Back in December Facebook told marketers they should expect to see “organic distribution of an individual page’s posts to gradually decline over time as we continually work to make sure people have a meaningful experience on the site”.
This month Ogilvy data showed the average page post reaches just 6 per cent of fans, but for pages with 500,000 or more fans, that reach drops to just 2 per cent.
Facebook says declining organic distribution of page post in the News Feed is down to “more competition, driven by more sharing”. Indeed, last year Facebook revealed the average user could be served up to 1,500 stories per day – which range from invites to join games, to birthdays, photos and page posts – which is why it uses algorithms to surface only what they deem the most relevant content.
It would probably be fair to wager that organic reach began plummeting once Facebook became a public company and it became imperative to push brands towards paying for advertising products. Ahead of its IPO, the average page post reached 16 per cent of fans, now that reach has dropped by more than 80 per cent. The free meal ticket is over, but that shouldn’t be a reason for marketer outrage – the kind of which has bubbled up again this week following the latest page reach decline reports.
In 2012 Facebook admitted in filings to the US Securities and Exchange Commission that 9 per cent of its then 955 million active users were likely to be fake profiles. Since then there have been countless reports of businesses paying to promote their pages using one of Facebook’s ad products achieving some odd results, like US biomedical research company PubChase accruing more than 10 times as many new fans from India (which it assumed to be fakes) than its home market.
Such stats go to show that the number of Page Likes you have is meaningless: there’s a good chance some of them aren’t the audience you’d ever want to reach and the majority of those you do want to talk to are unlikely ever to see your posts unless they dig them out. Using Likes to demonstrate the success of your social media strategy is as facile as using the amount of numbers in your phone book to demonstrate how popular you are.
If marketers want success on Facebook, sorry, but you have to pay. This shouldn’t come as a shock or a disappointment. When was the last time you saw ITV offer a free 30-second spot, or The Guardian hand over a cover wrap because they sympathised that a brand had spent years building up a community among its readers? Marketing success on Facebook is no different to anywhere else: it requires ruthless media spend, efficient targeting and fantastic creative.
It’s worth noting the lack in organic reach shouldn’t mean marketers should cease creating non ad-funded Facebook content altogether. Some 25 million people in the UK visited Facebook every day in December 2013, the most recently available country-specific figures. Brands need to be where their audiences are and Facebook takes up a big chunk of their audiences’ lives.
As a case in point: earlier this week, EE suffered a network outage that meant many of its customers had no access to its services for a number of hours. EE’s posts about the outage were shared and commented on thousands and hundreds of times respectively, despite the fact it didn’t pay to promote them, because customers expected up-to-date information to be readily available on its Facebook page.
And it’s worth mentioning that actual marketing content from brands does show up in the News Feed, but just like word of mouth in any other form, it is only the exceptional marketing that creates a buzz. Anecdotally, in the last few weeks, I’ve seen friends on my feed (who have nothing to do with the marketing industry) sharing the Three #SingItKitty ad, the Save the Children Syria spot and clothing retailer Wren’s “First Kiss” video. Those recommendations from friends are far more valuable than posts pushed out in the News Feed by the brands themselves. Brilliant marketing prevails, not sneaky marketing that happened to worm its way into our consciousness between the preening selfies and Upworthy links. And it doesn’t matter whether brilliant marketing first appeared on YouTube, TV, or Facebook itself. Brilliant marketing is all that matters.
There are other reasons why marketers could be forgiven for being disappointed by the service Facebook offers them (many of which Marketing Week tackled back in November) but a slowdown in organic reach shouldn’t be one of them. Forget Like harvesting and stop treating Facebook marketing like a special case.