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The news that Facebook will continue to reduce organic reach for marketers has landed with a predictable thud. It appears to validate what many marketers have already been saying: Organic reach is essentially dead, and Facebook will ultimately kill it altogether. Forrester's Nate Elliott made that exact point in a recent blog post. Advertisers are resigned: "I think marketers are just accepting the fact that Facebook is a place where you pay to play," a media agency executive told Ad Age.
But are things really that bad for marketers on Facebook?
First off, let's be clear that this latest Facebook change is fairly minor, intended to focus on the most commercial of messages that Facebook deems to be "overly promotional." Consumers generally don't like these promotional messages, and Facebook has made it clear that preserving and protecting the user experience is a priority.
But let's not forget, marketers' advertising dollars still fuel the entire ecosystem. There will be significant rewards for the companies that learn to harness their dollars to effectively garner consumer attention. Facebook will benefit from marketers' spend, but there is an emerging opportunity for media companies as well. And that will surely be a welcome relief to those in the media business who have long argued that the quality of their content matters, even in the new world of social media.
We should also note that, dire predictions aside, all is not lost for marketers with regard to organic publishing. Continuing to publish your content can offer you a powerful "click signal" when readers react, and that can inform your paid buys -- essentially giving you both bonus reach as well as free ways to do multivariate testing. Cause-related marketing, testimonials, and other forms of emotion-driven storytelling will also continue to do well.
But of course, this latest change must be put into the context of the decline in organic reach that marketers have been seeing for a year or more. And that raises a question: If marketers' organic reach has declined so precipitously, where exactly did the reach go?
The answer is pretty clear: the organic reach has gone largely to media companies and publishers. Throughout the past year, we have seen the organic reach of content we post on Facebook for others increase 144% -- and we overwhelmingly post for media publishers. If there is a battle for consumer attention in the news feed, the media, celebrities and entertainment companies have won.
It should hardly come as a surprise that the typical marketer and his or her agency is going to be outgunned by both the quantity and the quality of social media content created by media companies. Many media entities publish to Facebook 30 or more times per day, and if you define "quality" as "interesting to the user," it is undeniable that a post from a typical publisher is going to be viewed more favorably by users than a commercial message.
All these changes take us back to a world that will be quite familiar to ad industry veterans: media companies producing high-quality, engaging content, and advertisers paying to provide relevant commercial messages adjacent to that content.
As 2015 approaches, social media has become a true broadcast medium, built by the social networks, programmed by media companies and fueled by advertisers' dollars. It promises to be an interesting year.