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Facebook explains why the decline in organic reach is a good thing. Really.



nB1o7G4_mimwickett_RGBFacebook posted the most interesting piece of . . . . content. . . I’ve seen on the web in a long time. It’s the internet equivalent of a vaudeville song and dance routine coupled with the fancy patter of a snake oil salesman.  When I saw the post, I thought it was going to be a lengthy denial. What do you mean organic reach is down? It looks fine from over here. . . . But, they didn’t deny so I have to give them massive props for being upfront about the issue.

Having said that, I still stand by my original evaluation of the value of the post. Seriously, it’s a tap dance to rival any number by the great Ann Miller.

They begin with explanation of why reach is declining. Bascially, we’re all a victim of our own success. There’s simply too much content on Facebook.

On average, there are 1,500 stories that could appear in a person’s News Feed each time they log onto Facebook. For people with lots of friends and Page likes, as many as 15,000 potential stories could appear any time they log on.

In order to keep from overwhelming the reader, Facebook filters content to around 300 top picks. This filtering system has decreased the amount of spam (a good thing) and raised the quality of the content in the feed (not so sure about that.)

Then comes the big question; why is Facebook deciding what I see and what I don’t. Why can’t I decide for myself?

In our tests, we’ve always found that the News Feed ranking system offers people a better, more engaging experience on Facebook. Additionally, given the amount of content in the average News Feed, using a real-time system for content would actually cause Pages’ organic reach to decrease further.

So, if I actually saw all the content from the people and pages I want to follow, I’d pay less attention and organic reach would go below zero?

I don’t buy this. I understand the overwhelming issue. However, I’m capable of adjusting my own dials. If I’m getting too many posts, I’ll stop following brands and people I don’t care about. I do this on Twitter all the time. And maybe I’d miss a few posts but I’ll survive. A few brands might lose me as a follower but if I’m not engaging anyway then it’s better that I leave. My feeling is inflated numbers don’t do anyone any good.

Facebook disagrees.

Fans absolutely have value.

–  Fans make your ads more effective. When an ad has social context — in other words, when a person sees their friend likes your business — your ads drive, on average, 50% more recall and 35% higher online sales lift.

– Fans also make the ads you run on Facebook more efficient in our ads auction. Ads with social context are a signal of positive quality of the ad, and lead to better auction prices.

– You can use insights about your fans — like where they live, and their likes and interests — to inform decisions about reaching your current and prospective customers.

–  Fans can give your business credibility

Unfortunately, that last one is true. Customers feel more comfortable when they see a large fan number. Think about your first look at 2 local restaurants. One has 1,000 fans, one has 100 fans. Which feels like the better place to eat?

Here’s the most valuable sentence in the entire post:

Fans can help you achieve your business objectives on Facebook, but having fans should not be thought of as an end unto itself.

We’re in total agreement. Facebook should not be a game of he who has the most fans wins. It’s a tool for advertising your business and keeping customers informed. It is not a business in itself.

Hidden within the post are hysterical swipes at those “other” social media sites who let you see all of your content and then lie to you about reach. Then Facebook tops it off with a reminder that on most platforms, marketing is most valuable when you pay for it. Still, they insist that the decline in reach isn’t about making money, it’s about keeping users happy. . . which in the end is about Facebook making more money. I’m okay with that. It’s a business and it should make money.

The last point I want to address comes from the comments. Someone posted that only the marketers are lobbying for an unfiltered feed. That the average Facebook user is happy the way it is. I don’t agree. I’m perfectly capable of looking at this from both sides and neither side is happy. I follow several local businesses because I want to know what’s happening. In order to not miss out, I have to make it a point to visit their Facebook pages on a regular basis. It’s a hassle, so I might do it once a week. As a Facebook user, I’d rather have those posts show up in my feed so I don’t find a deal after it’s too late to use it.

Care to chime in? Would Facebook fall apart if they stopped filtering content? Or would we all be in a happier place?

  • aleangelico

    I know small companies that all their internet efforts are directed to Facebook, most of them don’t even have a web page (what it’s stupidly addressed in the last Matt Cutt’s video). This shows you should not trust all your strategy to a private platform, call it Facebook, Google + , etc.
    Facebook (and Google, and…) can not make money from the organics reach/results, so they will do all they can to kill the organic and make money. The problem with this is, they say they care most of all for the user experience, but organic results are (or should be) obviously more relevant to the user needs that the paid results.

    And I agree with you, I know ZILLION TIMES BETTER than Facebook what I want. I’m not so stupid than I need Facebook to tell me what I want to read about.

  • http://twitter.com/nicoleckohler Nicole Kohler

    Cynthia, you hit the nail on the head for me with this: “I don’t buy this. I understand the overwhelming issue. However, I’m capable of adjusting my own dials. If I’m getting too many posts, I’ll stop following brands and people I don’t care about.”

    I completely and totally agree. I keep my personal FB very small on purpose. It frustrates me to no end that I now miss things from people I care about while seeing “so-and-so liked these 25 posts.” I also miss things from brands I follow and LOVE all the time. I may be a marketer, but I’m also a human being, and I want to control how I get my news and updates.

    I know Facebook is trying to do the “right thing” by addressing this topic head-on. However, by the end of the post, I was cringing. Especially because they addressed the “can Pages work with reduced reach?” question by showing examples of Pages who purchased ads. That’s NOT an answer to the question, IMO. If anything, it furthers the hivemind opinion that FB is now saying “don’t like it? Buy something.”

    Ultimately, it’s well within Facebook’s means to say they don’t have to give anything to brands or businesses for free anymore. But that doesn’t mean Page admins are going to like it. Heck, it may not even mean that users are going to like it… Guess we’ll see what happens.

    • cynthialil

      Nicole – yes! That section about paid ads made me want to scream. I know I’m not Facebook’s biggest fan but I was surprised by the odd twists and turns in the entire post. Seems like they would have been better off saying hey, we’re popular so going forward, we have to charge for what you used to get for free. The worst part is, for the average Page owner, even paying for posts doesn’t always get you the results you expect or need.

      • http://twitter.com/nicoleckohler Nicole Kohler

        I try to be positive about FB, I really do! But the post didn’t really resolve much or say anything new, at least to me. I peeked at the comments there and it looked like a lot of people felt the same way!