When social media was young, page traffic was held almost entirely in the hands of content creators. If activity dropped they knew they needed to fine-tune their message or change up the distribution strategy. Over the last several years, though, organic reach on social media has been dwindling across the board. Let’s take a look at how that happened and what creators can do to combat it.
The Decline of Organic Reach
“Organic reach” is the number of individual people who see your posts without any kind of promotion. “Paid reach” accounts for the views gained by sponsoring posts. Together they make up “total reach”, and each of those three statistics is usually given as a percentage of audience.
Theoretically users should see all updates from every page they follow or like. In practice, the average news feed would contain around 2,000 posts a day if that were strictly followed. Few people would want to scroll through so many updates.
That’s why, when Facebook launched their News Feed feature in 2007, they also introduced a sorting algorithm that was meant to filter content based on how likely users were to enjoy it. Other social media platforms adopted this practice, formulating their own guidelines to determine what would pass through to newsfeeds.
This sounded like a good deal for digital influencers. It seemed as though the update would give power back to content creators, who could influence their organic reach by improving the quality of their content.
Except - that’s not how things worked out.
Page managers had been noticing a general decline in their organic reach since that 2007 launch, but the situation came to a head in 2012. That was the year Facebook introduced sponsored posts. Earlier the same year, they began using a new ranking algorithm based on machine learning techniques. When it was released Facebook said the algorithm would boost user engagement by learning what people interacted with and prioritizing similar content.
Content creators had a different experience. They found their organic reach had suddenly dropped to an average of 16%, even among fans who interacted with their content regularly. Facebook denied any connection between this drop and the sponsored posts. Their position was that the changes would ultimately benefit content creators by focusing their exposure on those most likely to enjoy it.
However, the downward trend continued. Organic reach fell to 8% in 2013, then to 6% in 2014. Now, in 2017, it’s around 2% and still falling. In 2016 Facebook insiders began quietly spreading the word that organic reach would eventually approach zero and that page managers should plan accordingly.
Many creators are hedging their bets by focusing on other social media platforms. While that helps, it’s not a solid long-term solution. Most platforms are restricting organic reach for one reason or another. A Quintly study finds that Instagram activity is down by as much as 40% for high-follower pages and still dropping.
To get a bird’s-eye view of the problem, here’s the average organic reach for several social media platforms (using pages with more than 500,000 fans as a reference):
- Facebook: 2.27% organic reach
- Twitter: 3.61% organic reach
- Instagram: 20% organic reach
Google doesn’t share updated numbers for organic reach on Google+, but since celebrity interaction is at .09% of the fanbase it stands to reason that reach is also low.
Plummeting organic reach can be disastrous for content creators. Most pay overhead expenses like advertising out of pocket, hoping to make that money back in advertising and sponsorship fees. Organic reach helps reduce their price per new follower. Without it increasing their audience becomes more expensive, limiting the growth of their fanbase.
Time is another valuable resource for digital influencers. Video content takes time to produce, but absence does not make the heart grow fonder on social media. Long gaps in content production lead to unfollows. Even those whose main focus isn’t Facebook or Instagram use those platforms to keep fans engaged and interested during their production cycles. If their content isn’t being seen, it can impact the views on future videos.
The Platforms Respond
Social media platforms have steadfastly defended their changes. When asked whether their new algorithm was meant to drive digital influencers to sponsor posts, Facebook’s VP of Advertising Technology, Brian Boland, said, “We believe that delivering the best experiences for people also benefits the businesses that use Facebook. If people are more active and engaged with stories that appear in News Feed, they are also more likely to be active and engaged with content from businesses.”
Instagram, who’ve done a slightly better job of keeping organic reach steady, has reassured fans that their favorite celebrities will still be prominent in their feed. Their blog post from last year announcing the change read: “The order of photos and videos in your feed will be based on the likelihood you’ll be interested in the content, your relationship with the person posting and the timeliness of the post.”
What you can do about it
There isn’t much digital influencers can do to stop social media platforms from excluding posts. There are, however, a few tricks you can use to increase the odds that your own content will make the cut.
- Post more video content on Facebook. Facebook is focusing on video in a big way. Native Facebook videos are shared more than 1000% more than links to videos on other sites, and they have almost a 200% higher engagement rate. You can also increase viewership by going Live. People spend three times longer watching live videos than pre-recorded clips.
- Remind fans to like and share. Even a simple graphic encouraging fans to share will increase the chances they will, and that makes your post more desirable to the algorithm. It’s also a good idea to ask fans to update their notification settings so they’re sure to get your content.
- Tweak Audience Customization settings to target your most likely fans. It might seem counterintuitive to limit your audience, but doing so will make more of that small group see your posts.
- Build relationships with followers. Spend time every day reading, liking, and sharing your followers’ posts. Heavy social media engagement keeps fans excited and raises your relevancy rating.
- Make the most of the views you do get. Refocus your efforts on guiding fans toward a dedicated content platform where every user sees all your posts. Branded mobile apps have become the platform of choice for celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Demi Lovato.
Your fanbase doesn’t have to shrink along with your organic reach. Study the new algorithms, try a few of our social media engagement tips, and you can insulate your content against whatever the platforms throw your way. Contact us to help you with that.