If Facebook Organic Reach Is Dead, What Does It Mean For Marketers?

If organic reach for Facebook Pages is dead — and the obituaries cranked up since Facebook’s rule change announcement late Friday leave little hope for resuscitation — what are marketers supposed to do now?

In case you missed it, Facebook signaled that starting in January users will see fewer overly promotional posts in their News Feeds, meaning Pages “that post promotional creative should expect their organic distribution to fall significantly over time.”

Specifically, Facebook will be making it harder for posts that push products or app installs, offer entry to promotions or sweepstakes or re-use the same content from advertisements to make it into the News Feed. Essentially, Facebook is saying: 1. If it feels like an ad don’t bother posting it in the social stream and 2. if you want to reach customers with a promotional message buy a ad.

That message from Facebook shouldn’t come as a surprise; the company has been signaling for years that its users prefer higher quality content and that it will always optimize for better user experiences.

However, many marketers who have worked hard and spent significant money and resources to build an organic audience on Facebook can’t be blamed for being confused and uncertain how to proceed.

So is it time to throw in the towel and dump Facebook as a business tool, as some brands had already done earlier this year? Or perhaps a retooling of Facebook strategy is called for.

We turned to a handful of social marketing experts to get their early take on the change, asking two questions:

    Will the new policy be good or bad for marketers? Why?
    Will it change the way you recommend businesses use Facebook? If so, how?

Here are their answers:

Jan Rezab, Socialbakers

    1. The new policy means marketers will have to really evaluate the type of content they’re creating and posting. Posts that are actually advertising a specific product or service will be treated as such, and will require ad spend to gain reach. The policy creates a clear distinction between advertisements and non-promotional content, which gives brands an opportunity to separate their storytelling from their direct sales pitches. My belief is that this will lead to brands creating higher-quality content that fans want to see more of.

    2. Brands with high-quality content and high engagement will still reach their audiences. Red Bull and Harley-Davidson are two of such brands that have successful content strategies. For brands that don’t this will be a sign to re-focus their content. My suggestion would be for brands to act similarly to media companies by posting more and more content that their audiences want to share.

Nate Elliott, Forrester Research

    For marketers, Facebook reach and engagement were already basically non-existent. Ogilvy reported earlier this year that big brands’ Facebook posts reached just 2% of their fans. And that’s not all: Thanks in large part to brands’ lack of organic reach, a Forrester study this year found that just 0.73% of top brands’ fans engage with each of their Facebook posts.

    If you’re a brand, 98% of your fans won’t see your next Facebook post, and 99.9% won’t engage with that post — and this change will only make matters worse. Every day it becomes more and more clear that Facebook has abandoned social marketing, and is just a place to buy old-fashioned ads.”

Emeric Ernoult, AgoraPulse

    First, it’s kind of unclear how they’re going to determine what’s “overly promotional.” I’m curious to see how this can be done efficiently at scale. It will be interesting to see what kind of post gets impacted by that. Assuming their system can work efficiently (and accurately), I’m personally not fan of strictly promotional “buy-my-stuff” kind of content, so I’m not complaining about the motivation behind the announcement.

    I don’t think it’s bad for marketers because I think this type of content doesn’t work well anyway. I’m just curious to see how it’s going to technically work!

Jon Loomer, Jon Loomer Digital

    1. First, it’s tough to say what impact this will have on anyone. Facebook makes tweaks and changes all the time, and we often speculate that the impact will be much more significant than it actually is. We won’t know for sure without a few months of data, and I recommend approaching this cautiously but with an open mind.

    It’s tough to say how good or bad this will be for anyone, but we can imagine that this will be bad (at least some level of bad) for marketers who are entirely self-promotional and good (or at least some level of good) for marketers who focus primarily on providing value (informing, educating and entertaining with original content).

    I think it can also be good for changing behaviors. Marketers should find that their content can be much more interesting if they focus primarily on providing value.

    One thing is for sure — this is good for users, and that’s Facebook’s primary concern. Long-term, then, marketers should see some positive for them as well since creating a better user experience means continued growth of users on Facebook. More users and more time on site mean more users online to reach (if creating interesting content), more data and more powerful ad targeting.

    2. This changes content strategy a little bit, but not drastically. I’ve always recommended focusing first on providing value and not to be overly self-promotional.

