Small business is the collateral damage in Facebook’s decision to ban news content

Idiello co-founder and brand director Mia Fileman was one of many locked out of their Facebook business pages. What future faces the online presence of small businesses?

Like millions of other Australians, I was shocked to discover posts from Australian publishers were no longer being shown on Facebook. Not only were news feeds completely missing breaking news updates, but publishers’ Facebook pages had been completely wiped clean of any posts, with just their bios remaining.

But I was even more shocked to discover my business Idiello, an Australian campaign marketing platform, was also blocked from Facebook, and I was unable to share posts with links to my own website.

Idiello is a small Australian business, and by no means a traditional news outlet. What have I got to do with the media code that our government is thrashing out with the tech giants?

This move is Facebook proving once and for all how childish they are. And it’s not only media outlets paying the price, but also plenty of brands and small businesses. Many non-media businesses found their Facebook pages wiped this morning, with seemingly no rhyme and reason to it. For example, Harvey Norman was wiped, while others such as The Good Guys were unaffected. Virgin Australia was gone, but Qantas remained untouched. Someone likened it to corporate authoritarianism.

This is all the explanation Facebook’s Help Centre could muster.

My experience has been that ‘Facebook Support’ is a contradiction in terms. They offer to chat only to those who spend a substantial amount on Facebook advertising, so again small businesses without big budgets are left out in the cold.

Brand marketers who have prioritised owned channels, particularly their email lists are bound to be feeling pretty good about themselves today. It does come as a relief that my email list is bigger than my Facebook audience. If Facebook disappeared today, it would not devastate my business, but can other small businesses say the same?

Unfortunately, social media over-reliance is prolific amongst Australian small businesses. Keeping up with the insatiable algorithm leaves little room for focusing on other channels. This is perilous as we’ve seen today. I use and teach an integrated, multi-channel approach not only to future-proof your business but because it’s also best practice. I’ve spent a decade as a brand marketer for leading FMCG brands L’Oreal, Vegemite and BIC and a decade agency side, and running multi-channel campaigns is just what professional marketers do.

Facebook is having a little temper tantrum in response to the Australian’s Government’s proposed media bargaining code but they may have gone too far this time.

Many of the State health departments, the Bureau of Meteorology, Fire & Rescue NSW and the ABC Emergency page have been banned during a global pandemic. Let’s hope there is no COVID cluster outbreak, fire or a severe storm today. Facebook is putting lives in danger. Heck, even the Bureau of Meteorology has been banned.

Users will simply go elsewhere for these vital updates, whether that’s Twitter, Apple News or direct to the websites of news outlets. Surely that’s not the outcome Facebook was looking for?

I would love to see users abandon Facebook as a result of their actions not only today but in recent times. Facebook is a hate machine, littered with racism and lies. As many commentators pointed out, the platform has taken years to (not) deal with fake news but in a single sweep has shut down an entire country’s news outlets and thousands of small businesses, who are the collateral damage in this war.

Values aside, Facebook ad performance is down substantially since the beginning of 2021, with many businesses complaining that their ads have been rejected for no good reason.

The number of marketers and brands flocking to try out Clubhouse tells me that brands are willing to re-prioritise their channels. There is a real opportunity for new social media platforms to emerge, especially those with an ethical backbone.

This hissy-fit is also a reminder of the dangers of monopolies in tech and media. First our Facebook feeds are disrupted, next Instagram? Will we be banned from sharing links to Australian news in WhatsApp?

By the same afternoon of Facebook’s block, many non-media Facebook pages were being restored, with their posts all reappearing, but the bigger lesson remains for Australian business owners, especially those in small business: take a serious look at where you devote your marketing energies.

Is it on platforms that are subject to the whims of a Silicon Valley elite? Or are you truly nurturing your audience using channels you are in control of, like your email list?

If you ask me, it’s time to get off Facebook and diversify your marketing.

Mia Fileman is the co-founder and brand director of Idiello.


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