Facebook & Its Algorithm Changes: Our Favorite Frenemy

Facebook: you either love it or you’re over it…or, if you’re in a business’ shoes, it’s your favorite frenemy.

For those of you who missed the addition of this new term to Webster’s, a frenemy is an enemy that you treat like a friend for mutual benefit. (This is just one of many interpretations; for many more, check out Urban Dictionary.)

So what turned once such a fruitful, healthy relationship into one wrought with trust issues, neglect and betrayal? Okay, so I might be exaggerating just a touch, but at times, that is what the string of Facebook EdgeRank—or News Feed determinant—algorithm changes have done to my sanity.

According to EdgeRank Checker, the median organic reach of Facebook page posts fell from 16% in February 2012 to just 6.5% in March 2014. As an agency, we’ve see the organic reach of one of our clients drop from around 17.5% in July 2013 to just 9.7% by April 2014.

sample-actual-facebook-organic-reach-decline

Sample of Actual Facebook Organic Reach Decline

To really understand where we are now, let’s take a trip down memory lane to before February 2012, when Facebook was a beloved friend, brought into our lives in 2004 for the long-haul. For some of us, it was the only constant relationship we had; it was where we’d turn when our own interpersonal relationships crumbled around us. It worked very much like this:

Whether you were a person or a business, you created a Facebook account, posted to your wall, and your handpicked selection of friends would flock to their computers to consume every last drop of your content.

Fast forward to 2013, and Facebook decided it would introduce a little bit of a twist into something we had grown to love, to respect, to confide in; they decided to make us pay.

Now, this is both literally and figuratively speaking. Though it vehemently stresses that any EdgeRank changes were to benefit the end user—consumers like you and I—we can all read between the lines. Facebook wants our money, and in this case, when I say “our,” I mean businesses’.

Let me illustrate: on December 2, 2013, Facebook flicked a switch that would forever change the landscape of business pages. Instead of providing between 30% and 60% organic reach for each business post, Facebook said something along of the lines of, “Though we like having you here on Facebook, we’re now going to make you pay for your reach.” They justified this by saying that the amount of user-generated content on Facebook is higher than ever before; therefore, consumers need an advocate when it comes to placing the most relevant, engaging content into their News Feeds. For some reason, Facebook nominated itself to be our knight in shining armor, fighting for consumer rights. They’re declaration went something like this:

No more memes, more news, but only some kinds of news. Oh, and you should advertise to get all of that stuff that you used to get seen for free seen by the same people.”

As a result of this altruistic charge, Facebook explained:

We expect organic distribution of an individual page’s posts to gradually decline over time as we continually work to make sure people have a meaningful experience on the site. We’re getting to a place where because more people are sharing more things, the best way to get your stuff seen if you’re a business is to pay for it.

This is an excerpt pulled by Ad Age from a Facebook sales deck sent to them a month prior to the December 2nd change. The statement continues with, “Your brand can fully benefit from having fans when most of your ads show social context, which increases advertising effectiveness and efficiency.” So essentially, you can still get new fans and interact with the ones you have, but only if you buy Facebook advertising.

To confirm suspicions that brand pages were indeed at the gavel of Facebook algorithm changes, Ignite Social Media conducted a study, examining 689 posts across 21 brand pages during the week of December 1, 2013. What they found was incredible, though bad news for brands on Facebook: organic reach and organic percentage of reach declined, on average, 44%. Some pages saw a decrease of up to 88%. One of our clients saw a 30% drop in organic reach during the month of December alone.

What does this mean? It means, on average, that between 44-88% less people were seeing brand page Facebook posts in their News Feeds. Whereas the percentage of a page’s fans seeing updates was once 16%, that number had now dropped to 2.5% for posts on large brand pages.

As you might expect, brand pages were furious. One such business, Eat24, a food delivery app that has partnerships with over 25,000 restaurants in over 1,500 cities, fought back. With pandemonium? Of course! But though they wrote an excellent open breakup letter to Facebook, they took it one step farther: they deleted their account.

Unfazed, Facebook’s Director of Global Communication/Monetization, Brandon McCormick, actually replied to Eat24’s Declaration of Facebook Independence in a tone which one could conservatively describe as “snarky”:

Hi Eat24, this is Brandon over at Facebook. I was bummed to read your letter. The world is so much more complicated than when we first met — it has changed. And we used to love your jokes about tacquitos and 420 but now they don’t seem so funny…

So, long story short: the local business owner is not Facebook’s priority. So, what do we do about it? As frustrating as it is, in order to play the game, we’ve got to pay to play. Facebook recognizes that it’s sitting on a goldmine of an opportunity: they’ve got over 1 billion users currently on the platform, with the average user spending 40 minutes/day on the network.

And it’s not just the time they’re there. Due to the brilliant nature of Facebook, most users are sharing deeply personal information about themselves, their interests, their location and their habits. This is not to mention the ridiculous amount of data that comes from tracking users’ Facebook activity, and sometimes even recording background noise when users are drafting a status update. Really, we’re not kidding. You name it, Facebook has it.

As scary as that is as a Facebook user, we can’t deny the enormous opportunity that creates for us as businesses, and as advertisers. Whether we rely on the severely diminished organic reach, or pay for reach is a decision we’ll each have to make. We have worked with clients who have chosen both paths.

We will say that, for one client, allocating a budget to promote posts has drastically increased both reach and engagement, by an average 8X and 3X respectively. But the decision has to root from your business goals and social media objectives. Is engagement a good indicator of sales? Then, yes, playing Facebook’s pay game might be a good move for you. Do you have other mediums that are frequented by your customers through which to communicate? Then maybe you need to pull an Eat24 and exit the Facebook arena.

Either way, this blog post should help you make the right decision for you.

If you have any questions about navigating the new Facebook, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We’d love to help.

To read more about social media advertising, check out one of our previous posts: The Merits of Social Media Advertising.

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