it more difficult for businesses to advertise — unless you shell out the big bucks, of course.

This ‘pay to play’ approach to social media has become a problem for many businesses, especially as sites change their algorithms to lessen the impact of an ad dollar.

So what can businesses do to make sure their ad money goes the farthest?

How Facebook is Changing the ‘Pay to Play’ Game

In 2005, Facebook became the first social media platform to create a way for businesses to pay for published ads.


Over the next decade, other social sites like LinkedIn, Twitter and eventually Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube followed suit.

But Facebook has always been “king” when it comes to ad reach.

It boasts over 2.07 billion monthly active users,, which is more than a third of the entire population of the world, and 93% of marketers use facebook advertising regularly.

Advertising through Facebook is fairly straightforward. You can create ads using Facebook for Business, choose where you want to display, to whom, and how much you want to spend.

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You can also pay a little extra to turn organic posts into paid ads that stick to people’s newsfeeds (called “Boosted Posts”).

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This is a good alternative to organic posts, which studies show have engagement rates around 2% or lower on average.

But Facebook is also making it harder for businesses to advertise.

Over the last several years they’ve slowly increased the costs to purchase ad space. Facebook ad have been increasing 9% annually since 2015, and ads in the U.S. and in Canada have become the most expensive.

Other factors, like your target audience’s demographic data or age, can also impact bid costs.

does facebook advertising work maximum bid

While ads may be relatively cheap for some brands, others may suffer from higher costs and lower impact simply based on their industry or targeted audience.

In 2018, Facebook also announced that they were making changes to their algorithm that would favor organic traffic from friends and family over paid posts, making it harder for brands to get their ads in front of customers.

Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, even went as far as saying, “I expect the time people spend on Facebook and some measures of engagement to go down.”

According to a white paper released by Sprinklr, the new algorithm will use 100,000 different factors to decide which posts get prime real estate on timelines

how many fans see your facebook posts1

So, if you want your ads to compete against thousands of other organic posts going forward, you have to pay even more to ensure the algorithm works in your favor.

That won’t be changing anytime soon.

For businesses looking to maximize their dollar, it’s about understanding how to play the game and optimizing your ads to reach your ideal audience.

1. Know How Changes Will Affect Your Ad Budget

Facebook’s major algorithm changes may affect marketers, but it certainly won’t affect their own pocketbook.

The company’s revenue surged by 47% (nearly $13 billion) in the fourth quarter from the previous year, while profits rose 56% to $4.3 billion.

Most of this revenue is coming from ad sales, meaning that advertisers will most likely need to shell out more money to ensure that their ads end up in front of the right people.

In other words, you will have to pay to play.

But Facebook is attempting to make it easier for advertisers to set their own budget with another change to their platform. They announced back in November something called Budget Optimization.

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Depending on your ad’s performances, it will allocate more budget to the “winning” ads and reduce funds to non-performing ads.

This allows you to set your budget for an entire ad campaign and specifying that you wish to optimize it:

facebook campaign budget optimization 1

According to Facebook, this will give advertisers the ability to set campaign-level budgets with greater flexibility, and focus only on the ads that get them the highest level of ROI.

Ideally, it should simplify campaigns and reduce the number of ads and budgets that need to be managed. Some marketers may love it, but others may find it less than ideal.

But, at the very least, it’s an opportunity for publishers to stick to their marketing budgets while still having the best shot at a decent ad ROI.

If you’re going to be publishing ads in 2018, use budget optimization.

2. Encourage Both Paid and Organic Interactions

It’s not just about what’s changing, though. What’s staying the same about the new algorithm will also impact the type of ads you might want to use.

While Facebook’s organic traffic has been notoriously unreliable, the updated algorithm is seeking to create a more organic feel.

This means ads will work better if they feel more like traditional posts.

Thankfully, Facebook is not changing the ability for users to choose to see posts from their favorite Pages with the “See First” option.


This means businesses can and should encourage customers to follow their page on Facebook, and run ads that target page follows.

Page Like Ad

Videos will also be highly favored, particularly live videos.

For advertisers, this may mean investing more time and energy into either posting live videos on Facebook or creating video ads.

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Including a wide variety of ad types should help alleviate the fear of low ad performance due to algorithm changes.

Because Facebook’s changes are destined to affect other platforms, especially sites like Twitter that tend to compete directly, it’s probable that marketers will need to focus on different ad types across all platforms, too.

Media-centric ads, like video, are a good investment in the ever-changing world of social media.

3. Optimize Your Ads for the New Algorithm

You will also need to optimize the way ads appear if you want to see your ads perform well under the new changes.

In addition to making it harder to advertise, Facebook is also cracking down on posts that appear “spammy” or “baiting.”

Ads that contain phrases like “Comment and share” or “Like this post” may see less time in your audience’s feed, for example.


Many advertisers have taken advantage of a tactic known as “engagement baiting” to boost content in the newsfeed.

Posts that feature “click-bait” headlines have often performed better in the past compared to more natural-sounding ads. But no more.

