Facebook's reach is dwindling. What does this mean for your social media marketing?

Brand organic reach on Facebook has been dwindling for years.

In January, Facebook appeared to deliver the final death knell in the form of a casual post from Zuckerberg himself. The Book soon followed up with an official statement explaining that the News Feed algorithm would be changing to prioritize content from family, friends, and groups - and consequently de-prioritize content from brands and publishers.

Half a year later, companies are now analyzing the fallout. Did Facebook reach drastically plummet, as we all feared it would?

According to the data, the answer is yes.

What’s happened to organic reach on Facebook?

To answer that question, let’s review the latest findings from social media software companies like Buffer and Buzzsumo, as well as venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins.

1. Page engagement has dropped by 50%.

In an analysis of 43 million Facebook Page posts from the top 20,000 brands on Facebook, Buffer found that engagement to business pages dropped by over 50% in the past 18 months. We’d say that’s drastic.

What’s especially concerning about this graph is the spots where engagement took a large fall, in Q2 2017, Q1 2018, and again in Q2 2018. Overall, we knew this was happening, but many of us probably didn’t realize how steep the drops were.

Worse, while we’d expect to see a huge drop in Q1 of this year, to coincide with the January algorithm changes, the Q2 drops indicate that there may have been even further changes to the algorithm that negatively impacted businesses.

So that’s the overall outlook. When you zoom in on a per-post basis, things get even grimmer. According to the study, per-post engagement has dropped by over 65%.

What explains this drop in engagement? The official algorithm changes certainly play a part, but Buffer theorizes there’s more to it… which brings us to their second finding.

2. Pages are posting more than ever.

Perhaps as a frenzied response to their declining reach, brands are posting more than ever. Within the past 18 months, businesses have increased their post volume by nearly 25%, according to the same Buffer study cited above.

If you’re wondering what these massive numbers translate to on the page level, it’s about 4 posts per day.

Again, what’s interesting here is the jumps we witness. From Q4 of last year to Q1 of this year, we saw the biggest jump of the batch - suggesting that this increase in post volume is indeed a reaction to Facebook’s algorithm changes.

With brands posting more than ever, there’s more competition in the News Feed for any one of those posts to stand out. It stands to reason this would negatively impact engagement rate. Throw in the fact that Facebook made a change to pointedly cull branded posts from the main feed, and you realize brands don’t stand a chance.

Increasing pressure comes from the growing number of businesses on Facebook, currently at 80 million. Not only are individual businesses posting more on a daily basis, but there are more overall businesses on Facebook engaging in that behavior. This raises the competition among posts significantly.

3. Paid posts are taking up valuable space.

The News Feed is a finite space, and the amount available to brands is getting smaller and smaller. Things are already astoundingly difficult for brands on the organic side, but now they have to deal with ads squeezing into the News Feed, too.

As Facebook ad revenue has grown steadily, these paid posts take up more of that limited space, effectively forcing brands’ hands into a pay-to-play situation.

Many brands have responded to Facebook’s declining organic reach by investing more in their paid strategy. Unfortunately, that’s only created an environment where the paid space is just as overcrowded as the organic. According to Mary Meeker’s 2018 Internet Trends Report, this increased competition for a limited number of ad spots has driven the per-ad cost up to a point that’s no longer worth the ROI.

To recap:

In January 2018, Facebook announced an algorithm change, telling brands to expect reduced visibility in the News Feed.

Since then, multiple studies have confirmed that those who feared the worst were right. Page engagement and reach are at an all-time low.

How can brands adjust their social media strategy?

While this news is disappointing, there’s no need to despair. There’s plenty brands can do to adjust their social media strategies and enjoy success, on or off Facebook.

Change your Facebook mindset

This tip isn’t exclusive to Facebook; it’s solid advice for all social platforms. Brands can no longer adhere to the idea of social media being a place to drive referral traffic to their website.

It’s just not a reality any more, but it’s especially true in Facebook’s case. According to Buzzsumo, Facebook’s referral traffic has dropped to 2013 levels.

Social platforms don’t like posts that drive traffic away from their platform, plain and simple. What they do like are posts that drive engagement. Facebook’s ranking signals make that clear, as they’re all indications of engagement:

Engaging content keeps users sticking around, and social networks need users to stay in-platform so they can hit them with ads and make money. Keep Facebook happy and curry their favor by creating content with the end goal of generating engagement on-platform, not sending traffic offsite.

