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POV: Facebook Officially Culls Organic Reach

Mindshare Point of View

The time has come. After a November announcement (and a two year tethering process), in January Facebook officially implemented the changes to its algorithm significantly reducing guaranteed organic reach for brands.

The announcement came after Facebook conducted a study in 2014, reporting users regarded key “brand offenders” as those who were overtly selling a product or download, posting low relevance competitions or sweepstakes, and reusing advertisements in posts.

Backlash and praise have come from various sides, but according to Facebook it’s mainly a numbers game. Facebook says an average of 1,500 pieces of content (up to 15,000) can be shown on a user’s News Feed every day; they normally cull this down to 300. In February 2014, WPP estimated that big brand pages, on average had a 2% organic fan reach. With this new algorithm, the average will be creeping towards 0%.

Implications:

The obvious implication for brands, and one that most analysts touch upon, is that this will force brands to focus on engaging purposeful content. True, but the amount of content on Facebook is growing exponentially. The chance of gaining high reach, even if it manages to pass the “organic sense-check”, is quite low. Also, this truism was relevant before Facebook started its organic cull: brands should always, and only, focus on relevant content.

However, what Facebook’s revised algorithm has done is force brands to rethink the roles of key players in their social strategy.

  • Facebook: Facebook has made its business objectives clear: ads (and usually reach) cost money, but worthy social networking is free. The reality is Facebook is very strong in both of these spaces. A study by eConsultancy, monitoring Facebook reach from three brands over a three month period, concluded that engaging content coupled with strategic channelling obtain the best results. Brands that are using Facebook ads and tools like Custom Audiences, Partner Categories, retargeting, page-testing, coupled with great organic content are getting the most out of Facebook.
  • Alternative platforms: Organic reach can still be hard to obtain for most brands, even with the right content. But there is a place, via other social platforms to achieve this. A study by Forrester showed that Instagram posts, for instance, gain 58 times more engagement than Facebook and 128 times more than Twitter. Whilst Pinterest users tend to spend freely online, engage with brands in social media, and drive vast amounts of traffic to brand sites. In addition, knowing the affinity and intent data strengths of various platforms can inform those best suited to a particular brand.
  • Brand-owned communities: Perhaps one of the more untapped sources for social longevity comes from investment in a brand built community.  Short term, this can start within existing platforms. Modifying a Facebook page, for example, so it serves a greater purpose than a content-execution hub can kick-start a valued community. Longer term, continuously building these tactics can enable a brand to incorporate social relationship tools into an owned site. Done right, this can drive greater brand reach, convert prospects into customers, and cement existing customer relationship.

Summary:

It’s been long drawn out, but it’s finally happened: Facebook organic reach is no longer effective in isolation. This has ramifications for how brands choose to diversify their social tactics, be it within Facebook, alternative channels, or owned sites. It forces brands to be more robust outside of just creating better content. Regardless of how this is achieved, one thing is for certain: When it comes to social strategy it’s time for brands to start thinking outside the (organic thumbs-up) box.