The decline of organic reach - is Facebook still worth the effort?

18 February 2015

Many of you will have noticed that less of your fans are actually seeing your posts -   it may on average be only 4% or less of your total fan base.  So you may be wondering if Facebook is worth the effort any more.  There have been a raft of articles all claiming that Facebook organic reach is dead ever since Brian Boland[1] at Facebook warned us last summer that the reach of organic posts was declining.
However I'm with Jon Loomer[2] who wrote a great article about how you can still achieve success on Facebook.   Organic reach is not dead but we've got to recognise that the basic law of supply and demand applies. There are far too many people trying to reach all those Facebook users and we've got to start paying to access them just as we have to pay to reach our target audiences via Google, press, TV, radio or any other form of marketing channel. Facebook has come of age. Gone are the days of offers or contests promoted via organic posts generating thousands of fans. If you are doing Facebook promoted posts and ads you may have noticed that CPM[3] rates have increased since last year (in some cases by almost 100%) but I'm still seeing positive ROI for clients when tracking contributed and last click conversions from Facebook in our Google Analytics.
Treat Facebook as a paid channel 
We believe that you have to treat Facebook as a paid channel and ensure that you are testing and measuring the results you are getting. However you can still achieve results and drive conversions with your organic posts if you complement them with promoted ones. We have noticed that when promoting posts we have found some unexpected benefits as  fans see more of our organic posts page at the same time. This has driven higher engagement than with other organic posts at other times.
However Facebook is on the war path against spammy and salesy posts. Your posts are competing with those from friends and family of your fans, whether that's family pets or holiday photos so you need to make sure the content is useful, entertaining or of value to your target audience.
Firstly let's explain the difference between organic and paid reach.
As summarised by Facebook themselves here organic reach is the total number of unique people who were shown your post through unpaid distribution. Paid reach is the total number of unique people who were shown your post as a result of ads.

There are several ways you can pay to reach people on Facebook and that is via promoting your post in the newsfeed or serving them ads on the right hand side of the page. Due to banner blindness increasing over time response rates are generally higher in the newsfeeds and on mobile devices where there are fewer distractions than on the desktop for the user, however competition is fierce and hence the increase in rates. However your have to remember that you can be very specific about the type of audience you want to attract.
Here are a few tips to ensure you're getting the most from your Facebook activity.
Facebook should complement the rest of your marketing mix.
Firstly you have to think of Facebook as one tool in your toolkit to take customers down your marketing funnel. Facebook works best when you are targeting a warm audience rather than trying to reach them cold.  It can really help at the consideration stage where your target audience are evaluating your product or service versus other providers.
Driving email subscriptions
Facebook posts can really help in driving traffic to your blog content to drive email subscriptions as a first step to becoming a paid customer.
Positive endorsement from customers like them (e.g. mums in the example shown) in the form of a positive Facebook comment can be very powerful. You can see how this works out on the Center Parcs Facebook page. They work with mummy bloggers and have a core of mummy enthusiasts on their Facebook page.
Here's an example of a social post with a link to one of their mummy blogs which has already got 37 likes.   

The value of Facebook is the power of the friends of fans who are sharing and liking content that then appears in their friend's newsfeed. Facebook claims when a person sees that their friend likes your content — your ads drive, on average, 50% more recall and 35% higher online sales lift.[4]
Noone wants to have all their eggs in one basket so you can use Facebook as one of  several ways to drive conversions with your warm prospects and here are some tips on how to optimise your paid activity.
Allow for engagement on your posts before promoting them
It is best to allow a few hours to give time for your Facebook fans to comment and engage with them before promoting as this builds added social proof and power to your activity. 
Split test your adverts so you know which creative performs best
Testing your Facebook ads is key to knowing which photo or creative performs best with your target demographic audience so test each one with different creative and messaging.
Put the tracking pixels in place
Firstly you can track which customers who saw your Facebook ad or promoted post have visited your website. You need to have a pixel (piece of code put on your website in your source code) so you can see the results of this tracking in your Google Analytics.
Retarget your website visitors
The pixels can help you to retarget your website visitors with Facebook ads or promoted posts to encourage them to convert. Special offers can work well to do this.
Target your email subscribers to become fans
You can also import your email addresses and target them on Facebook with special offers to encourage them to become fans so that they can help you by persuading their fans and followers to try your product or services by liking or sharing your posts.
Remember the 20% rule for text in promoted posts
Facebook will only allow 20% texts in your creative to appear in the newsfeed so make sure your creative fits the rule. Facebook offers an online testing tool here[5].
Use Power Editor tool to target lookalike audiences
One of the next steps in building your Facebook community is to use Lookalike audiences in the Power Editor tool to target those fans which have an interest which is strongly correlated to your product or service. One of our clients offers a service for ultrarunners so we target those interested in running, however we don't just rely on Facebook as there are also large running communities on Google+.
Building social conversations with the online influencers in your market
Another way to grow your fan base is to build strong online relationships with the influencers in your market. This means using tools such as Kred, Klout or PeerIndex to determine the best ones to work with and then following them in Twitter and Facebook. Sharing and tweeting their content which is useful for your audience also builds strong relationships.  Over time this builds incredible goodwill and we have found can lead to fruitful partnerships and new guest blog opportunities supported by social posts. In this way the social conversations lead to increased fan engagement for both parties.
Benchmark with other Facebook pages
There are plenty of free tools to help benchmark your levels of fan engagement against other Facebook pages of a similar size. Here are some useful links to do this:
Agora Pulse, Social Media Examiner top tips on benchmarking tools.  
In Summary
If you have been serving up endless spammy posts with sales messages to your fans and followers and not providing any content of value or interest to them, you may well be of the opinion that Facebook organic reach is dead.
However if you have been tracking high levels of fan engagement with your posts and have been serving them useful high value content, you may well concur that Facebook organic reach is far from dead and you're still a firm believer.
For those people who have had their promoted posts rejected and can't attribute it to a breach of the 20% text rule there is a more worrying recent trend. 
Whilst there was a lot of speculation in December 2014 at the BBC[6] that Facebook was going to introduce a dislike button which did not happen, the IBT[7] recently claimed Facebook has "its own internal dislike button". It quoted several examples of Facebook not approving promoted posts from companies that it sees as having been critical of Facebook. Anyone else found this?  

[3] CPM - cost to reach a 1000 people on Facebook
[7],  11 February 2015

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