There was a bit of a flap in social media circles a couple of weeks ago when Ad Age broke the story that Facebook would be reducing the organic reach of pages and requiring those pages that wanted to reach a significant percentage of their fans to advertise to do so. A Facebook sales presentation sent to its partners last month makes it clear: "We expect organic distribution of an individual page's posts to gradually decline over time as we continually work to make sure people have a meaningful experience on the site."
The implications of this change do not appear to have percolated into much of the wine community, but it sounds like the impacts will be substantial for the many small- and mid-size wineries who have been relying on Facebook as an inexpensive marketing channel, and perhaps even more so for winery organizations that rely largely on sharing their members' content. What's more, it does not appear that Facebook is planning these changes for some time in the distant future. Instead, it appears from the reach of our Facebook posts that these changes are well underway.
It is no secret to anyone who administers a Facebook page that any post reaches only a fraction of the page's fans. But many wineries, who have invested significantly in acquiring fans, may not realize the extent to which their content is already being filtered out. The specialists who I talk to suggest that organic page reach is averaging in the 12%-14% range now, which means that an average post to a page with 5000 fans will be seen in the news feeds of just 600-700 of those fans. That Facebook should be looking to further reduce this reach will mean that the businesses and organizations that have been using only the free tools Facebook makes available should expect to the platform to become less and less rewarding.
There are really only two options for a business or organization who wants to continue to interact with large numbers of their fans on Facebook:
- Get ready to pay for reach. A Facebook spokesman is quoted in the Ad Age article as saying "the best way to get your stuff seen if you're a business is to pay for it". This is different than the classic model of Facebook advertising, where you advertised to get new people to like your page or to sell your product to non-fans. Now, you'll have to get used to paying just to reach the fans you've acquired.
- Make especially compelling content. In recent weeks I've noticed a correlation between engagement rate and post reach even greater than before. Looking at our Facebook page since the beginning of November, most of our posts averaged in the 9%-10% engagement rate, at which level we reached an average of 935 fans, or a little over 17% of our roughly 5300 page likes. Each additional percent of engagement allowed that post to reach approximately 3% more of our fans, with a peak of 1687 fans (31% of our total) on a post with 16% engagement. Similarly, on the posts which were less engaging, we reached fewer fans; the one post that received only a 5% engagement rate was seen by just 412 of our fans (7%).
The chart below shows the same data graphically. The data comes by averaging the reach of all image posts on the Tablas Creek Facebook page since the beginning of November. I excluded any posts that overlapped with another post that same day, as more frequent postings show lower reach totals for any given level of engagement.
Facebook's message is clear: make your content compelling if you want it seen organically. Otherwise, expect to pay.
It was probably inevitable that Facebook should make this change, which raises revenue while also helping them prioritize friend-generated content over business-generated content. But it does mean that the wineries -- and the wine organizations -- that have been relying on Facebook as a low- (or no-) cost means of customer acquisition will need to reevaluate their strategy and budget.
These changes, while likely unwelcome to most wineries, shouldn't be impossible to adapt to. Wineries will just have to choose what portion of their marketing budget to spend on promoting their posts to their fans, just as they would evaluate any other advertising opportunity that crossed their desks. They also likely already have a leg up on generating interesting original content. But it seems to me like it will be harder for wine organizations, particularly small ones, to react to. Many of these organizations are sharing other pages' content, and links to non-original content have two strikes against them: they are harder to generate high post engagement scores for, and they have been named as a target for deemphasis by Facebook in the past.
Will businesses and organizations switch their attention to other platforms like Twitter and Google Plus? It seems unlikely. Facebook's power lies in its massive audience. This audience isn't going anywhere, and businesses who pick up their toys and move to a different sandbox will likely find themselves lonely there.