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Facebook's declining organic reach a 'real nightmare' for marketers

Matt Kapko | April 7, 2014
Marketers and analysts are crying foul as Facebook continues to tweak its algorithm that determines what content makes it into the News Feed. The organic reach of brand pages is now barely hitting 6 percent, but brands expect it to decline even further and faster going forward.

Facebook can't be faulted for following the same path as other mass media channels that came before it with regards to advertising, but there are many marketers who are still hoping for something different this time around.

Over the past couple weeks numerous reports have surfaced indicating a sharp decline in the organic reach of Facebook posts. The slowdown is nothing new. In a short pitch for ads in April 2012, Facebook calculated the average organic reach of page posts at 16 percent of all fans.

So what's changed? A survey last month of more than 100 brand pages by Ogilvy concluded that "it's only a matter of time" before the organic reach of content published by brands is "destined to hit zero." The analysis found that organic reach of those brand pages was hovering at 6 percent, marking a 49 percent decline over a four-month period.

The organic reach of brands with more than 500,000 likes was barely hitting 2 percent in February, according to the Social@Ogilvy report.

Social@Ogilvy

"Right now we're very mad at Facebook," Dave Martin, Ignited's senior vice president of media, said earlier this week at the Mobile Media Summit. "The reason we're so mad at Facebook is because Facebook won't allow us to share content with our followers and fans as we could a week ago."

Pay for Play? No Thanks
The pay-for-play option isn't exactly paying off in spades either, he says. Now when Ignited purchases ads for its brand clients on Facebook it "takes longer and costs more than it ever has and our engagement scores go down," says Martin.

Worse yet, because there's so much uncertainty about the genuine interest of many brands followers, far too many ads are simply "reaching people that don't even care," he adds.

"It's become a real nightmare because your fans and likes can't even find you in some cases," Martin says. "When I post to Instagram I have a much better idea of how many people I'm going to reach."

The rules have changed and as a result agencies now have to spend more money for their clients on Facebook, says Mike Vaccaro, chief client officer at Digitaria.

He says he wants to believe that the ongoing changes to Facebook's algorithm are not driven by financial interests alone. Of course Facebook wants to make as much money as it can, but it also wants to give users the best experience possible, he says.

Dancing Between User Experience and Revenue
"It's their world and we live in it — and we have to adapt to it," says Vaccaro.

While frustrating, these changes aren't all bad for marketers. The declining organic reach of page posts on Facebook could present agencies and brands with new opportunities elsewhere. On the whole, this is good news for other social networks, says Martin.

 

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