Some have called it "Facebook Zero", while others have referred to it as the Reachpocalypse. Whatever name it goes by, it has left Marketers frustrated and business owners who rely on Facebook at a loss for how to drive traffic and generate sales. The challenge has been that Facebook has not officially announced the death of organic post reach – until now.
Below is my post-mortem on the issue, and I promise not to leave you lost in your grief or disbelief. I have good news for Marketers on how to navigate the new rules of Facebook, and to make it an even more successful marketing channel than it ever was before.
R.I.P TO FACEBOOK AS WE KNOW IT:
Organic reach, as Facebook defines it, is "how many people you can reach for free on Facebook by posting to your page" is dead. Officially. The reason that we as consumers no longer see any messages from brands we "Like" of follow on Facebook is simple – Facebook does not serve users Ads from any brand page that is not boosted or sponsored.
Check for yourself. Refer to Google Analytics and do a year to date comparison of Referral traffic from Facebook, and compare it against the same time last year. You will note a substantial decrease depending on how much your brand has relied on Facebook as a marketing channel in the past.
From this point forth, brand pages will simply not reach audiences with any content – including their own fans, unless fans share or re-share content with their own followers. This is the new "Organic" reach – and the new Facebook.
WHEN WE WERE FRIENDS:
When businesses first set up their Facebook page, they were able to reach audiences for "free," simply by crafting good content and engaging with their fans to follow and "like" them. Facebook even showed us best practices for optimizing our brand content to appear more to our fans and in newsfeeds.
In the early days, Facebook page posts "Organically" reached approximately 16% of their fans on average, according to Facebook. Brand pages were successful in creating a conversation with their customers, and Facebook was a means to join a conversation and engage with those that followed them.
Over the past two years, marketers have noticed website analytics revealing a substantial decline in referral traffic from Facebook year-over-year. An analysis done by Ogilvy & Mather in 2014 showed that organic page post reach declined from 16% to 6%, (year over year) and the same analysis predicted "organic reach of the content of brands is destined to hit zero."
Many brands assumed that their Facebook traffic was down because their content wasn't hitting the right mark, or that their ad placement strategy wasn't on point. While other brands prepared for the worst, and waited for the Reachpocalypse to arrive.Facebook stayed "hush hush" on the issue, leaving brands struggling to explain and improve their results.
CAUSE OF DEATH:
Initially, Facebook didn't disclose the 'cause of death,' or even that marketers should start adjusting their strategy. It wasn't until Marketers starting coming forward, that Facebook's VP of Advertising Technology offered an explanation.
Slowly now, Facebook is starting to ease Marketers in to the new world of "Facebook Zero" – with presentations like the one I attended this month at a digital marketing conference for tourism – DigmeSummit.com. Travel Lead at Facebook, Kelly Frailey Covato presented on the future of Tourism Marketing on Facebook and Instagram to a small group of influential Destination Marketers from across the US.
During her presentation, Covato illustrated the new Ad types available to travel marketers, and showed results from some successful travel brands that had already adopted Facebook as an "advertising partner".
Then she dropped the bomb. One that I am sure will happen at other small conferences and meetings with CMO's and agencies over the coming months.
"There is zero organic reach, we are now a media platform."
She followed up with "Don't bother with any posts to your pages if they are not driving a call to action, and are part of a paid advertising campaign."
Why has FacebookZero not been more widely discussed?
I anticipate that Facebook will roll this out slowly and carefully so as not to upset users, and to educate brands about how to get their reach back on Facebook – albeit by paying for it.
I can see why Facebook has been pretty tight-lipped on the matter thus far and not made any official public announcements about it. I imagine that a percentage of Facebook's 1.4 billion users worldwide may not be so pleased to hear that they have changed the way they're delivering content so that marketers can now buy their user information in the form of "targeting options" that include behaviour and location from home. Yes this means that Facebook knows where we are and what we are doing at all times.
It would also be hard to officially announce to the media that brands who have been playing by the rules in producing content for the Facebook ecosystem, will now have to do an about face and start using it like any other paid media channel.
WHAT THIS MEANS TO MARKETERS:
Facebook will explain that they changed their algorithms to prioritize "friend" content and to not clutter newsfeeds, in order to improve user experience. Agreed, I personally prefer not to have a cluttered newsfeed of marketing messages – but how long will that last once marketers realize that all they have to do to reach me is pay for it.
Facebook is no longer the social media channel for us to use to "engage" with our customers, but a means to advertise to our customers. It is now a powerful marketing vehicle that understands customer behaviour, sentiment, location and buying patters, and ultimately a marketing platform that says it can now "Drive Intent." More on that in Part Two of this article.
WHY MARKETERS NEED TO ADJUST – QUICKLY:
Facebook and Instagram (owned by Facebook) has become portals for sharing user-generated content. We know that of all media hours per day, UGC now accounts for 5.4 hours of time spent. With that, it is clear that marketers must be visible to target audiences where they are spending time.
Consider that without the Adspend on Facebook, your marketing messages are simply not being seen anymore. No wonder the referral traffic from Facebook is so low.
THE GOOD NEWS!
It's not all doom and gloom for brands on Facebook. Rather, it's an opportunity to see it for what it is – step to into a whole new world that will deliver qualified buyers, and amp up referral traffic to the point of conversion, the website. In addition, if Facebook is right, this powerful marketing channel may even be able to drive intent.
In part two of this article, I will outline how marketers need to re-think their Facebook marketing strategy to drive traffic and conversions. It is time for brands to take back ownership of their customers, and to start focussing on how to leverage engaging user generated content to drive drive traffic down the sales funnel.
GOOD OR BAD, R.I.P FACEBOOK ORGANIC.