There has been a great deal of speculation this past week in regards to how Facebook’s News Feed algorithm will impact the ability of Pages to organically reach the audiences that they’ve spent a great deal of time and money to build over the past few years. This speculation was primarily spurred by an article by Sam Biddle on Gawker, whose article, Facebook is Ending the Free Ride, stated that “A source professionally familiar with Facebook’s marketing strategy, who requested to remain anonymous, tells Valleywag that the social network is ‘in the process of’ slashing ‘organic page reach’ down to 1 or 2 percent.”
What would this mean for your Facebook page?
When you post links, status updates and photos, those updates would organically reach about 1-2% of your Fans. In order to reach a larger number of your Fans, you would have to be willing to pay to Boost your Post. Although you may have dedicated resources to building up your Facebook Fan base, those users will now only be accessible if you’re willing to pay to reach them. Biddle states: “now that companies have taken the bait, Facebook is holding the whole operation hostage.”
The impact on Small Businesses & Blogs
This change would likely have the greatest impact on smaller businesses and blogs. When looking at a Facebook Page such as BuzzFeed (2.2 million fans) or CNN (10 million fans), their organic posts would still reach 33,000 and 150,000 users respectively. However, when looking at the Facebook Page of a blog or small business, the reach is going to be extremely limited.
“now that companies have taken the bait, Facebook is holding the whole operation hostage.”
For instance, two restaurants that I’m a Fan of on Facebook have 3-5k fans each. For those businesses, each organic post would reach an estimated 45-75 people (as opposed to the 545-910 that would have been reached before this change). At some point, it would seem logical that it no longer makes sense to spend time updating a Facebook Page if the reach is going to be obscenely small; this would be a shame for Facebook users who use the service as a way of receiving content and deals from small businesses and blogs.
Taking content choices away from Facebook Users
One of Facebook’s benefits has always been that users can customize what content they receive and who they receive it from, whether it be friends or Pages (businesses, celebrities, brands). Unfortunately, this change could mean that Facebook will become a channel in which the average user can only receive updates from businesses that have the funds and resources to afford to pay for distribution — even if these users specifically requested to be kept up-to-date from smaller businesses.
The Raw Data of Organic Posts
As noted above, this speculation is based on an anonymous source quoted in Sam Biddle’s article. I decided to do my own research and gathered data for a Facebook Page that has 44k Fans. From February 25 – March 25, each organic post was shown to an average of 8,000 unique users. Starting on the afternoon of March 30, this number dropped to 2,000, from 18% to 4%. This is not as drastic as the article predicts (1-2%), but it’s still a huge hit to the Page.
Because this change occurs within the Facebook algorithm and is not obvious to the average users, will your fans realize why they no longer see your content (a Facebook policy change), or will they assume that you’ve abandoned them and stopped posting content?
What is Facebook saying?
As of yet, there is no information about this algorithm change or policy shift in the Facebook Newsroom. Over the past few months, Facebook has posted multiple updates about changes being made to the Newsfeed algorithm and has explained why the changes are being made. Many of these insights can be extremely useful in helping to optimize your posts’ reach.
When choosing whether or not to show a post to a user, Facebook takes into account:
- How often you interact with the friend, Page, or public figure (like an actor or journalist) who posted
- The number of likes, shares and comments a post receives from the world at large and from your friends in particular
- How much you have interacted with this type of post in the past
- Whether or not you and other people across Facebook are hiding or reporting a given post
Depending on how often you surf your Facebook Newsfeed, you may have wondered why you see the same content over and over again. You might expect that, with the massive number of status updates being posted, you’d always see fresh content, right? Well, back in August, and again in December of 2013, Facebook made significant changes that meant that stories which are receiving comments and likes get ‘bumped’ to the top of news feed. So, if you’ve seen a story from a friend or page and people are commenting or liking it, you’re going to keep seeing that same story until people stop interacting with it.
From the perspective of a user who scrolls through their Newsfeed multiple times per day, this may get old fairly quickly. But if it is a post from your Page, it means that these indicators (likes and comments) are really the key to ensuring that your post is seen.
High Quality Content
In December of 2013, Facebook announced that their algorithm would give preference to what is identified as ‘high quality content,’ specifically news articles, and with higher emphasis to this type of content in Newsfeeds displayed on mobile devices. Based on their survey data, users prefer links to content over memes. This also spurred the introduction of ‘related articles’ being shown.
It will be very interesting to see how this data, which shows that users want to see quality content, will be balanced with the lower organic reach for Pages, as these two factors would seem to be at opposite ends of the spectrum. According to their survey, users are actively looking for articles and news content, but the reduction of organically-shared content from Pages would be thought to reduce the average amount of this type of content that the user sees.
What can you do to increase your Organic Reach?
In January, Facebook wrote an article about the types of posts that users prefer to see from Pages within their Newsfeeds. These Facebook status update changes included the insight related to the note above about high quality content that users want to see links to articles.
Page admins can expect a decrease in the distribution of their text status updates, but they may see some increases in engagement and distribution for other story types.
Facebook also specifically states that by using the Link type of post, your engagement will be higher (likes, comments, shares and clicks). Oddly enough, the examples provided in this article show the opposite, where the text post received more shares and likes than the Link-Share version (below)
Text version of a Status Update with a Link
What should you do next?
As with anything that you publish online, whether on a website, blog or social media network, your best bet is always to create something that appeals to your audience and to not try too hard to craft your content toward guidelines set by the behemoths. If your content is interesting, users on Facebook will Like, Comment and Share, which will help your organic reach.
While adhering to these suggestions on best practices for posting content on Facebook may help you to optimize your organic reach, if the throttling of organically posted content that has been speculated on does happen, you may not have a choice but to pay for content distribution if you want to reach more than 1-2 % of your Facebook Fans.