Better yet, create unique content for all your top social platforms. If your followers don’t want to miss out, they’ll have to regularly check in with your page. The algorithms, Facebook and otherwise, will reward that repeat engagement by showing your page more frequently in the main feeds.

Further encourage repeat engagement with episodic content. Develop content that you can deliver in a series over a period of time, such as a weekly or daily tip or video that keeps users interested.

Develop a Messenger strategy

In the graphic above, you may have noted that Messenger shares are a Facebook ranking signal. By developing truly great content, you increase the likelihood that your followers will share it with their friends.

Facebook Messenger is also a great tool brands can use to reach out proactively to their followers. Whenever you create episodic content, help people stay engaged by allowing them to subscribe via Facebook Messenger, like The Washington Post does with their Messenger bot.

You can also use Messenger chatbots to meet a variety of your marketing goals off-Facebook. Integrate with Facebook Messenger to enable event RSVP, product purchases, whitepaper downloads to be transacted in-app, instead of forcing people to exit and visit your website.

Explore Facebook groups

While your brand’s page reach may be declining, you can still reach customers through other Facebook channels, notably influencers and groups.

Besides family and friends, group posts were the only other type of content that got a boost under Facebook’s new algorithm. Groups are typically organized around a common interest, allowing you to zero in on target customer verticals, like fitness freaks or dog lovers.

Seek out niche groups relevant to your brand, and start following the conversation. The names that keep popping up again and again, sparking discussions and contributing to them, are the people you’ll want to connect with. Many Facebook influencers grew their influence on the platform through groups specifically.

As for other Facebook influencers, who influence indepently of the group setting, you’ll want to focus on micro-influencers specifically. With 100,000 followers or less, these folks are still small enough to maintain regular profile pages, as opposed to the Public Figure pages managed by celebrities and macro-influencers. Public Figure pages get demoted in the News Feed just like brand pages. If you want to expand your reach, partner with micro-influencers who have profiles instead.

Plus, multiple studies show micro-influencers drive higher engagement and better ROI for brands.

Focus on (vertical) video

Due to their investments in Facebook Live and Facebook Watch, Facebook actively promotes video content in the News Feed. (Translation: Facebook is more likely to show posts in the News Feed that have video.)

Smart brands will take advantage of this by creating video content. There’s clear evidence that Facebook favors video. In a nod to our first point, Facebook posts sharing videos boast three times the engagement of those with links, which get the least engagement of all.

Pro tip: produce videos in vertical format. Nearly 95% of Facebook users access the app on their mobile phones, the ideal viewing device for vertical video. Plus, according to Facebook, nearly 80% of users prefer vertical video and find it more engaging.

Partner with YouTube vloggers

Speaking of video, YouTube may soon pass Facebook as the #2 most-visited site in the U.S. (unsurprisingly, Google holds the #1 spot).

An omni channel marketing strategy is a good marketing strategy. As you expand your social media efforts beyond Facebook, don’t forget to include YouTube in the mix. You can partner with YouTube vloggers to develop product unboxings, how-to tutorials, and in-depth reviews of your brand.

Once you let go of the idea that engaging with fans on your brand page is mission-critical, you’ll realize how much more effective off-page strategies, like influencer-driven content, can be for engaging your fans online and driving them to purchase.

Over a third of consumers trust what an influencer says about a brand over the brand’s own messaging, so ultimately, it may not really matter what your brand is saying on your page, anyway.

Invest in Instagram

At the same time Facebook has been pushing brands out the door, Instagram has grown into a brand darling. Brand posts get three times higher engagement on Instagram than they do on Facebook. Considering that Instagram is now the fastest-growing social network, with 1 billion monthly users, that’s nothing to sneeze at.

The Gram has made many changes in recent years to make it more palatable to brands, like allowing links to be included in Instagram stories, increasing the number of ad formats available, and making it easier to partner with influencers.

Influencer marketing drives 11x higher ROI for brands than traditional forms of digital advertising, and Instagram is the perfect medium for it. Identify Instagram influencers who resonate with your target audience, and start partnering with them.

Brands like Sperry and Glossier use Instagram influencers to show their products in action, encourage fan discussion, and boost sales.

Facebook’s created an opportunity

Yes, Facebook reach is dwindling. Yes, it’s unfortunate that brands can’t engage fans on Facebook the way they used to.

But here’s the good news: In doing this, Facebook’s created an opportunity for brands to get creative. They’ll have to expand their marketing channels, partner with influencers, and find new ways to reach fans.

All that creativity is bound to result in some exciting developments in social media marketing. We can thank Facebook for that.

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