Has Facebook become too big for its boots by throttling organic reach?

Is Facebook pushing away brands who don’t want to pay to post with its move from earned media to paid ads?
Written by Eileen Brown, Contributor

Facebook has been reducing the number of people that can see brand posts since it became a public company in May 2012.  After IPO Facebook had to generate cash and increase revenue.

When Facebook first introduced pages it encouraged brands to shift from the groups that they were using to communicate with fans. For a while page engagement worked really well.

Now Facebook limits organic reach to encourage brands to pay to ensure their posts are seen by as many followers as possible. Without this paid reach, brands can expect to see their numbers decline over time. Its Edge Rank algorithm means that less and less fans see page posts.

Brands started to notice reductions in views across pages during 2013.  Facebook had to show a profitable return for its investors. But in increasing its revenue by paid ads and sponsored stories it has throttled its organic reach.

About 15 percent of Facebook posts are viewed by fans who have liked a page. It doesn’t seem to matter whether the likes are from real or from fake users which have been bought. The BBC ran an experiment in which it paid for likes. It set up a fake “Virtual Bagels” page which quickly gained thousands of followers.

Facebook page impressions have dropped by over half for many brands. Organic reach has decreased. 41 29 Agency carried out organic reach analysis and found that organic reach seems to be related to the number of Fans a page has.

Image: 4129 Agency

 It reported the following statistics for September 2013:

  • Organic reach of photos starts to decline after the page gains 10,000 fans
  • Beyond 1 million likes organic reach of photos drops below four percent
  • Organic reach of video posts drops below 4.5 percent after 150,000 fans
  • Status updates have high organic reach. Status updates from pages with 300,000 to half a million fans are seen by 41 percent of the fans
  • Organic reach of links for pages with one million fans or more has organic reach below 3.5 percent
  • The company also found that page engagement does not affect the organic reach of posts on Facebook.

Last August the company Charity Engine blogged about why it quit Facebook. It posted test adverts to connect with users in advance of launching its app. The company managed to get over 500,000 fans on Facebook in advance of launch day.

Charity Engine then discovered that many of its website stats differed from stats Facebook reported. Some users had left the company web page even before the page had fully loaded and were not engaging with the brand page. It realised that most of its users were fake.

US users accounted for almost ten thousand likes of the Charity Engine page and the UK had 3,471 likes. A whopping 133,550 users who liked the page were from Pakistan.  

At the time Facebook blamed the lack of reach on the brands itself.It said that the low visibility was due to “low-quality content” which was optimised out of the news feed.

Charity Engine insisted that the fans on its page were fake. It stopped publishing posts on its Facebook page and moved its activities to Google + where it has 185 followers.

In March 2013 the food company Eat24 posted a breakup letter to Facebook. In this post, the company explained why it was going to delete its page on April 1st. It explained that Facebook used to be cool. But then Facebook told the brand that it had to pay to let friends see the post.

Eat23 duly deleted its Facebook page and has switched activities to its Twitter account instead.

Paid reach is the only way to achieve good reach on Facebook. Posting decisions made without data to back up the decision is just a waste of money.

Making an impact depends on the type of post, the content calendar and publishing schedule. Without these considerations, brands are throwing money away.

Its three-page document “Generating business results on Facebook” released in 2013 Facebook maintains that its daily reach is huge. In the UK its reach equals the 2012 Olympics closing ceremony on BBC One and its has 1.4 x greater monthly reach in Brazil than pay TV.

Facebook’s goal is to show “the right content to the right people at the right time”. It is paying off as Facebook now knows what makes for high quality content. It continually optimises its newsfeed to give its users the “most relevant experience”.

It emphasises that if content is engaging — with clicks, likes and shares — then the impact on organic reach is minimised. Its algorithm uses over a thousand different factors such as page profiles, how often that page is hidden and how fan bases overlap with fan bases for other brands.

Does Facebook prefer great cash reserves over great content? Is it going to squeeze businesses until only the big brands continue to invest in paid posts? Small to medium businesses can not afford to buy promoted posts on a regular basis.

Home site The Whoot posts content on Facebook regularly. It continually asks its fans to subscribe to its newsletter to keep getting this engaged content. It knows that over time its post visibility will continue to decline as Facebook continues to change its game .

Perhaps Facebook is really a better option for large brands with huge marketing budgets. Smaller brands might like to consider returning to e-mail newsletters for their marketing efforts.

If Facebook has grown too large to care, brands can still control the open rate by creating engaging content — on email — created just for them.

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