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Facebook Organic Reach is Toast: How to Shift Your Strategy

By on Friday, February 13, 2015

Over the last year, the organic reach of Facebook page posts has plummeted – with nonprofit organizations, associations, small businesses and well-known brands struggling to connect with the fans they already have, much less reach out to people who don’t know them yet.

Organic reach is the total number of people who see a Facebook post that has not been boosted by paid advertising. The situation has provoked a lot of discussion. The change has provoked outrage from some of Facebook’s users – including personalities like George Takei of Star Trek fame and actor Rainn Wilson of “The Office” (who complained his posts were reaching only about 2.5 percent of his 200,000 Facebook fans).

The changes began in 2012 when Facebook restricted organic reach of content published by brand pages to 16 percent. Since then, the algorithm Facebook uses has reduced that reach further.  A year ago, a Social@Ogilvy analysis found organic reach of brand pages around 6 percent, a decline of nearly half from only four months before. For large pages with more than 500,000 Likes, organic reach hit 2 percent a year ago. And some are saying it will be zero eventually.

Facebook has discussed the decline, saying that the problem originated with exponential content creation – that as more content bubbles out, organic reach is bound to decline amid the never ending information onslaught. Even if Facebook did nothing, organic reach would inevitably decline.

The tide of news from friends, nonprofits and businesses produces a potential 1,500 stories in news feed for the average Facebook user, and as many as 15,000 stories for people with a lot of friends and page likes. But you don’t see all of those stories.

The other reason organic reach is declining is because Facebook decides which stories to show each user and prioritizes them, based on factors it calculates using an algorithm. Only 300 of the potential 1,500-3,000 stories make the cut and land in a user’s news feed, and there is no option to view your feed unfiltered now (there used to be).

In November 2014, Facebook warned page managers that “promotional” posts were going to be chopped from news feed starting in January 2015, and it happened. Facebook says the algorithm changes have cleaned out spam and improved quality over the last year in news feed, making it more engaging for users.

But the feeling many nonprofits and small businesses have is one of being choked out. A story in International Business Times called the situation “catastrophic” for nonprofits and discussed charities and their frustrations at being unable to share information with their fans on Facebook. No one wants spam, but the animal rescue that built a fan base now struggles to connect with those fans because of this problem.

Nonprofits are so concerned that a grassroots change.org petition calling on Facebook to change its algorithm for nonprofit pages has sprung up, and garnered nearly 9,000 signatures. Other similar petitions have gained smaller followings. Ad Week interviewed six experts asking for advice to help nonprofits cope.

So presuming that Facebook makes no changes in its algorithm, what should we do? I don’t think leaving Facebook is an option for any nonprofits, associations, big brands or small businesses. It’s a social network with expansive reach. Many organizations and businesses have already invested considerable time and energy in building a Facebook presence and integrated that presence within their other marketing tools, so abandonment does not seem to be an option. Here are a few thoughts and ideas:

Up your post quality. Heed the advice and don’t post information that is self-promotional. Post content that speaks to the people who know you, your organization, your business, or your brand. Sharing content that touches the people who love you or your organization the best, will nurture a tribe of people who engage and interact with your posts. Be creative in what you post and invite discussion.

Look at Facebook Insights for your page and apply what you find. Really look at the numbers and data. Get help understanding the numbers if you need it. When you have interaction on your page, what time of day does it happen? What types of posts are people engaging with by liking, commenting or sharing? Repeat what is successful and working. Try what did not work well again, but maybe change the time you post, or add a photo, or shorten the text.

Accept that the free ride is over. Consider buying advertising (boost posts) for your Facebook page.  Facebook is now a venue where you may have to pay to get your posts seen. In many other venues, businesses and organizations expect to spend money (lots of money) to reach people. And the truth is – social media has always offered connective benefits and come with cost. Even if social media is an “added on” responsibility to someone’s full-time job, a full-time job for an employee or consultant, or being done by a volunteer (whose time is valuable), it has never been truly free – someone has always had to maintain Facebook pages and nurture communities for social media to thrive. You were investing resources in Facebook long before the organic reach algorithm change. Look at your budget and see if you can find $250 a month to boost your posts. After you spend some money on advertising, look at your analytics to learn how you can effectively target your ads to reach the people you want. Perhaps you only want to reach people within a certain geographic area, or people of a certain age.

Create an expectation in your fans that you will be distributing and sharing information on a regular basis that is useful, helpful, or inspirational. Having an editorial calendar to guide your content creation and dissemination is important now. Being predictable and reliable in your content distribution are also valuable. If you always post on Facebook a great photo with an inspiring quote on Friday that people look forward to and engage with, keep doing it – don’t skip a week. And remind people you are putting content on Facebook. Tell your fans that you will be distributing information on Facebook and remind them to like your page and to visit it for updates. Then deliver great content for them to engage with. You have to be more deliberate now than you used to be.

Beef up your other social media channels, blogging, text messaging, and email outreach. Twitter, Instagram, Google Plus, and YouTube offer other ways to connect with and reach supporters. Blogging (add an RSS feed and offer an email subscription option on your blog) can give you another distribution stream for information. Email remains an effective way to distribute information to core customers and supporters who opt-in, and text-messaging (for short updates) is becoming more viable and affordable.

Talk to Us: What strategies are you using on Facebook now to be successful? Share with us your tips!

Featured image courtesy of Marco Paköeningrat and licensed via Creative Commons.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites. She blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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