Since the launch of Facebook business pages, the social network has been a wildly popular platform for small businesses looking to connect with their audiences. Business owners gained simple and inexpensive ways to connect and engage directly, and on a personal level, with those interested in the business.

But Facebook's plans for 2015 may make those interactions a little more complicated.

Recent user feedback has given the researchers at Facebook some insight into what users want, and the results could have a major impact on how small business owners promote their products and services.

Not surprisingly, users are far more interested in stories from their friends and the Pages they care about than in promotional content, the research determined. As a result, major changes will come to Facebook's algorithm in 2015, bouncing overly promotional content out of the News Feed.

In short, Pages that push out entirely promotional content should expect their organic reach to continue to fall significantly over time.

What does this mean for small businesses that rely on the social network to communicate with their customers and promote their products?

A recent Facebook blog post announcing the algorithm change specifically calls out three types of posts:

  1. Posts that solely push people to buy a product or download an app
  2. Posts that push people to enter promotions or sweepstakes with no real context
  3. Posts that reuse the same exact content from ads

What can you do to combat the new News Feed algorithm's ill effects and continue to get the most out of the social network?

1. Use Facebook Insights

Facebook Insights provides businesses with important information about their fan base, engagement, recent activity, organic reach, and more. Truly using and understanding the analytics that Facebook provides for business Pages can help small business owners gain insight into who they're talking to so that they can communicate with them more effectively.

2. Treat fans like friends

The new algorithm, in theory, will work to remove any overly promotional posts from the News Feed. Therefore, businesses are going to need to stop treating Facebook posts like advertisements, which could take some creativity. Small businesses should work to treat their fans like friends, and speak to them accordingly.

When you hang out with friends, you don't spend the entire time trying to sell them something. Instead, try posting something that your followers care about so they can in turn make a connection between that and your products and services.

3. Remember that content rules

This change makes it more important than ever for businesses to focus on content, true engagement, and relationship-building, instead of direct promotion. Businesses that spend time producing content that their followers truly care about rather than pushing promotions with no context will have a better chance of appearing in the News Feed than those that don't. Content with powerful headlines (such as how-tos and provocative questions), relevant images, and easy ways to share, will perform better.

4. Expand to other social networks

If a small business isn't already employing other social media platforms, this may be the perfect opportunity to dabble with Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and the like.

Different social networks have varying standards for promotional posting, and they also appeal to different audiences. Each social channel attracts a unique clientele, helping you forge lines of communication with new potential customers that may have otherwise remained an untapped client base.

Depending on the type of content, try posting it to different channels. For example, videos work great on Facebook, but Twitter users tend to prefer images.

5. Consider paid advertising

Small businesses should never rule out paid advertising as a digital marketing strategy. Thousands of businesses are running highly targeted ads on a relatively small budget. Begin allocating a budget to Facebook ads. Start small, run tests, and realign your advertising strategy as necessary.

* * *

The ultimate goal of Facebook's crackdown on promotional posts is to create a more pleasant user experience while making digital marketers better at what they do. It is more crucial than ever for small businesses to provide customers with content they genuinely care about, and to up their digital marketing game with true engagement.

Those who adapt successfully may just find that their reach has increased instead of decreasing.

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Five Ways to Counteract Facebook's News Feed Post Crackdown

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image of Alfredo Ramos

Alfredo Ramos is general manager of small business social marketing platform Pagemodo, part of the Webs product suite, a subsidiary of Vistaprint.

LinkedIn: Alfredo Ramos