In late 2013, Facebook announced that it would change its algorithm to lower organic reach for brand Pages—meaning fewer users would be exposed to an organization’s content. Marketers, and especially those in the nonprofit space, fired back with accusations that Facebook was effectively undermining the ability of smaller organizations to reach new audiences. It seemed, at least initially, that the world’s largest social networking site had become pay to play.
Our interest was piqued. So we ran a series of experiments.
In the months since Facebook started rolling out changes to its algorithm, we’ve observed (with some surprise) the relationship between reach and engagement, both from a paid and organic perspective. Here’s what we learned and how you can apply it to your Facebook strategy.
1. Don’t panic
A decline in reach isn’t the same as a decline in engagement. Despite initial assumptions to the contrary, the basic idea behind Facebook’s organic reach adjustment is that by reaching fewer people, organizations can more effectively reach the right people. Which is as much to say, the content you’re served up as a user is more specifically geared to your interests and demonstrated behaviors. The result is what marketers call moving up the ladder of engagement—essentially, getting people to take more and more meaningful actions with a brand or cause, rather than a one-time action.
Unsurprisingly, our experiment found that the raw number of people who engaged with a Page went down in direct correlation with the the decline in reach. But the rate at which users interacted with content increased: engagement was up. When it comes to growing an organization, these engaged people are exactly who you want to reach: the doers, the evangelists, the advocates. In this sense, Facebook has helped nonprofits cut out the noise and focus on finding true supporters while delivering better, more targeted content.
2. Lead with smart creative
Fact: not everyone will feel the crunch. When we began tracking organic reach rates across a variety of organizations back in January, we noticed a few outliers. Over time, those outliers have become greater and greater outliers. Just as organic reach rates declined to an average of 4.3% across the board, a few of our clients actually demonstrated rates above 100%—meaning that they reached more people by posting alone, rather than getting users to like their Page. For example, a client with roughly 400,000 Page likes had an organic reach rate of over 134%, up from the previous month’s 54%.
The secret? Highly shareable content. The organization mentioned above experienced over 350% monthly engagement, meaning that as more users liked, shared, and commented on their content, it made its way into more News Feeds.
From a design perspective, we know bold imagery and impactful photography can cause a surge in engagement. A fantastic example of this is the United States Olympic Committee, where in addition to celebrating individual athletes, social channels have been used to elevate the magnitude of global moments—and the response has been enormous. Two high-performing posts, from both the Sochi Olympics and the World Cup, demonstrate the impact of a simple message paired with a bold visual. In the case of the World Cup graphic, this is actually USOC’s all-time, highest-performing post—proving that an organization can extend its message into new areas with a lot of relevance and success. It just takes clarity.
3. Buy Promoted Posts with users in mind
Facebook often urges organizations to buy Promoted Posts to share content with the 96% of users who have liked a Page but aren’t getting that content organically. But buying against an audience of users who are connected to a Page isn’t enough.
We used Facebook’s new Audience Insights tool to compare the way users engaged with content to everything from their purchase data, demographics, and lifestyle behavior. Most importantly, we looked at which posts resonated best among specific audiences. From there, we tailored individual Promoted Posts to the audiences we suspected would respond based on past behavior. This focused approach provided a 226% lift in engagement.
That lift didn’t stop with paid reach, though: by finding highly engaged individuals, we also helped increase organic reach by 11% among new audiences.
4. Transition Facebook supporters to email
The key to cultivating any audience is to reach them across multiple platforms. While a sustained, targeted approach to Promoted Posts can certainly help reach the right audience on Facebook, there’s a strong ROI to transitioning these users from Facebook over to your email list, too. And once they’re on your list, you won’t have to pay to reach them. With open rates averaging 18 to 28% and engagement rates averaging 1.9 to 2.7% for nonprofit organizations on email, the rate at which you can drive engagement compared to the relative cost of transitioning a Facebook user to an email list can prove much more cost effective than investing in ongoing Promoted Posts. We have seen email conversion rates between 2.5% and 9% from Facebook Conversion Ads, which is significantly higher than most other paid channels other than search.
Ultimately, the key to staying ahead of Facebook’s declining organic reach is simple: Know your audience. Create compelling, shareable content. And test a lot.