Organic Reach vs. Paid Reach
“Organic reach is the total number of unique people who were shown your post through unpaid distribution. Paid reach is the total number of unique people who were shown your post as a result of ads.”
The Decline of Organic Reach
For a while now we have seen the decline of organic reach on Facebook, supported by anecdotal accounts and raw data. In March, AdAge wrote an article that hypothesized there might even be a time when free organic reach doesn’t exist on Facebook. Oh no! The sky is falling! Marketers are running around with their heads cut off and the media is having a field day scaring them. The evil Facebook is taking away our right to organic reach! Should you boycott Facebook?
It’s up to you. You have to decide what’s best for your business. But it is a free market, and by no means are you required to purchase Facebook’s services. If Facebook offers something of value, it’s up to you to determine whether or not it’s worth it.
The decline of organic reach is simply a signal to marketers that the forces of capitalism are in full effect.
Let’s revisit the definition of capitalism:
The key part of this definition is “controlled by private owners for profit.” Facebook is a private, for-profit entity, not a government entity and not a nonprofit. They exist to make a profit. Now that they are a public company, they have a responsibility to their shareholders.
Let’s break it down: Facebook exists to make money off of you.
Yes, they have many other reasons for existence that are woven into the fabric of their organization, but their ultimate goal is to provide users with the best possible experience and to make a profit while doing so. With the huge increase in brands posting to Facebook, there’s simply too many brand posts for users to see. Facebook’s job is to cut down on the noise to improve the user experience. There’s a finite amount of brand posts consumers want to see within a given time and a lot of brands want to supply it. This illustrates the economic principle of scarcity, which drives the value of the brand posts up, allowing Facebook to charge marketers for it. For some reason, marketers seem to forget this. They think that they are somehow entitled to organic reach on Facebook. When organic reach is restricted or when Facebook suggests businesses should pay for reach, people get the idea that this is somehow unjust. It’s not. It’s basic economics.
Why Marketers Are Unhappy with Organic Reach
This is simply a manner of managing expectations. Marketers’ disappointment is collateral damage that may or may not affect Facebook’s business in the long-term.
It goes back to the age-old adage from Shakespeare, “expectation is the root of all disappointment.” Over time, people have come to expect free, organic reach from Facebook. People have made a living out of helping businesses achieve organic reach. This is great, but to expect nothing to change is foolish. Successful businesses anticipate change and evolve with industry forces. They’re proactive, not reactive.
If you’re complaining about not being able to get free organic reach right now, you’re reacting in an emotive, unproductive manner. Quit the nostalgia for the “good ole’ days,” quit complaining, and quit blaming Facebook as a big evil business. If it weren’t for the promise of financial gain, they would never have cared to invest all their resources into creating the world’s largest social network. They wouldn’t have been able to attract some of the world’s top talent to fuel innovation. They wouldn’t have been able to grow their user base to provide you access to the largest possible audience. You wouldn’t even have had a chance to reach all those consumers in the first place.
Organic Reach and Competition
What about all the other social networks? Isn’t part of capitalism competition? Yes, it is, and it’s a good thing that there are other social networks. It provides people with choice, and choice breeds innovation and forces higher standards. If Facebook chooses to charge for reach, shouldn’t everyone just revolt and make a mass exodus to “the next big social network”? Sure, take your money to Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, or whatever hot new social network attracts your attention. But by the very nature of competition and capitalism, every organization is going to have the same goal as Facebook: to make money.
If they’re not offering reach in exchange for money, they will soon. This is just the nature of the free market. Without making a profit, they can’t survive.
As a marketer, what should you do about organic reach?
1. Accept TANSTAAFL. This is the heart of economics: there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. Accept that nothing in life is free, including Facebook reach. The sooner you accept this, the sooner you can move on to more productive things.
2. Work smarter, not harder. Speaking of productivity, make the most of your resources. Utilize existing creative assets. Create blog posts from existing marketing collateral. Get tweets from existing blog posts and other content. You won’t feel the pain of paying for reach as much if you make your entire social and content effort more efficient.
3. Invest in owned content. Here’s the thing about Facebook: you don’t own it, so you don’t have much say in what happens on Facebook. If Facebook wants to make major changes you disagree with, you ultimately have no influence on what the organization chooses to do. Same goes for any other social network. Focus on what you do have power over: owned content. This is why it’s more important than ever to have a content hub (or a blog) on your website. You get to set all the rules when it’s on your own territory. Joe Pulizzi of Content Marketing Institute has advocated this for years, urging people to “stop building your branded content on ‘rented land’“.
4. Stay agile. Ultimately, you can’t rely too heavily on any one feature of any social network. As marketers, we have to stay agile and be ready to change our strategy if need be. We can’t rely on Facebook, Twitter, or even LinkedIn.
If you’re frustrated with Facebook and not sure how to get the most out of it, it may not be Facebook’s fault. Good content will always rule. If you feel like something might not be right, whether it’s your overall strategy, your messaging, your targeting, or your ability to get meaningful analytics, feel free to send me a message (Lindsey at parkerwhite.com) and we can chat. There’s always opportunity to be better.