As digital marketers, we regularly discuss industry news with our colleagues and clients. Rarely does a subject spark as much interest and debate as the notion that changes by Facebook have slashed the reach for brands' pages. Article after article makes the ad industry rounds, gets rehashed again and again, and drives clients to repeatedly ask us, "What do we do about Facebook?"
Unfortunately, these sensationalist articles are only telling half the story by focusing entirely on quantity of impressions, which is a measure of scale. We see the true measure of success on Facebook as achieving quality at scale, not just scale alone.
While it's easy to portray Facebook as a greedy company trying to drive up paid distribution, we decided to dig into the data to better understand the impact of Facebook's platform changes. We looked at Facebook Insights data from October 2013 through April 2014 for different 15 brands across three verticals, analyzing more than 385 million organic post impressions from 6,600 unique Facebook posts. Here's what we found.
This first graph confirms the buzz: organic reach has been declining for brand posts across several verticals.
That's only half of the story, though. Next we looked at engagement rate (percentage of people who like, comment or share) and viral impression rate (percentage of impressions to non-fans). During the same period, both of those quality metrics have gone up across all those same brand accounts.
The complete story is that Facebook's adjusted algorithm is showing content to a smaller number of people, but a higher percentage of those people are more interested in that content.
Is that such a bad thing? Agencies and marketers spend a ton of time trying to tailor messages to the right audiences and buy the right media at the right times to get the most bang for our clients' bucks. It's called targeting and we've all been at it for a long time.
As we see it, this change is a win-win: Advertisers get help targeting their content to the right people and people get a better Facebook experience. Plus, this smaller group of people is engaging with that content and through them it is spreading to others.
Here's the tweetable version: "Facebook reach down, makes things better for everyone. #data #winning"
OK, maybe that's going a little far. We're not partial to Facebook, nor should we just completely trust their algorithm, pump a bunch of content into the platform and fully trust it to work its magic. But, there are a few things we can do to work with the algorithm rather than against it.
Buy the right fans.
Brands are upset because they bought a bunch of fans trying to achieve scale. We get it. That's what Facebook was telling us we should do. But it's always been better to target the right fans rather than just optimize ads to yield the highest quantity. Moving forward, we can increase quality fans by looking at who is engaging with our content the most often, then targeting their lookalikes. With brands who have a lot of different types of content (product-related, various corporate social responsibility programs, lifestyle content, etc.), that may mean acquiring different groups of fans depending on their interests.
Use paid ads to amplify top performing content.
Chances are, the only people who are interested in everything a brand has to say are people in the brand's marketing department. While it may be easier to plan out paid based on what you think the most compelling content is, you'll achieve maximum efficiency when you amplify a piece of content that's demonstrating its potential through your fans' behavior. It requires real-time monitoring and having a system to approve and incrementally increase paid, but it can be much more effective to amplify what's actually working. Meanwhile, if you've acquired fans in different interest groups, you can use paid to target them with content specific to that interest.
Measure success based on quality first.
If your goal is to get to some random number of fans by a certain date so you can beat the competition, you probably won't get the right fans. Don't measure success based on broad reach or fan numbers. Instead, look to improve your engagement rate over time. Look at the depth of engagement, the sentiment, and if your efforts are helping improve broader metrics like brand favorability. If you get the quality right, quantity will follow.
All of this can take more planning, flexibility, and focus on what's happening with your content in real-time. It also may take some internal education, having to shift the focus to quality over quantity and demonstrating the value of engagement.
For years we've been saying that social media allows brands to build relationships with consumers. Maybe it's our time to prove it.