Facebook has taken a big hit in the past year, with privacy and security concerns running rampant, but that’s nothing compared to the problems it’s caused countless small companies that focused their marketing strategies on the social media giant. Despite protests to the contrary, Mark Zuckerberg and company haven’t demonstrated much concern over data privacy.

What they have done is tweak the algorithms on the site to a point where small businesses are now reaching only a tiny percentage of the customers they once did. With limited ad reach and concerns about data security, small business owners around the country are asking, “Is Facebook right for my business anymore?”

A Steep Dive in Engagement

The rate of engagement with Facebook users has made a significant drop in the past 18 months. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, large numbers of Facebook users are changing their relationships with the social media site.

The study found that in the past year:

  • A little over half of adult Facebook users have adjusted their privacy settings.
  • Over 40 percent of users have taken a break away from Facebook for several weeks or longer.
  • About 26 percent of users have deleted the Facebook app completely from their phones.
  • All in all, 74 percent of Facebook users have taken one or more of these steps.

Perhaps even more important for small business owners looking to advertise to a younger demographic, these statistics apply to younger Facebook users at a much higher rate. Users under 30 have taken at least one of these steps at a rate of four times what users over 65 have done.

The quick version? If you’re looking to sell to that all-important 18-to-35 demographic, Facebook is increasingly becoming the wrong place to go.

Is “Family-Friendly” Bad for Your Business?

After a string of congressional hearings on data privacy, Zuckerberg was faced with intense user outrage at the perceived break in trust. Two years of Russian election meddling and false news had turned many of the most loyal followers into jaded casual users, at best.

Facebook’s answer to these issues was to make significant changes in its News Feed, designed to show users more posts from friends and family and fewer public content posts, including those provided by businesses. The stated goal was to make Facebook more “family-friendly,” meaning more social posts and fewer ads and commercials.

With the algorithms dropping the hammer on big and small business alike, owners found that the only way they could generate any reach was with individual posts they created themselves. Traditional business ads just weren’t getting through anymore. With overnight revenue losses of up to 75 percent, some online business owners felt they had no choice but to drop Facebook entirely and look for other marketing platforms.

Not the First Time

This new algorithm change is only the latest in policy switches that have negatively affected businesses on Facebook. The social media site began by offering free marketing in exchange for engagement. But once companies built large fan bases on the site, Facebook began to manipulate the Edgerank algorithm, which resulted in companies being restricted to the number of fans they could contact without paying for the privilege.

In 2012, organic reach was only about 16 percent, and it was restricted further in the next year. Today, it’s estimated that only about 2 percent of all of a brand’s fans can actually see its posts. This gives businesses two basic choices: pay extra for what they used to receive for free (after helping Facebook build the fan base) or leave it all behind.

A Creative Alternative

Some companies are banking on a third alternative, one which doesn’t rely on traditional engagement metrics to get the word out about their products. These brands are hoping that, with the right blend of creativity and really cool content, the 2 percent of Facebook followers they do reach will turn into evangelists for their brand and spread the word for them.

Create enough memes, contests, GIFs and games, and you won’t have to pay to reach a larger audience. Your small audience will share your content for you in waves. Instead of being a passive fan base, your tiny 2 percent group can turn into a mobile street team, happy to do your marketing work for you.

Alternatives to Facebook Marketing

Some brands are dropping Facebook entirely and looking for better options in social media. Increasing numbers are relying on email newsletters for a more personalized approach to marketing.

Those who still like the concept of a social media site are moving to Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram and the like. The smartest way to do this, of course, is to create accounts on other sites and test-drive them for a while before dropping out of Facebook.

The Bottom Line

What’s best for your business? Should you drop your Facebook business account, or should you ride out the storm and see what happens next? Unfortunately, the only answer is, “It all depends.”

Are you seeing conversions from your posts? Are you getting at least some steady traffic? If you’ve still got movement and engagement, dropping out could be a big mistake. At the very least, you’ll alienate those fans who relied on you being on Facebook.

Are you still getting likes and follows after six months on the site? It’s hard to judge anything by the honeymoon period, but after six months things should have settled down. If you’re still getting steady engagement, that’s a good sign. If you’ve been on Facebook for years and you’re getting absolutely no response, maybe it’s time for something better. But if you’re still getting movement, it could be smarter to stay.

Where does your ideal customer hang out online? The answer to this might inform your next move more than any other. If you’re marketing to women 30-50 years old, take a hard look at Pinterest as a social media alternative. Every social media site has a solid demographic core. Find the site for your best customers and stake a claim there.