Facebook’s updated algorithm will use machine learning to review and categorize posts as baiting. In other words, they won’t show up as often as non-baiting ads, and will, inevitably, underperform.

Advertisers will need to create smarter ads if they want to succeed going forward.

The good news is that there are plenty of tools out there that can help you with this. Canva, for example, can help you design ad images that have directional cues (a psychological ad trigger that’s not spammy).

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Finding other ways for your ads to grab attention other than being outright spammy will be essential to combat new machine learning algorithms.

Facebook won’t be the only platform to use this feature, so ad optimization will be key for those who want to extend the impact of their ad dollar.

4. Run Campaigns, Not Single Ads

Because the performance of a single ad won’t have the same power as it did before, brands will need to focus on running multi-ad campaigns instead.

When it comes to the traditional sales funnel, there are three types of campaigns that might have the most ROI for Facebook’s algorithm updates:

  • Awareness campaigns (Page Like ads, etc.)
  • Consideration campaigns (video ads, app installs, etc.)
  • Engagement campaigns (promoted content, etc.)

Depending on your ad goals and budget, each type of campaign will have its own benefits.

1. Awareness campaigns

Awareness campaigns are used to make customers aware of your brand and are typically used to expand reach and exposure.


Facebook’s algorithm changes may make it slightly more difficult to get in front of new customers, depending on how you set up your ads.

Ads that will do well under the algorithm’s new rules include Page Like ads and those with strong CTAs that are targeted at a certain product or feature.

If your business has a physical location, locally targeted ads will also perform well.

2. Consideration campaigns

Another type of ad that should perform better under the new algorithm is consideration ads that include video (with a strong CTA) and app installs.

Rosetta App Install Ad

Consideration campaigns are for those who have already heard of your product or service but want something more.

They’re most often used for a quick uptick in traffic, app installs, engagement, video views, and lead generation.

Again, it will be important not to include a spammy message when asking for app installs or video views (“Watch this video and click our link!”). Anything that seems baiting is less likely to be featured.

If someone has already searched for you on Google, your ad will have a better chance of showing up, too. So improving your overall site SEO will go a long way to helping your ad performance.

3. Engagement campaign objective

Finally, engagement ads, like promoted content, free downloads, or other lead magnets, should also do well under the new algorithm (and across any other social media platform, too).

wordstream facebook ad

Personalization will also help promoted content beat the algorithm.

Facebook makes it fairly simple to boost engagement and to set a budget for promoted content. You could spend as little as $10 to boost a status or a piece of content, for example.

This is a nice entry point for advertisers who want to test the waters with a new audience without dropping major cash to expand ad reach.

For those in the “pay to play” game, promoted content is an easy win.

5. Choose Other Platforms to Boost Engagement

Facebook’s new changes are only the beginning.

Just as other social media platforms followed their lead in creating ads, platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram will almost inevitably change their own algorithms in the future.

Instagram has already changed their algorithm from a chronological feed to feature more ads, which may draw in new advertisers.


Instagram is slowly becoming a better option for advertisers looking to expand their engagement to other channels.

But like Facebook, Twitter is also focusing on a less-ads-more-family-and-friends approach to their own feed algorithm.

According to Twitter, “Tweets you are likely to care about most will show up first in your timeline.”

Rich media like video and images will be favored, as well as hashtags and ads with less baiting and spammy content.

Twitter video example 1

Unlike Facebook, however, Twitter still prioritizes ads appearing on their feed — for now, anyway.

This gives marketers and other advertisers a good opportunity to expand into other platforms and improve their organic reach across multiple channels.

As buying trends spread across multiple platforms, it will be more important than ever for brands to have a broader reach.


Facebook’s new algorithm changes are certainly changing the game.

For advertisers, this means spending more in the hopes of improving ad performance and reach. But since the new algorithm is untested, only time will tell whether or not it’s an improvement for publishers.

One thing is clear, however. Facebook’s pocketbook won’t be hurt anytime soon.

That’s why it’s important for advertisers to refine their budgets, choose ads that have the most impact for the least amount of money (video ads, page likes, etc.), and make sure their ads are fully optimized (non-spammy).

When all else fails, reaching out to other platforms might be a good option, too.

Until they all adopt the same algorithm, that is.

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  • sri

    Well, nice insights about the latest facebook algorithms. It would help us in setting up facebook campaigns for our company.

  • John Peltier

    All of these changes can be so frustrating. Especially with the speed at which they happen – just when you nail down a new tactic, something else changes and you’re forced to adapt again!
    Thanks for always keeping us updated on these changes!

  • Sarfraj Lakdawala

    Great explained Brad!

    I am also seeing decrease of organic reach that before I was getting.

    The best strategy I found on facebook is to keep engaged existing visitors by re-marketing.

    Brand need to be struggle to find right audience and once they able to get those users then keep re-marketing with them so whenever you post new article or video whatever on your site the engagements will be high with lower CPC.