Demystifying Facebook Reach For Brands

I have been putting together a presentation on Facebook algorithm change and its implications. I thought it was worthwhile to share my two cents. Much of this has been covered in multiple blogs but I wanted to consolidate my thoughts with this post.

In Sept, 2012 Facebook made a change to the EdgeRank algorithm, which impacted the reach for most Facebook pages. Different third party research show that reach indeed declined. The degree to which it decreased varied across brands. Socialbakers along with the digital agency We Are Social found that reach went down by 40%. In fact, when delving into the data of pages that my agency manages I saw a similar trend. Pages of different fan size saw drops that varied from 20-50%.

Average post organic reach

However, what is crucial here is that while organic reach was affected viral reach saw steeper decrease. I saw this in the data for the pages I analyzed. I looked at both the page and post level data. In fact, on one of the pages, which has maintained a PTAT of 3-4% before and after the algorithm shift, the average post reach almost halved.

I point this out because this page has had consistent engagement on posts with an average virality of 4-5%. After the algorithm shift, the virality has increased but only because reach has decreased. So the post level PTAT has remained more or less steady indicating that we are reaching fans and non-fans who are engaging with the content regularly or have a higher affinity for the brand. And this is what We are Social also concluded from their study with Socialbakers. But the lowered viral reach is troubling. The whole point that engaging fans leads to their friends, which can influence them is setback. This post by Jon Loomer discusses the viral reach decrease. And this is where paid media can come to be useful – reaching less active fans and friends of fans who otherwise may not be engaging as much with the page content.

PTAT vs. Virality

But interestingly, one of the pages had a media buy for fan acquisition around the time the algorithm change happened. Here I noticed that the organic reach on the posts increased with the paid media. Just to clarify there were no promoted posts. Viral reach remained unaffected. So the posts were actually entering news feeds of these newly acquired fans. The paid media also resulted in an substantial increase in the average lifetime post level PTAT.

Chart Lifetime Post PTAT vs. Virality1.jpg

All this also seems to fit with what Napkin Labs reported, only 6% of fans engage on a regular basis. These are the superfans, who need to be nurtured to influence their social network. Napkin Labs study found that top 10 most engaged superfans received 2.3 times more likes and 1.8 times more comments than less active fans. It is all geared towards quality over quantity. I have found that it is true, using Socialbakers I am able to identify the top ten engaged users and turns out they are the ones who regularly comment on the posts.

But reach is still important, per this article and Facebook’s study. Reach drives revenue – this study conducted with Datalogix shows that campaigns optimized for reach can get 70% higher ROI. Facebook is trying to convince marketers to look at the platform as a mass medium. Exposure to quality brand messages as sponsored stories can help drive offline sales.

What does this mean?

Brands more than ever need to focus on not just building huge fan bases but also sustain the fans. While size of a page can give it more credibility with a new or an existing consumer, the emphasis is on nurturing the relationship with active fans.

Engagement is driven by content and superfans. Identify these superfans and reward them with recognition and exclusive information.

Fans and users are more empowered and can and will remove brand posts from their feeds that are spammy. More than ever a brand needs to pay close attention to what resonates with the fans.

Paid media is important to keep the brand top of mind and also reach friends of fans. Word of mouth and peer recommendation influences purchase decisions. Facebook content strategy should consider paid and earned media. Facebook released a white paper that explains how a brand can reach 5x more people with paid ads.

Brands cannot expect to reach simply with organic posts. What do you think? Will this change your strategy?