The answer is “yes”, unless you’re willing to pay for Facebook advertising.

Since October of 2014 we have seen the steady decline in engagement on our client’s Facebook pages. This is consistent across industries, from restaurant and food service to travel and tourism.

The resulting strategic recommendation to all of our clients is this: downgrade your Facebook man hours unless you have an advertising budget. If you don’t have a dedicated advertising budget for Facebook, stop updating your page as often.

This is jarring for most marketers to hear. After all, you may just recently have found a Facebook groove. After years of trying to persuade management to allow you to update the page in the first place, you now have to go back and tell them an ad budget is no longer an option, but a necessary evil to making any headway with Facebook marketing. We are even seeing the same indications on Twitter.

Why is Facebook forcing brands to pay up or move on?

Facebook wants your cash, yes. But, above all, Facebook and Facebook users are sick and tired of your brand-focused, unauthentic content. Brands had five years to create engaging content on Facebook and after failing to do so, Facebook finally put the gauntlet down. And as a Facebook user, I can’t blame them.

Forcing boring content on their users through paid ads drove tens of thousands of them to flee the network. As Facebook put it in their statement regarding this major shift in their algorithm:

One of the main reasons people come to Facebook is to see what’s happening in their News Feeds. Our goal with News Feed has always been to show people the things they want to see. When people see content that’s relevant to them, they’re more likely to be engaged with News Feed, including stories from businesses.

Read the entire statement here. 

What should brands do now? How do you make the most of the new Facebook?

Here’s a step by step guide to making the most of your Facebook presence. If you skip even one of these steps, you could be wasting man hours and or a significant amount of your precious digital advertising budget.

1. Create a content strategy. 

Most of you are updating your Facebook page without a clear content strategy in place, which means, you could be wasting your time entirely. A content strategy is a critical key to success on any social network. The best content strategies identify your brand goals, whether they be awareness or direct sales, and then outline a plan of attack. What message, on what network, and then specifically, how this network’s message will be delivered to the appropriate audiences – through advertising or influencer outreach, as examples. Once you have defined channels and audiences, you can then develop the big content idea.

A fantastic example of a content strategy in action can be seen live on our new landing page for the Hocking Hills Tourism Association. After one year of seeing tremendous growth in Facebook engagement and fans due to user generated photos being shared on Facebook from Instagram, we capitalized on this by asking our fans to submit photos under the hashtag #hockinghills2016. The photos will be gathered during 2015 and then published in calendar in 2016. Needless to say, our photo loving fan base is all over it. View it here.

Key takeaway: In today’s Facebook, brands have to bring tremendous content ideas. Your content strategy should include a way to naturally accelerate your page engagement. In this way, your ad dollars will be fuel to the fire, not the source of the fire. 

2. Create an editorial calendar (with your ad budget). 

Plan  your Facebook content over the course of weeks and months with an editorial calendar. On a higher level, plot this content on a quarterly basis. Go back to your goals defined in your content strategy and then build your editorial calendars. Your calendar should now include more than content, however. It should include your target audience for each post and your ad budget for each post. Be flexible on these budgets and prepared to shift them when some posts are outperforming others. Facebook ad management needs frequent attention, depending on how many ads you have running per day.

There are some fantastic content editorial tools out there. But, start your planning in a good, old fashioned Excel or Google Sheet and then plug it into your Hootsuite, Co-Schedule or Sprout. As for your ad budget, what you will spend depends entirely on your audience and how far your reach needs to be. You can determine what your ad budget should be by creating an ad within the ad center on Facebook. Test scenarios and watch your recommended budget change with your audience and interests.

Above all, create content that is audience-centric, not brand-centric. This is the biggest challenge for brands within the social space and always has been. Will this change anytime soon? Hopefully and hopefully Facebook’s new crack down with force brands to finally focus on their customers instead of themselves. Ask yourself this – what is your audience interested in? What magazines do they read? What stories grip them? What are they talking about on the phone to their friends? Or are they texting? What are they going to share? A hint: it probably has nothing to do with your brand. But, the content you share will still be tied to your brand – even if you aren’t included directly in the post.

The most significant change in Facebook’s algorithm, and this has been a slow and steady, consistent change, is that content which fails to engage within minutes of being posted is immediately tucked away and out of your audience’s feed. Facebook’s goal is to post relevant interesting content to each and every member of the network. Look at your editorial calendar and make sure those posts are seldom a direct call to action by your brand to a product or hard sell.

Key takeaway: Editorial calendars now need to include anticipated ad budgets, but be prepared to change these budgets accordingly based on performance. Your content should be audience-centric, not brand-centric.

3. Post and Pay Up

Once you have your content strategy, your approved editorial calendars in place and your advertising budgets – you’re all set to post and execute. Watch your post reach closely. Remember, your content should be audience-centric not brand-centric to earn maximum impressions and exposure. Refine and tweak your ads from week to week based on performance. Test various messages on new audiences. Try video versus photos, try linking back to your blog or linking to someone else’s. Try it all and don’t stop until you’ve found your secret sauce.

Key takeaway: Launch your posts with ads and test, refine until you find a winning combination of content and audience. 

What if my CMO or CEO won’t approve a Facebook ad budget?

If your executives won’t approve an ad budget for Facebook try to put it into dollars and sense with them. Remind them how many hours a month you are personally investing in updating the page. The hours you spend and wages tied with your time typically warrant an advertising budget. Most Facebook pages we assess have extremely low engagement. When you break down the hours spent and number of impressions made it rarely warrants the time you’re spending. Some third grade math should make a fairly persuasive case for an advertising budget.