In February of this year Facebook turned 10, and what a wild ride it has taken all of us on.
Retailers, brands and celebrities (for the sake of this article these three groups will be referred to as ‘retailers’) quickly realised Facebook was the go to social media channel, stimulating brand buzz and developing direct consumer relationships. Facebook was the social golden child.
Now, these very same Retailers are accusing Facebook of intentionally reducing ‘organic reach’ purely for commercial gain.
While the retailers’ accusation of Facebook is convenient, there are two sides to this story.
‘Organic reach’ is the ability for retailers’ posts to display on the news feeds of the very people who liked their page. This content is delivered at no cost and was originally intended to be viewed by the entire community.
A study from News Feed optimization service EdgeRank Checker of 50,000 posts by 1,000 different pages, shows organic reach per fan (median) has steadily declined:
- Feb 2012 = 16%
- Sep 2013 = 12.60%
- Nov 2013 = 10.15%
- Dec 2013 = 7.83%
- Mar 2014 = 6.51%
To put these figures in context, if a retailer has a Facebook community size of 100,000 and submitted a post in February 2012, the post would appear on 16,000 news feeds.
In March 2014 the post would appear on approximately 6,510 news feeds. Remember, these are best-case scenarios; being on a news feed does not guarantee the post will be seen or is good enough to facilitate engagement or result in any commercial gains.
Now for the other side of the story.
The evolution of the Facebook user
Part of the problem is the new behaviour of Facebook users:
- The average daily time spent on Facebook has increased only marginally over the last three years. In 2013, the length of time on Facebook is 700 minutes per month or 24 minutes per day.
- This compared to 2011 where average daily consumption was 15.5 minutes per day. This increase can be heavily attributed to the growth of mobile.
- The total number of pages Liked by the typical Facebook user grew more than 50% last year (2013) a statistic confirmed by Facebook’s Head of News Feed.
These numbers stack up. The approximate 50% decline in organic reach is inline with the 50% increase in page likes over the last year.
Why are retailers angry?
Apart from the obvious issue of reduced organic reach, Retailers are angry with Facebook for three primary reasons:
- Facebook has done an extremely poor job of communicating this new reality to retailers.
- Over the years Facebook coached and provided guidance to retailers on how to build their communities. In turn, retailers invested time (money) and resource into doing it right only now to be provided with these barriers to reaching the very communities they created and nurtured.
- There is very strong signals coming out of Facebook they intend to “dial down organic reach to 1% to 2%”.
Retailers are calling this extortion and feel duped. A prominent American tech blog calls Facebook’s conduct “the best practical joke of the internet age”.
Whether it’s the Facebook user continually liking new pages without consideration of seeing fewer posts from friends and family, or it’s the master plan of Facebook who is succumbing to relentless shareholder pressure, it doesn’t really matter. Retailers must now face their new reality.
How is Facebook deciding what posts to display in news feeds and in what order?
Facebook realises in order for it to remain socially relevant, it must be able to produce a method to display relevant posts (and advertisements) in order to satisfy both shareholders and the 1.23bn users.
Showing posts in reverse chronological order was never going to be an option.
People and Pages that frequently published inane thoughts and mediocre marketing messages would drown out the most important life changes and biggest news of friends and businesses you care about.
Noise would overwhelm the signal. This is what Twitter has to deal with.
Facebook has created and continues to perfect a news feed sorting algorithm known as Edgerank.
Edgerank analyses post content and determines its relevance to each Facebook user. Based on this ranking, it sorts and selects posts to display.
There are more than 100,000 different indicators factored in the Edgerank algorithm. Will Cathcart, Facebook’s News Feed Director of Product Management, provided clarification around what affects an Edgerank score:
- How popular (liked, commented on, shared, clicked) are the Retailer’s past posts with their community?
- How popular is this post with everyone who has already seen it?
- How popular have the Retailer’s past posts been with their community? Historical conduct.
- Does the type of post (status update, photo, video, link) match what types have been popular with the user in the past?
- How recently was the post published?
Retailers must now earn their space in the News Feed.
What specifically can retailers do to lift organic reach?
- Gain insights from trending data: Understand from the data what works and what doesn’t and modify future posts based on these insights.
- Plan and invest time and resource: A large portion of your Facebook content strategy needs to be preplanned (70% to 80%). Those who plan their content strategy and invest time and resource get results.
- Monitor in real time: You will know very quickly if a post facilitates the desired response. If you find a post that hits the mark, boost its visibility as quickly as possible. This assists in building your Edgerank.
Improve the caliber and depth of your content i.e. create video, articles. ’Deep’ content, like video, offers more than just a picture.
Pictures can be good for short term, quick, ad hoc relevant posts relating to current events, but users typically scan these quickly and move on. Posts with embedded video showed a 58% increase in engagement over the previous quarter.
Video engagement increased 785% year on year thanks to the “auto-play” feature in the news feeds. Text only posts are continually losing share and engagement as a result Facebook is now prioritising deep visual content. Publishers are having very good success with their organic reach.
No one should be surprised by any of this. Facebook is merely following Google’s model. Become the most popular tool of its kind for business (Google’s Search Engine), develop a paid model to supplement the organic model (Adwords) and reward those who adopt a high standard of conduct which delivers relevancy to their target market (Quality Score).
Like Adwords, ‘Paid Social’ should be part of your marketing budget and part of the mix.
Whether you like it or not, Facebook (for now) is still the go to social channel:
- Facebook’s ad clicks have increased by 70% year on year, and the revenue that came from Facebook ads increased by 60%.
- While Facebook is growing sales revenue for Retailers the other social sources are showing a decline: Pinterest, Twitter, Tumblr.
If it means retailers need to work harder to produce better quality and more relevant content, then it’s good for everyone.
We have all seen posts that defy logic and are utterly pointless. It will be good to clean out the garbage.