Facebook’s moves to throttle the visibility of brand pages have come under the spotlight again, this time via new research from Ogilvy that suggests organic reach may soon be a thing of the past.
Ogilvy’s numbers lay bare the extent of the issue: Marketers can now reach just 6% of their fans via organic reach, a decline of 49% from last October’s peak. Unsurprisingly, brands are not best pleased. “There are loads of brands really angry about this,” says one industry source. “Three years ago [Facebook] told us to build communities and we spent hundreds of millions of dollars doing that, and you’re now telling us that they are basically worthless.”
To be fair to Facebook, it is not as if they didn’t signal this change was coming. “They’ve been saying this for the best part of a year,” admits Social@Ogilvy EMEA head Marshall Manson. “Building a fan base is no longer the right approach and they made a big deal of their algorithm change.”
What it does mean, adds TMW head of social Vikki Morgan, is that Facebook is no longer an “engagement-led platform”. Instead, she describes it now as one that provides “at-scale reach”.
Or, as Forrester describes it, ‘Facebook has abandoned social marketing’. It does not want to indundate its users with branded content and, perhaps more importantly, it is a publicly-held company that needs to make more money.
In the short term, says Manson, this will certainly encourage marketers to spend more on paid Facebook ads. “It remains the best platform for driving engagement and scale,” he notes. “But, the big question this underscores is whether brand marketers and comms people have become too reliant on Facebook for their social strategy.”
In the longer term, Manson is encouraging clients to look more closely at other social networks, particularly Twitter and Instagram and, for B2B players, LinkedIn. He believes that Facebook’s ‘efficiency argument’ — the reach and scale you could achieve by investing in a Facebook community — has eroded.
By forcing brands to pay for consumer attention, Facebook appears to be moving away from an engagement platform to something that looks suspiciously like a broadcast medium. Accordingly, does that mean that those high hopes brand marketers had for social media engagement must now be tempered?
“I think in some way this is a good step back,” counters Manson. “People my age started taking brands into social media because we thought there was an opportunity to have conversations at scale. That still exists, but the reality is we can’t have those conversations billions at a time. It has to be thousands at a time.”
The idea that brands must become more engaged and relevant does not sound like a terrible outcome. Perhaps the risk is that, as brands view Facebook as more of a paid medium, they will revert to the kind broadcast behaviour that social media was supposed to reshape.
“You still have to apply all of the social best practice in terms of creating an impactful, appropriate post — it still must resonate and be valuable to whoever’s viewing it — because it sits in a social platform,” says Morgan. “But the theory is that if you do all of that, and then promote, it’s far more effective than TV.”
[Pic credit: mkhmarketing.wordpress.com]