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by Jac Bergenson

Last week, while the public was discussing Facebook’s new wall design, small businesses and corporations were worried about something else entirely. In late March, Sam Biddle of Valleywag reported that the social media platform plans to drastically reduce “organic page reach” for all brands.

Organic page reach, according to Facebook, is the number of people who saw a post in their news feed or on a brand’s page. Generally, when a brand makes a post, it’s expected to show up on any follower’s news feed. An anonymous source tells Valleywag that the reach will be cut to 1% to 2% of the page’s followers.

The revelation is summed up best by Biddle himself—after the company “convinced countless celebrities, bands, and brands that its service was the best way to reach people with eyeballs and money.” But now, he says, Facebook is “ending the free ride.”

According to prominent public relations firm Ogilvy Public Relations, the slash is already in motion. October through February, Social@Ogilvy performed an analysis on over 100 country-level pages and “found that the average reach of organic posts had declined from 12.05% in October to 6.15% in February.”

While the numbers are concerning for even the biggest brands on Facebook, the effects seem the most drastic for smaller businesses. At the projected numbers, a mom-and-pop shop with 3,000 likes can expect its content to organically reach an audience of only 30 to 60 people shortly. But not every bagel shop or toy store has the funds to pay for views.

Facebook is not denying that organic page reach is dwindling. In fact, as Advertising Age reports, a sales pitch the social media giant sent to partners states that marketers should resort to paid advertising “to maximize delivery of your message in news feed.”

An executive at Ogilvy, Marshall Manson, claims, “Facebook is saying that you should assume a day will come when the organic reach is zero.”

Should Facebook users be worried? It’s no secret that advertisements have made their way directly into the news feed, especially on mobile platforms like Facebook’s iPhone application. Perhaps some Facebook users would be happy to see less content from even their favorite brands.

Will Oremus of Slate Magazine argues “people don’t really like seeing a bunch of ads in their news feed.”

Oremus continues: “They like seeing updates from friends and family, funny Youtube videos,” et cetera.  “So Facebook has decided to show them fewer self-promotional posts from businesses and more of all the other stuff.”

Facebook began as a means of staying in touch with friends; Facebook’s new model seems to course-correct the network, giving business owners less of an opportunity to exploit the free exposure and keeping the balance of content in check. The results of Zuckerberg & Co.’s actions remain to be seen, but for now, Facebook users have little reason to be concerned.