In late 2013, I wrote a blog piece titled What Facebook's News Feed Changes Mean for the Wine Community. In it, I shared Facebook's warning to the owners of their pages that they were going to be reducing posts' organic reach, in order to prioritize friend-to-friend content over business content. Of course, page owners who wanted to reach more of their fans would be able to pay for that reach.
It's clear, a little more than a year later, that Facebook's changes are in full effect. At any given level of engagement (measured by Facebook) the percentage of our page's fans who we reach with a given post is roughly half what it was in 2013. For our image posts:
It also seems like it's getting worse. Looking at our image posts with our most common levels of engagement (11%-14%) the percent of our fans we've reached has gone down steadily each month so far in 2015:
It also seems that Facebook has changed which sorts of posts get higher reach. It used to be that images, which offer the easy opportunity for interaction through a simple click, got good reach compared to links or text posts. Our experience in recent months has been that images have been increasingly difficult to have reach a high percentage of your fans. Text posts, which are hard to interact with, are equally difficult to spread widely. Links are harder to get high engagement totals on, but it appears that when you do, Facebook gives those posts signficantly broader reach. The below post that we shared this week reached nearly 42% of our total fans, our highest total of the year, at a 14% engagement rate.
Two sorts of posts appear to be easiest to get served to those who have liked your page. First is video. We've posted seven videos so far this year. They have garnered an average 10% engagement rate, and have reached an average of 22.6% of our fans: more than double the reach, on average, of our image posts with the same engagement.
The second type of post that seems to get good reach is the multi-image post, where fans are encouraged to click between the images to see the full content you've posted. We've posted seventeen such posts this year, and they've achieved an average 16.2% engagement rate and have reached an average of 14.6% of our fans per post. And yet this is discouraging in its own way. We had six multi-image posts that achieved at least 19% engagement. These posts reached, on average, 18% of our fans. Facebook has decided that even these all-star posts, interesting enough to engage a massive 20% of the people who saw them, aren't worth serving to 82% of the people who have self-declared as your fans.
So, if you're running a Facebook page for your company or your organization, what should you do? It seems to me you have three options, not mutually exclusive.
- You can continue to work to make great content, and resign yourself to the reach of this content in most cases growing smaller over time. This has the advantage of being free, except for the opportunity costs and staff time of producing this content. Just adjust your expectations.
- You can invest more significantly in video. A glance at your own Facebook feed should demonstrate that Facebook is interested in serving more video to its users as it focuses on cutting into YouTube's head-start in the video arena. These posts are typically somewhat more involved to make, but Facebook is rewarding them with greater reach.
- Finally, you can pay to sponsor your posts. Even at relatively modest levels, doing so gives you much greater access to your fans and to those who you target, whether they be friends of your fans or others that fit specific demographics or interests. We've paid to promote four posts so far this year, and have had these posts served something like 5000 extra times for each $20 we've spent. Given that our average post is reaching something like 800 of our fans organically, if we were to choose to promote one post a week, at $20/post, we might be able to double the total number of views of our content at an annual cost of around $1000. That's hardly exorbitant.
Sadly, I don't see Facebook making changes that allow for a return to the conditions of a few years ago, where businesses and organizations could pay to acquire new fans, or to target connections of their fans, while taking access to those fans for granted. But given that there is no other social network that has remotely Facebook's user base, and that the changes that the company has made aren't likely to drive those users away, it's worth deciding the appropriate level of investment for your group to remain in the Facebook game. Sure, you can -- and should -- continue to post to Twitter and Instagram, but doing so is not a replacement for engaging the 1.2 billion active monthly users on Facebook. Just know that the era when a small businesses can treat Facebook as the centerpiece of a no-cost marketing plan is over, and it's not coming back.