    However, I wonder about the brands that “offer value” in the form of regular discounts. Their organic content may be severely punished (though this is not clear to what extent, of course).

    I occasionally create a post that announces my latest product launch, and then I’ll later promote it. I am going to take a slightly different approach in the future.

    Part of it is when sharing something that leads to a product page or opt-in is simply being more creative. Be more human and more interesting in the way you drive people to that landing page. Less “buy now,” “get this,” “save now” types of an approach. This is even something I struggle with, but it’s good to be pushed in this direction.

    I’ll otherwise save my pushier content for ads only. Really, this isn’t a major departure from what I do now. I don’t share that often about products organically, and I keep ads running constantly to increase sales and opt-ins.

    Bottom line is this pushes marketers to be more creative. And ultimately, that’s a good thing.

Chad Wittman, founder EdgeRank Checker

    1. It depends. I think for the average small business marketer this can really hurt their time commitment to the platform. For larger brand managers, this change can work out well. They already have the budgets and time to create unique content and campaigns that make them stand out.

    At its core, social is about contributing unique value content/service/product or die. Facebook is embracing this concept and is wanting to work with only businesses that are willing to embrace the platform. It is almost a “less is more” type concept.

    Regardless of marketers’ feelings about the changes, this change does improve the user experience in the News Feed. At the end of the day, this is ultimately their goal. If this experience goes to garbage, Facebook will be the one dying. There will always be a marketer willing to advertise somehow on this massive platform.

    2. The pitch used to be simple: “you’d be an idiot to not be Facebook marketing.” Now the pitch is much more complicated, things like budget/time/content/industry can muddle up the answer to the question. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it’s just makes it a more robust conversation.

    The reality is that Facebook is another platform among many forms of digital marketing. It should be used in conjunction with websites, social, email, SEO, etc.

    Brands that are using things like Facebook Login, Retargeting, In-depth Targeting, are the ones “winning” on social. The News Feed is more a discussion among friends and your challenge as a brand is to get people to talk about your brand for you. Use your page as a testing ground to see what gets people going and do more (or a better job) of that thing.

Zach Welch, BrandGlue

    1. I really doubt this change will impact behavior for most marketers and will largely go unnoticed. Facebook, as always, remains very unspecific and speaks in generalities. Things have tailed off so much from a organic perspective, it’s really hard to pick up on trends, as most all brands have shifted to paid.

    2. No. We have been teaching our clients not to be overly promotional on Facebook, or any other social platform for years. We really need Facebook to tell us that consumers don’t want the hard sell from brands every time they log on? They won’t respond to that kind of content, no matter if Facebook is serving it up to them or not. This really is just a good reminder to focus on content. Be useful, knowledgeable, and trustworthy with your content and you will win on social — regardless of how algorithms are shifted.

Alison Zarrella, AlisonZarrella.com

    1. As a user, I like it. I’ve found myself browsing Instagram more to stay connected with actual friends and don’t follow many brands there. As a marketer, I certainly don’t expect anything for free from Facebook and think this is more of them realizing that they are going to lose users, the reason marketers stick around, if they don’t make the feed more user-friendly. So I would call it a necessary evil.

    2. I’m curious to get more details on what they consider promotional, particularly around the “same language used in ads.” I still think Facebook has the best targeting capabilities around so I would continue to recommend, but requiring more ad spend means that small businesses need to be really smart with targeting, content and budget.

Kevan Lee, Buffer

    1. My feeling is that the new policy will be great for marketers because it will encourage them to create meaningful, high-quality content. In many instances, this is already the case for Pages, so the new policy may not have much of an effect. I think the main area to be watchful of will be the direct sales of apps and services (promoting your new product, for instance) and the way that Facebook contests are disseminated. You can still do both, but it will be more important to do so in a way that adds value — either education or entertainment — for fans and followers.

    2. The Facebook News Feed has consistently rewarded Pages that produce useful, interesting, helpful content to their fans. I fully expect this to remain the case after this latest change about promotional content. We recommend businesses to use Facebook in an authentic way — write posts that you would be excited to see in your own News Feed, and always remember there’s a person on the other end of your communication (not just someone or something to sell at). For the times when promotional content is necessary, there may be a stronger emphasis on being purposeful with the post and making sure that it goes beyond a simple call-to-action to buy or click or sign up.

What do you think? We welcome your comments below.


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