For the last couple of years, I’ve read a lot of long stories and short tweets about Facebook’s organic reach for Pages dropping. There was early speculation that posts by a Page “didn’t reach everybody”, which of course was true. Not too long after that, brand managers were upset because their content was suddenly being seen by less than 50% of their total fans. Late in 2013, several reports showed that organic reach had dipped to under 20%, and as of last week we are seeing studies and hearing rumors that it will drop to 1-3%.
I will say it again: I am quite anxious for the total organic reach to bottom out at 0%.
Now don’t get me wrong; I’ve enjoyed the free ride as much as anybody. For years, Singley + Mackie has been able to create rich content for our clients that we syndicated on Facebook and other channels. When we would post something on behalf of the brands we work for, quite a few fans of the page would be able to see it, and hopefully would engage or share in some meaningful way. But times have changed, you need to accept that the free ride is over, and rightfully so.
Let me ask you a string of rhetorical questions. How many television ads are free to the company that wants to air them? How about radio spots? Magazine and newspaper ads? Billboards? The fact is, marketing your brand costs money. If you want to be seen or heard, you need to pay for it. Why then are people complaining about this regarding Facebook? Is it because it used to be free?
Facebook is now a publicly traded company. With that comes the reality that they have to make money, and even when they have made a lot of it, they have to make more. That’s how public companies work. It should come as no surprise then that organic reach has dropped, and I now view the 1-3% organic reach as a bonus. If I bought a block of television advertising and the channel gave me 3% bonus airtime for free, I would be thrilled. This is my new attitude regarding Facebook pages; I am happy with any organic reach at all, because it really is just a bonus.
If we can all accept this new reality of Facebook marketing, then we can quit holding out for free, magical, viral things to happen; because they are not going to happen. The new rule of Facebook marketing is that brands will have to put some budget behind their efforts if they want them to be seen. Consumers still have the option to get notifications (they can scroll down on the Like button and check this feature so they don’t miss a single post), but as a brand manager you cannot rely on that happening.
My advice to brand managers and agencies is this: start having the budget talks now, so when it is time to allocate for paid and earned media, all of the time and effort you have put into Facebook marketing to date is not lost. A good rule of thumb is to make sure that your Facebook paid media budget is at least 1x your budget for content creation or application development budgets. Facebook would recommend that the paid media budget is at least 4x and often times big brands will allocate budgets of 10x or more.
Let’s quit complaining about how Facebook used to be, and start accepting how it actually is. Facebook is now a paid channel, just like everything else in marketing.
A parting thought: Twitter went public late last year. I wonder what conversation we’ll be having about its organic reach at this time next year…