Businesses counting Facebook cost, says Canberra chamber

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Canberra Business Chamber chief executive Graham Catt.

CANBERRA Business Chamber has heard reports of a number of its commercial members struggling under the weight of Facebook removing their content.

The social media provider blocked the Facebook pages of news organisations in response to to the Australian government urging tech giants including Google to pay for news content as part of a proposed federal media bargaining code legislation.

But Facebook groups that were not media related were also stifled since Thursday morning (February 18) that extended to the news feed of public information sites.

Chamber chief executive Graham Catt said following brief conversations, just hours after the shutdown, the bottom line of several businesses in the ACT were sharply impacted.

“I probably couldn’t put a dollar figure on it – I think that is a little bit difficult,” he said.

“Our membership does include not just businesses but community-based organisations, charities and industry bodies in Canberra as well.

“But I am aware though that many have been impacted heavily.”

Not even the chamber’s own page has escaped the scrutiny of Facebook’s wrath.

It remains shut down over the past two days up until the close of business on Friday.

“Clearly, we are in the category of affected small non-for-profit organisations and member organisations,” Mr Catt said.

The thin margins of Canberra’s hospitality industry, who rely on social media inquiries from their Facebook pages, are expected to lose several thousands of dollars after just one day alone of interruption.

It comes after new analysis released this week by the chamber found out that Canberra has Australia’s highest business closure rate.

That was despite conflicting recent figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics counting 30,858 enterprises actively trading last year, which was around 800 more than the ACT has ever registered.

Mr Catt said while customers could still not access the Facebook pages of many businesses, the impact could possibly rival the daily effects of COVID-19 restrictions.

“Some of those businesses it has absolutely been damaging in terms of lost sales or the need to recover from having that content taken down,” Mr Catt said.

“In extreme cases, it has been very damaging, if that’s the way they find you.

“Having that content not there has been devastating.”

Mr Catt also said the blanket Facebook ban is a reminder of the dangers of marketing solely to the cheaper costs of social media.

“The businesses that we are worried about are those that essentially have Facebook their only online presence,” he said.

“In other words, they haven’t maintained a website, which we have found that with many cafes and restaurants, whose Facebook page they have really now used to communicate almost totally with customers online now.

“They have been left in a very difficult position, if they are in spot when people can’t read their content or access their feed.

“We are in the process at the moment of just trying to find out how many of our members are affected.”

Marketing agencies and commercial bloggers that are dependent on social media almost had to close down, Mr Catt said.

Their online business models profits from producing content and marketing materials as the major channels of communication had been viewed as a news outlet.

Threesides Marketing in Canberra were in “absolute shock” when its social media content was “ripped through” on Thursday.

“We have had 10 clients lose their content on their pages on (Thursday) morning, with everything from a physio, farmers market and tourism destinations,” director of digital marketing Todd Wright said.

“Any business page that has shared content in the past has been affected.

“The impact on local businesses will be significant, and not just for the news organisations.

“For organisations like our own in the PR and marketing space – we’ll be directly negatively impacted by these changes.

“Local content creators, influencers, small business owners are all going to be caught up in the backwash.”

 

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