No such thing as a free (Facebook) lunch

No such thing as a free (Facebook) lunch

You have just received a new Like on your brand’s Facebook page. Job done. In fact, the job is far from done and it is beginning to get even harder.

It is easy to think that once someone becomes your fan on Facebook, they then see everything that you post. In fact, that is not the case at all and your carefully crafted content is being seen by fewer and fewer people all the time.

In December, Facebook said that on a given day, there are 1,500 stories competing to appear in an average person’s News Feed – the stream of motivational quotes, selfies, brain teasers, news article links and brand-created content where most people experience Facebook on their mobiles or desktops.

The stories that appear in News Feed and their order are decided by an algorithm – formerly known as EdgeRank – which takes into account many factors, including how often you interact with content from any particular source – if you Like a lot of motivational quotations, you will end up seeing more of them; if you ignore lots of content from a brand whose page you have Liked, you will see it in your News Feed less often.

So how many people do see your content? Two summers ago, Facebook said that the average was around 16% – i.e. only one in six of your fans see a typical piece of content you post. This percentage is known as the “organic reach” of your content.

You can work out the organic reach of your own content from Facebook’s Page Insights dashboard. You need to download both your page and post level data for a specific period to work this out. From your page level data, find the column that shows Lifetime Total Likes and take an average of this over the period you are looking at. From your post level data, find the column that shows Lifetime Post reach by people who like your Page and take an average of that. Divide the second number by the first and you have your organic reach.

An interesting exercise is to compare organic reach in the past with now. Prepare to get worried. You are likely to observe a decline.

In December, Facebook admitted that organic reach was declining. In a business news post on its site, the company said, “Competition for each News Feed story is increasing. Because the content in News Feed is always changing, and we’re seeing more people sharing more content, Pages will likely see changes in distribution. For many Pages, this includes a decline in organic reach. We expect this trend to continue as the competition for each story remains strong and we focus on quality.”

Looking at averages for the brand Pages we look after at Travel Perspective, this is a clear trend – organic reach of the content we post is declining. Just to be clear, this is principally due to competition from content from other Pages and changes in Facebook’s algorithm.

One explanation for these changes is that Facebook wants brands to spend more on advertising. Indeed, in its December news post, the company continued by saying, “As the dynamic nature of News Feed continues to follow people’s patterns of sharing, Page owners should continue using the most effective strategy to reach the right people: a combination of engaging Page posts and advertising to promote your message more broadly. Advertising lets Pages reach the fans they already have and find new customers as well.” (The emphasis here is mine).

For brands that have successfully used Facebook to market themselves “free of charge” over recent years this will is an unwelcome change. Like other channels, such as newspapers and television, companies will now have to spend money on adverts to get their messages across.

What we tell our clients is that this emphasises more than ever the value of having a great story with a good hook just as it always has done in the world of print and television. Rather than relying on your content to be pushed to fans, you need to create great stories that the world in general – not just your Facebook fans – feel compelled to share.

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Mark Frary is co-founder of Travel Perspective, a social and digital consultancy working with travel companies and tourism organisations to create successful marketing campaigns He is an author and writer specialising in travel, social media and technology. He writes regularly for The Times and has written for many other publications including the Evening Standard, the Independent on Sunday, the Daily Express, Food & Travel, ABTA magazine, the easyJet magazine and Teletext.  Mark also gives expert advice to leisure and business travel companies on their social media and communications strategies and is the co-founder of Social Travel Market, an annual conference on the use of social media in travel at World Travel Market. He is the author of seven books including The Origins of the Universe for Dummies and is currently working on a biography of the ski pioneer Erna Low. Mark lives in Ampthill in Bedfordshire, UK with his wife and three children.

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