You have a million followers, so a million people saw your new Facebook post… right?
Experts have been warning that this would happen, and now the time has come. Facebook rolled out its new Explore Feed which effectively kills organic reach on the biggest social media platform in the world. Creators who don’t promote their posts will be relegated to a feed most users never see.
Just how bad is the problem?
Reach is Critical to Building a Brand
Organic reach is the number of people who see your posts without promotion. It’s the opposite of paid reach, which counts people who see or interact with boosted posts and ads.
Traditionally, organic reach on Facebook has been a major part of a creator’s social media strategy. It’s the biggest platform out there, with the broadest pool of possible new fans. Creators could take advantage of proven techniques that let them make interesting, well-constructed posts to bring in those new fans, who then follow from Facebook to other platforms
If no one sees your posts, however, they can’t follow, like, or share. No engagement means no ad share and no action on promotions. Without organic reach, creators will have to pay to put their posts in front of users.
Facebook Has Been Reducing Organic Reach From the Start
The Facebook News Feed launched in 2007. Right away page owners began noticing a drop in traffic compared to pre-feed levels. Facebook blamed the growing size of the platform for the change, an explanation which did have a grain a truth. The average page would have two thousand posts a day without some kind of ranking practice. The algorithm is the only way to keep the site functional.
Sponsored posts arrived in 2012. Although they were only meant to be extra tools for creators, soon enough page owners were protesting a fall in traffic once more. Facebook executives claimed they’d only corrected the algorithm to remove spam posts and resolve customer complaint issues. Their official statement read:
“The median reach of Facebook pages has remained the same while spam complaints and stories hidden by users have fallen significantly.”
Despite the reassurances, page owners were suddenly seeing a mere 16% organic reach even among active and loyal fans.
Organic reach kept dropping. By 2013 it was 8%, then 6% in 2014. In 2016 it was on its way to the 2017 number of 2%. Insiders began warning that organic reach would drop to zero at some point.
Page reach has in fact declined 20% over the last year, putting it near zero even before the Explore Feed.
The Explore Feed Makes It Harder to Attract New Fans
Mobile Facebook users have had access to the Explore Feed for the better part of a year. It moves posts from pages the user’s haven’t “Liked” to a separate feed accessed through the Explore icon. In most places, users currently see content from pages they like in addition to sponsored posts and ads.
Facebook describes the Explore Feed as a feature requested by users, saying,
“We’ve heard from people that they want an easy way to explore relevant content from Pages they haven’t connected with yet.”
The dilemma creators face is this: with their content shut away in a separate tab, less fresh traffic makes its way to their page. Facebook users have to specifically click on the tab to have a chance of finding new pages. Many of them don’t even know the Explore Feed exists.
In theory content from liked and followed pages should still appear in the main newsfeed. Those liked posts are still subject to the near-zero organic reach problem, though… and they might not be in the primary feed for long.
Facebook Is Pushing Even Liked Pages to the Explore Feed
While “Liked” pages are allowed on the main feed for now, it looks like that won’t be the case for long. Facebook is running a trial where “Liked” and “Subscribed” pages also get pushed to the Explore Feed.
This trial is being run in a handful of countries: Slovakia, Sri Lanka, Serbia, Bolivia, Guatemala and Cambodia. In these markets, users have to click the Discover icon even to find content they’ve chosen to follow. Only paid ads and promoted posts can escape banishment to the Explore Feed.
It’s been suggested by some analysts that this is an attempt by Facebook to incentivize checking the Explore Feed. Even if that is true, it adds another roadblock between followers and creators.
The Explore Feed Kills Page Traffic
Page owners in the test markets have seen traffic drop by as much as two thirds. In Slovakia, Cambodia, and Guatemala there are four times fewer interactions per page. The impact is hardest on smaller media (the overall average decrease has been estimated anywhere from 60-80%), but even the biggest Slovak pages have lost half their traffic since the trial’s launch on October 19th test.
Some users haven’t yet found the Explore Feed, meaning they can’t see their favorite pages. When they do, a quirk of the algorithm often puts old high-performing content near the top instead of fresher posts. This increase the bounce rate by making followers think there isn’t new content.
Creators Need to Protect Their Audience While They Can
Facebook insists this is just a test. Adam Mosseri, Facebook’s Head of News Feed, says they don’t intend to turn the trial into a global feature.
”We are testing having one dedicated space for people to keep up with their friends and family, and another separate space, called Explore, with posts from pages. There is no current plan to roll this out beyond these test countries or to charge pages on Facebook to pay for all their distribution in News Feed or Explore.”
The statement rings hollow for those who remember that the Explore Feed was originally labelled a “test” with no plans to expand. Given Facebook’s track record, it’s highly possible that this restriction could be widespread before long.
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