Facebook’s organic reach is over – so what now?

James Whatley is planning partner - innovation at Ogilvy & Mather Advertising London. He has a history of working mobile, social, and web and as for his innovation remit at O&M, that's just one simple four word brief: new stuff made useful. You can find him on Twitter @whatleydude.

The noise started at the turn of the year when, in an earlier article for The Drum about trends for 2014, the idea was put forward that 2014 would see the re-classification of Facebook as a paid media cchannel.

Last month, after conducting a considerable amount of research, Marshall Manson, MD of Social@Ogilvy Europe, published a white paper entitled ‘Facebook Zero: the death of organic reach’ which, using data from over 100 brand pages in the network, demonstrated the falling-off-a-cliff nature of organic reach in Facebook.

Word is finally getting out:

The free ride for brands on Facebook is coming to an end.

Now get over it.

Trust me, in the long run this is not a bad thing.

At Social Media World Forum last week, THE DEATH OF ORGANIC REACH was on the lips of nearly every attendee I spoke to. Moreover, nearly every breakout session touched upon it too and yet, aside from a few naysayers highlighting that their page was doing just fine (that’s great, but the plural of anecdote is not data), nobody was offering up any kind of solution.

So what the hell do you do now? Here are three options:

1. Throw money at it

Sorry, that’s quite crass. What I mean is: reassign media money that you’d previously invested in other [digital] channels into Facebook and start rethinking what it is you want to achieve in the channel. Maybe even consider doing those things the other way around.

Do you want to use advanced Facebook targeting and reach lookalikes of your fans, or do you want to increase the view count of posts to your fans?

Know thy platform, know thy objective.

Sidenote: It's also interesting to see the power shift from the content creators, back to the media buyers. Oh how we long for the days when these two teams worked hand in hand. But oh no, everyone does social now, right?

2. Embrace other/different platforms

In Manson’s white paper, he references adopting ‘platform neutrality’. This, of course, can only exist if you have multiple platforms to communicate on. I’ve been harbouring the thought for a while that one of the biggest drivers of Google+ take up this year would be Facebook itself. As it continues its monopolisation of social spaces and continues the move from earned to paid media, companies will naturally look at other platforms where ‘pay to play’ isn’t becoming the norm (at least not yet) and instead drive consumers there.

When strong-armed into offering up what my platform for 2014 would be at the aforementioned SMWF, I responded with Google+ for the reasons I’ve just outlined, but here's more: there is a common misconception that Facebook is the one with the power in this relationship. However, this is simply not the case. Facebook’s change of strategy could be to Google’s benefit. Look at it this way:

If every single Facebook button on every single ad switched out to Google+ tomorrow, take up of the latter would skyrocket.

Stepping away from the Facebook vs Google argument for a second, for the little guy, the SMEs of the world who are suddenly coming a cropper because of the newsfeed algorithm changes, what for them? The same solution applies.

Newsletters, email lists and, lest we forget, the humble weblog – these are all good places to start. So what if you're not reaching any organic fans with them anymore; optimise your other channels instead. (Hands up if you append the link to your latest blog post to every email that you send out, anyone?) They are all good places to start, first and foremost because they are TRUE owned platforms (and not borrowed). Outside of that, there's Twitter, obviously, but also Instagram (good for sheep, wedding venues, and retail), Pinterest, and Google+.

I’ve come full circle.

The questions to ask are: what are the platforms that my customers are using (outside of Facebook) and how do I reach them there? Don't forget to actually tell people you’re there too. That part is important.

3. Become a publisher

Rewind a couple of years and you couldn't move for industry pundits and experts telling all that would listen that, in this new digital age, brands must become publishers. Fast forward back to 2014 and where has that got us?

We're drowning in cat pictures, frolicking with 'fun Friday' posts, and left wondering why Facebook won't push our content into the faces of its users.

It's time to rethink the brand-as-publisher paradigm.

The elephant in the room during this whole ORGANIC REACH HAS GONE FOREVER drama is that not everyone's organic reach has plummeted. Publishers, actual publishers, real ones, the ones that actually publish things, have seen an increase in organic reach. That's right, surprise surprise, Facebook likes publishers because publishers actually create unique, meaningful and, wait for it, brand-relevant content.

And Facebook wants to share this content with its users.

Examples:

You absolutely cannot talk about brand as publisher without mentioning The Red Bulls of this world. They're in the content business, of course they are. People like, watch, share, and comment on that content all the time and besides, who needs Facebook when you can drop a man from space?

The point is, those in the content business are doing good business – and if, and that's a big IF, this is relevant to your business then this is what you should be doing. However, I have a hunch that if this were your main business, you'd be doing it already.

In closing –

The smart ones among you would've noted a common thread running throughout the three solutions offered above and that, my friends, is STRATEGY.

What is it you're actually trying to achieve? Go higher than the platform; think about why you are there in the first place.

Organic reach is over. It’s time to review, rethink and reinvest.

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James Whatley

James Whatley is Planning Partner - Innovation at Ogilvy & Mather Advertising London. He has a history of working mobile, social, and web as for his innovation remit at O&M, that's just one simple four word brief: new stuff made useful. You can find him on Twitter @Whatleydude

All by James