Free marketing services almost always come with strings attached. For years, Facebook was the exception to that rule, allowing real estate agents to promote homes, open houses and more on their Facebook pages at no charge. Now, Facebook is attaching strings that will have a dramatic impact on your social media marketing.

The good old days: How Facebook used to operate

For many tech-savvy small businesses (including real estate professionals), Facebook has been a Godsend. Instead of paying to promote their products and services via print ads, direct mail and email marketing, they could simply post a “status update” on their Facebook page for all their Facebook “friends” to see. If any of those friends “liked” the post, it would then be broadcast to the Facebook friends of those folks, as well, creating a “viral marketing” effect.Paying for Facebook advertising

For small businesses with the digital wherewithal, Facebook had the potential to be a very powerful – and free – marketing medium. Unfortunately, Facebook decided to end all that as of mid-January, 2015.

The new normal: Pay-to-play

According to a recent announcement from Facebook, any posts that are marketing focused (including contests) will suffer “a significant decrease in distribution.” You’ll still be able to post marketing-focused messages and contests, but Facebook’s powerful computers will automatically squelch their distribution – which means only a small fraction of your Facebook friends will see them.

Facebook is being cagy about what exactly constitutes a marketing post, so you may be able to get away with a carefully crafted message. Facebook is also being aloof about how much it will restrict the distribution of marketing-focused messages. But because there’s no way to track the distribution of your posts, you’ll never know who does / does not see them. It’s a little like throwing business cards out the window of your speeding car and hoping for the best.

Facebook marketing expert Jon Loomer says, “Facebook isn’t messing around with this. Take this warning seriously or expect to face the consequences.”

Going forward, Facebook wants you to pay at least $5 to “promote” each of your marketing posts. But that’s just the starting price. The more Facebook friends and users you want to see the post, the more you have to pay. A Virginia jewelry maker told the Wall St. Journal she was planning to spend $1,500 per month to promote her small business on Facebook after this change takes place.

At Xpressdocs, we’ve always touted Facebook and other like-minded social media services as great tools for staying in touch with your sphere of influence. And this change doesn’t change that. Facebook is still a valuable tool for building your brand by posting useful industry information and helpful tips. But when it comes to marketing you, your business and any properties, we recommend tools that are more tried and true, like direct mail, or email marketing.

To find out more about our online and print marketing tools or to help with your personal marketing strategy, visit http://www.xpressdocs.com. Be sure to join our Facebook Community and follow us on Twitter for real estate marketing tips.