“We did our due diligence to see if we had received any warnings or if one of our colleagues could have deleted [the page], but we didn’t find anything, so most likely it was the Facebook ban,” Daleng told Inside Retail.
He can’t say for sure, or what will happen next, because Facebook hasn’t responded to any of his emails or posts about the action on LinkedIn.
“We haven’t had any response from Facebook privately or publicly,” he said. “I don’t know what to think at this point.”
Facebook has been criticised for the indiscriminate way it executed the ban, which left several government agencies, including health departments, fire and rescue services, charities and nonprofits unable to share critical information with people on the platform.
The company defended its actions in a statement, saying that the law doesn’t provide clear guidance on the definition of news content, so it has “taken a broad definition in order to respect the law as drafted”.
But Daleng said there’s no logical explanation for Booktopia being lumped in with news organisations: “We’re a bookstore.”
For retailers, the cost of being locked out of Facebook is huge.
Booktopia has over 130,000 Facebook fans, and its posts were viewed nearly 3 million times in the month from January 19 to February 17, 2021. While Daleng couldn’t say exactly what percentage of sales are driven by Facebook, he expects to see a loss in both revenue and traffic to Booktopia’s website as a result of the ban.
PR expert Phoebe Netto said the opportunity to be top-of-mind to customers on Facebook is “immeasurable”.
“If there’s a period of time when you’re not in customers’ newsfeeds, you’ve lost that prompt to remind people that you’re there. You’ve lost the opportunity to communicate promotions and sales,” the founder and managing director of Pure Public Relations told Inside Retail.
The ripple effect extends even to retailers that weren’t directly impacted by the news ban.
“Facebook is going to be a different experience,” Netto said.
“Without news in the newsfeed, you can imagine that people are going to want to spend less time on Facebook, which means Facebook content and paid ads potentially will have a smaller reach or lower engagement.”
Need to diversify
Mark Baartse, an independent consultant and the former chief marketing officer at Showpo, told Inside Retail this is the “number one concern” he’s hearing from retailers.
“That’s an unknown thing,” he said, about the possibility of fewer people using Facebook.
But for him, the news ban debacle has only further highlighted the need for businesses to diversify their marketing spend.
“General marketing best practice is that you shouldn’t be reliant on one channel – it exposes you to too much risk,” Baartse said.
“The biggest potential impact is that many retailers are dependent on Facebook as a revenue source.”
The catch is that no other channel compares to Facebook in terms of relevance and reach.
“There seems to be a common misbelief that Facebook is just for Boomers or old people, but for the vast majority of companies, including companies that are targeting young female millennials and Gen Z, Facebook is the dominant platform. Not always, but often,” Baartse said.
“Don’t underestimate Facebook. Don’t think, I’m targeting 25 year olds so Facebook isn’t important to me. That’s not a safe assumption.”
Instead of relying on third-party platforms like Facebook, Netto believes businesses should focus on the platforms they can control, such as email marketing databases.
“This is a really good reminder that even if Facebook returns as an option, the goal needs to be on taking people from [Facebook] onto a platform that you do control,” she said.
Booktopia has pulled all advertising from Facebook until the lockout is resolved. Daleng said the retailer is equally concerned about the wider community of Australian authors and literary organisations that have been caught up in the ban.
Harvey Norman declined to comment for this story, and as of Friday morning, it appears their Facebook page has been reinstated.