Facebook's Brian Boland wrote a lengthy blog post about the much talked about decline in organic reach of Facebook Page posts. It's happening for two main reasons, he said: more and more content is created and shared every day and News Feed is designed to show users content that's most relevant to them.
It's not about money, according to Facebook. Do you buy that? Let us know in the comments.
"To choose which stories to show, News Feed ranks each possible story (from more to less important) by looking at thousands of factors relative to each person," he wrote. "Over the past year, we’ve made some key changes to improve how News Feed chooses content: We’ve gotten better at showing high-quality content, and we’ve cleaned up News Feed spam. As a result of these changes, News Feed is becoming more engaging, even as the amount of content being shared on Facebook continues to grow."
According to at least one third-party measurement, Facebook is indeed sending more and more referrals to websites that are actually appearing in the News Feed.
Some question why Facebook doesn't just show people everything from all of their friends and all of the Pages they've liked, and let them decide what they want to see.
"Several other online feed platforms display all content in real time," he said. "But the real-time approach has limitations. People only have so much time to consume stories, and people often miss content that isn’t toward the top when they log on. This means they often do not see the content that’s most valuable to them."
He reiterated a point Facebook has made in the past, that in tests, the ranking system offers people a "more engaging experience". He also said that using a real-time system for content would "actually cause Pages' organic reach to decrease further."
I'm guessing some could argue with that, especially considering all the research that's been done about the best times to post content. There is pretty much a whole industry dedicated to maximizing visibility on social media and helping businesses get more out of their social media strategies.
Obviously many consider the decline of organic reach a money grab on Facebook's part. There is a fairly widespread mentality that Facebook has dropped it to force people to pay for promoted posts.
This is false, according to Boland, who said, "Our goal is always to provide the best experience for the people that use Facebook. 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."
He then compared Facebook organic reach to SEO:
Many large marketing platforms have seen declines in organic reach. Online search engines, for instance, provided a great deal of free traffic to businesses and websites when they initially launched. People and businesses flocked to these platforms, and as the services grew there was more competition to rank highly in search results. Because the search engines had to work much harder to surface the most relevant and useful content, businesses eventually saw diminished organic reach.
Indeed, Facebook News Feed algorithm changes have been compared to Google's famous Panda update. The comparison only stretches so far, however, because Google has over 200 signals that it takes into account in ranking content. Facebook, while it has many ranking signals, isn't looking much beyond source in determining quality, which is problematic. At least Google gave sites a big list of things it thinks about when determining quality.
Boland then talked about how transparent Facebook is:
While many platforms experience a change in organic reach, some are more transparent about these changes than others. Facebook has always valued clear, detailed, actionable reports that help businesses see what’s happening with their content. And over time we will continue to expand and improve our already strong reporting tools.
To be fair, Google might give more hints about what it considers to be quality content, but its transparency is constantly on trial in the court of public opinion. Boland at least described "great content" in his post as "content that teaches people something, entertains them, makes them think, or in some other way adds value to their lives." The problem is that based on what Facebook has said before, it doesn't really matter if your content does any of this if you're not a whitelisted site. That is when it comes to Page posts. The "great content" thing can still work, of course, in terms of people just liking content from your actual site after they get to it from a search engine, Twitter or anywhere else.
After the near-demise of organic reach on Facebook, many wonder what the point of trying to acquire new Facebook fans is. Boland attempted to answer this next, saying, "Fans absolutely have value," first and foremost, "Fans make your ads more effective."
"When an ad has social context — in other words, when a person sees their friend likes your business — your ads drive, on average, 50% more recall and 35% higher online sales lift," he wrote. "Fans also make the ads you run on Facebook more efficient in our ads auction. Ads with social context are a signal of positive quality of the ad, and lead to better auction prices. You can use insights about your fans — like where they live, and their likes and interests — to inform decisions about reaching your current and prospective customers."
Finally, fans can give your business credibility, he said.
Later, he compared Facebook to search again:
Like TV, search, newspapers, radio and virtually every other marketing platform, Facebook is far more effective when businesses use paid media to help meet their goals. Your business won’t always appear on the first page of a search result unless you’re paying to be part of that space. Similarly, paid media on Facebook allows businesses to reach broader audiences more predictably, and with much greater accuracy than organic content.
Next, Boland said that "of course" businesses can succeed on Facebook with decreased organic reach before running down a handful of brands that have used ads successfully.
The early reaction to Boland's post (in the comments) has been mixed. Some appreciated the explanation, but others still fee like it's a "money grab" on Facebook's part, and are no less frustrated than they were before the post.
Do you believe the money isn't factoring into Facebook's organic reach decline? Share your thoughts.
Image via Facebook