Facebook Trims Reach of Brand Pages

dneisser
Drew Neisser Founder & CEO, Renegade

Posted on November 26th 2012

Facebook Trims Reach of Brand Pages

When Facebook flutters its wings, the world of social media feels its effects—for better or worse. One such recent “flutter” was a change to the EdgeRank algorithm that Facebook’s Will Cathcart swears was meant to limit spam and not, as some accuse, to drive brands to buy more promoted posts.  Whatever the reason behind the changes, Renegade has found significant evidence that the changes have negatively affected the reach of branded pages, especially those using photos as their primary post type.

Below you see a graph representing a branded Facebook page’s posts from July 2012 through October 2012 in which we examined a few key elements: reach, post type and virality. As you may know, virality is the number of people “talking about this” divided by the total reach of the post.  We chose this particular brand because it had long enjoyed significant engagement with an organically built fan base and had been consistent with the types and quantity of posts over the four-month time period.

We’ve chosen to show reach as a percentage of total page likes to normalize the change in fan growth; essentially, this makes all posts equal relative to the number of fans. If it is true that posts on average are seen by 16% of your fans, then most of the posts should hover around that blue line, with the more viral ones (larger bubbles) above that line. However, that was not the case--overall page reach declined, and with some types of content, the decline was remarkable.

 

The reach of a post is represented as a percent of total likes. Virality displayed as the size of the bubble.

 

Even more disturbing is the fact that despite similar virality of many October posts, they simply didn’t achieve anywhere near the same kind of reach as equally or even less viral posts in August.  This means that even if your fans are demonstrating legitimate engagement with a particular post, the reach of that post is still going to be throttled by the new algorithm.

One other finding of note is that rich media content—that is, posts that include photos or video—saw a greater decline in reach than your basic all-text status updates.  Represented by the orange and red dots, respectively, on the graph, photo and video posts showed a huge decline in reach regardless of the level of virality.  In contrast, the reach of text-only status updates, represented by the green dots on the graph, hovered around the 16% line and even showed some upward movement towards the end of October.

Just in case you found the above chart confusing, the one below simply plots out the absolute reach of each post over the same time period (with the numbers removed to protect confidentiality).  With this chart, you can see the dramatic decline in average daily reach (-35%) between August posts and October posts.  This is what most pages have reported and why the accusations against Facebook have been flying across the net.

In order to make sure we were comparing apples to apples in terms of post types, we broke this down even further to compare posts with photos, posts with videos and text-only status updates in the chart below. And then to give Facebook the benefit of the doubt, we selected comparable posts from October that had higher levels of total actions (likes, comments and shares) and more engaged users.  Amazingly, despite the head start we gave the October posts, Facebook’s new algorithm has decreased reach by 30% or more for both photo and video posts. However, less engaging status updates (plain text with no previews) seem to be unaffected or only slightly affected by the changes.

Recognizing that the branded page we are studying here is but one example, we ran the same kind of analysis on other branded Facebook pages, and the results were consistent with the example above, regardless of the size or nature of the fan base.  For example, a brand page that had grown organically and another that had grown through sponsored posts both saw the same declines in reach during the same time frame.

Whether it’s intentional or not, Facebook is sending a complex message to marketers. First, don’t over-do it with photos and videos—you’ll reach and engage about the same number of fans with a pithy text-only status update.  In fact, it would be safe to conclude from this data that Facebook’s changes to EdgeRank have significantly devalued rich content posts like photos and videos.  Second, if you want to reach more of your fans, you’ll just have to pay for it, regardless of the quality of your content or the genuine interest of your fan base.

The findings above are consistent with a recent study by Group M Next that revealed a 38% drop in percent of Facebook users that see an organic post by a brand they like.  While Renegade does not believe that Facebook made these changes out of avarice, the results are pretty much the same—the value of a fan has been deflated and the cost of engaging more than a small percentage of them has increased.

dneisser

Drew Neisser

Founder & CEO, Renegade

Drew Neisser is CEO & Founder of Renegade the NYC-based social media and marketing agency that helps inspired clients cut through the nonsense to deliver genuine business growth. A frequent speaker at industry events, Drew’s been a featured expert on ABC’s Nightline and CNBC. In addition to blogging for SocialMediaToday, you can find Drew’s articles on FastCompany.com, MediaPost and TheDrewBlog.

In the last few years, Drew and Renegade charged up the prepaid card market launching MAGIC by Magic Johnson via events & social, unleashed the AXA Gorilla on Twitter with audio tweets and a virtual retirement party, created the Optimist Network for Optimum Business, guided Toasted Head to become one of the most popular wines on Facebook, introduced young adults to Harlem Liqueur and made a splash for Davidoff Cool Water on Facebook.

Also at Renegade, Drew hatched numerous award-winning campaigns for a long-list of blue chip clients.  His ideas for HSBC, Panasonic and IBM were all recognized by BRANDWEEK as Guerrilla Marketers of the Year.   Among these is the legendary HSBC BankCab program, a restored Checker, that has been delighting HSBC customers since 2003 with free rides (and now informative tweets).  

Drew’s creative accomplishments include naming and launching the Toughbook for Panasonic and penning numerous taglines.  These include “Like money. Only Magic.” for MAGIC by Magic Johnson prepaid MasterCard, “Where Family Comes First.” for Family Circle Magazine, “Fire things up,” for Toasted Head wine and “Great tech support. Good karma.” for iYogi.

Diapered at Wells Rich Greene, trained at JWT and retrained at Chiat/Day, Drew founded Renegade in 1996 as a place where the best ideas can sprout from any corner and collaboration trumps ego.  Drew earned a BA in history from Duke University and lives in Manhattan with his wife and the agency’s mascot, a French bulldog named Pinky.  A native Californian, Drew dreams of becoming a surfer but is a long way from hanging ten.

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Comments

Unfortunately that’s the reality of playing in someone’s field. We’ve been so used to “free ads” and “free engagement”, because that’s essentially what brand posts are…glorified ad units to engage with audiences.

Think of it this way: what other ad unit exists that allows you to reach brand advocates, have them comment and respond to your brands message, share it with their friends, etc…. None. There’s no ad unit like that in existence.

Given the fact that the avg Facebook user Likes well over 50 brand pages, it’s not a preposterous idea that Facebook has tweaked its algorithm so it’s less “spammy” from posts coming from all these brands.

I truly believe that Facebook has every intention to make this change for the benefit of the users. A by-product is the fact that you now have to pay to reach all these users. That’s an old fact and is expected, especially now that it’s a publicly traded company. The days of “free” are definitely over now that Facebook can prove the benefits and ROI of having your brand be on Facebook. Influence + advocates + reach = sales.

While there is no tool that can truly measure “EdgeRank” <–a fictitious name for Newsfeed, there are tools that can help you optimize your pages reach. For example:
http://newsfeededge.com/

Analyzes your previous posts, the time you posted, number of people engaged, etc… And it will show: 1) the best time to post 2) The best type of post (usually a photo) 3) who your brand advocates are
4) key topics that generate the most engagement
5) recommendations to improve your brands ability to show up in the newsfeed and create "viral/social" posts

Great article. It's something we've known about for 8 months. The "big" tweak to the algorithm happened a long time ago and for brands, things wont change: Your brand advocates, you'll reach for free. The rest, you gotta pay to play.

-Mario
http://www.MajesticMedia.ca