Facebook Cuts Brands' Reach Once Again

Change Will Curtail Page Posts Deemed 'Overly Promotional'

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Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg at the Cannes Lions International Festival Of Creativity in Cannes on June 18, 2014.
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg at the Cannes Lions International Festival Of Creativity in Cannes on June 18, 2014. Credit: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Facebook is becoming even more pay-to-play for brands.

Facebook announced Friday afternoon that it would begin curtailing the reach of brands' unpaid, or organic, posts that the social network's algorithms consider "overly promotional."

The change will not apply to all of a brands' posts, just the less creative ones that fit certain criteria, like pushing people to buy a product, install an app or enter a contest or sweepstakes. Also under fire: posts that are just repurposed ads.

A Facebook spokeswoman said the company's algorithm will evaluate these promotional posts with the same filters it puts on ads -- checking, for example, how many people engage with or hide them -- when determining whether to let them into people's news feeds.

"While Pages that post a lot of the content we mention above will see a significant decrease in distribution, the majority of Pages will not be impacted by this change," the company said in its blog post.

Facebook said it made the decision to cut the reach of brands' promotional posts following a user survey. It didn't say how many people were surveyed, but a good number of those respondents said they were seeing too many promotional posts from brands in their news feeds, according to Facebook.

The shift is just the latest move by Facebook to ensure that the best content is populating people's news feeds because otherwise people may stop checking Facebook. For example, last Friday Facebook announced a new tool for people to turn down the dial on individual friends' or pages' posts from appearing too often in their feeds.

The new change will conceivably increase marketers' demand for Facebook ads to compensate for the shorter reach of their unpaid posts. But Facebook said it won't lead to a surge in the number of ads that actually appear in people's news feeds.

If that's the case -- more demand for ads without more supply -- marketers could see the price of Facebook ads rise further. The company has already been helping its ad prices grow by reducing the number of ads that it shows. In the third quarter, Facebook's average price per ad jumped by 274% year-over-year while the social network served up 56% fewer ad impressions than a year ago.

Facebook, the social network, initially gained adoption among marketers as a free way to communicate with people, but Facebook, the publicly traded company, has increasingly moved marketers toward paying to access those same people.

Last year Ad Age obtained a Facebook sales deck that informed marketers their organic reach was shrinking and urged them to buy ads. And earlier this year Social@Ogilvy found the average reach of 106 brands' organic posts dwindled from 12.05% in October to 6.15% in February.

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