Facebook India mobile users

Social media plays a major role in content discovery and Facebook leads the efforts. However the saying that the world’s most popular social networking site with more than 1.23 billion monthly users also helps you reach out to your audience organically, is no longer true.

Organic reach is dead on Facebook and the social networking giant has admitted it by the end of last year. In a sales deck obtained by Ad Age last year that was sent out to partners in the month of November 2013, the company states plainly: “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.”

Speculations of diminishing organic reach of Facebook have been rife from the beginning of 2012. A research conducted by Group M Next stated that Facebook users seeing organic posts from a brand they “like” was down 38% in the five weeks after Sept. 20, from 15.56% (consistent with the average 16% Facebook has often reported) to 9.62%.

The message from Facebook is quite clear to marketers: pay to push your content for targeted reach. Finding the trend quite alarming, Harshil Karia, Co-Founder at FoxyMoron digital agency thinks the measures are too drastic, one that will forces brands to re-look at what Facebook means to them in their digital marketing portfolio.

The change was written on the walls, with Facebook focusing aggressively on increasing ad revenues, the social network has been working hard to make the News Feed engaging. With growing complaints of users finding the News Feed boring and spending more time on other networks, Facebook has strongly focused on making the News Feed intelligent and spam free.

By cutting down on the free ride for brands, Facebook is forcing brands to create engaging content rather than product push and make them earn the reach given by the platform. Appreciating Facebook’s new move, Sandip Maiti, CEO at Experience Commerce adds,

“I think Facebook has a right to do whatever it takes to keep enhancing/maintaining the user experience. If user feed is cluttered with Brand Posts, they will end up unsubscribing, so it is best that FB algorithmically figure out which post should reach the user and how often. If user engages with brand posts, I am certain they will see it more often. Brands can always promote a post to reach the user base.”

RIP- Facebook Organic-ReachInterestingly, Rajneel Kumar, Digital Head at Viacom18 shares that in the recent past some of their brand pages have done zero spends and yet have not seen engagement fall to abysmally low levels. He cited Nick India and the regional channels as a classic example to note the development.

“As a media and entertainment company, our FB base engages with us on a daily basis because the tonality of content is very conversational. We don’t see social media as just a promotional tool, it’s our best medium to have a two-way conversation with our audience. We take feedback and the audience sees the change immediately on all our broadcast channels. The same might not be the case with large CPG companies or those brand pages where product promotion is the key objective,” adds Rajneel.

Facebook believes the main reason to acquire fans isn’t to build a free distribution channel for content; it is to make future Facebook ads work better. The network states that, “Your brand can fully benefit from having fans when most of your ads show social context, which increases advertising effectiveness and efficiency.”

But, the same might be a daunting task for the social and digital media agencies who will have to convince their clients or the marketing managers to push money for boosting content, which was already done for building the fan base.

Harshil shares a two point strategy of his agency to tackle the pertinent situation: “The way we’re seeing it now is that only the most interested consumers will actually engage with your content. So do two things with content. Segregate content into community content which will be 90% of all posts and make efforts to make it as focussed (for community) as possible.”

Further, he says, “In a sense start dealing your page as a 100K strong community as opposed to a one million strong community. Have more fun with it and generate viral reach. And the rest of the 10%, make it branded content – rather make it like advertising. Make it work to give the right message at the right time to the right consumer. And put money on that. So we’re ensuring that if brands are putting money on their posts, their RoI elements are being refined more and more as we go along.”

Sandip doesn’t seem to see it as a challenge as his agency has always led its client engagements with a digital consumer strategy and not with a Facebook strategy in mind. “Assuming you have built up a fan base of 2M on Facebook organically, you have the right profile of audience you want to reach. With sponsored posts, you are assured of reaching this audience. It is just a matter of setting the right expectations.”

Brands are not only the ones who are getting affected by the change in strategy from Facebook, it is also the small and medium businesses that are getting affected severely.

Archana Doshi, who is a small business owner, Chef and Founder of Archana’s Kitchen, isn’t happy with the diminishing organic reach of Facebook. She states, “The organic reach of my posts has fallen significantly. It is 20% of what it used be 4-5 months back. However, Facebook is not penalizing all my posts equally. If it detects that a post is getting good engagement it does get a very wide organic reach.”

However, Archana understands the reason why Facebook has cut down on organic reach in the recent times.

“The goal for Facebook is to let its users stay connected and get updates from their friends and things they like. However, given that every marketer is trying to leverage Facebook it reached a point where users were getting bombarded with more marketing messages than updates from their friends. At the end of the day, Facebook is a business and it would be fair to charge money from businesses who want to leverage their reach.”

Today Archana experiments with all mediums of content promotion. Advising on whether paid promotion on Facebook is good or bad, she prescribes SMEs to focus on building engagement initially rather than using it as a platform to blast marketing messages. “They should also consider the costs and benefits of paid marketing with Facebook. If the life time value of their customers is higher than what they need to pay to Facebook to acquire a customer, it makes sense to spend money on Facebook.”

Sponsoring posts definitely will give the targeted reach but life becomes tough for SMEs who have a shoe string budget for advertising. Harshil finds the medium no good for Facebook and with the medium coming to the point of ‘buying’ reach, then it suddenly starts to play in the same pie as YouTube, Google Display Network, and all display sites which sell on a similar parameter.

“Facebook so far had its use as a social engagement platform and was seen as that in the media plan. I’m afraid a lot of that is slipping away.”

SMEs who may not have the budget for paid reach might look for other platforms but then every other social media platform is also pushing users to gain reach by paying some more dollars.

While I don’t like Facebook’s move of killing organic reach completely, it has killed those brands who had built a million-strong fan base by buying fake likes dreaming that they can push marketing messages as much they can. Now even if they think of sponsoring content on Facebook, they would be burning their money as the page is ruled by bots.

Sharing a similar opinion on this, Sandip says that brands who have built their fan base organically need not worry, it is worth paying to reach that organic fan base.

I am certain those who have spent money to buy their likes (and fan base) are a worried lot for obvious reasons, which I don’t need to spell out.