Is Facebook Really Free Anymore?

Is Facebook Free?Facebook has gone through many changes in its quest to find a perfect balance between an interface that people love to use, and love to advertise on as well. Yet recent reports suggest that the outcry of page owners that their posts organic reach has almost disappeared is part of a bigger Facebook strategy and that the days of getting any free Facebook reach may be numbered.

It’s no secret that the portion of a brand’s Facebook fans who see posts that aren’t supported by ad spend is dropping. In a sales deck sent to partners last fall, Facebook acknowledged what many brands and page owners have been complaining about for more than a year: Organic Facebook reach of posts on brand pages was declining. But only now are they starting to notice how much that Facebook reach has declined.

Facebook Reach Declined by 50% in 6 Months

According to a new report by advertising giants Social@Ogilvy, organic Facebook reach has fallen off by almost half since October of 2013. Social@Ogilvy conducted an analysis of 106 country-level brand pages it has administrator access to and found that the average Facebook reach of organic posts had declined from 12.05% in October to 6.15% in February. For 23 pages in the sample with more than 500,000 likes, the drop was from 4.04% in October to 2.11% in February.

For context, Facebook told marketers two years ago that 16% of their fans on average were seeing their organic posts. The Social@Ogilvy research was conducted on a global set of brand pages, the majority of which were from outside of the U.S. and accounted for 48.2 million total fans.

Facebook Reach


So What Is Reaching Our News Feeds?

If we look take the current figures as, where organic page reach is only 6%, then that suggests 94% of Facebook’s news feed is made up of something else. What is that something else?

It’s not ads. Anyone with a Facebook account can easily verify that 96% of what you see isn’t ads. According to Marketing Land, That leaves three key possibilities:

1) A few pages are getting “richer,” and certain publishers are being greatly rewarded far beyond what they used to get.

2) Many more pages are getting visibility than before — perhaps in the past, only a relatively few pages got that double-digit visibility, now more are getting visibility

3) Facebook has greatly increased the amount of non-Page content it is showing, say status updates, personal pictures, RSVPs to events and so on, so that page content has less visibility.

So Is Facebook Really Free?

According to the report’s author, “content that is eligible to be shown in news feed is increasing at a faster rate than people’s ability to consume it. Eventually, there may be no space left for brands who haven’t paid to promote their posts.” According Social@Ogilvy, Facebook representatives have told members of their team and clients to think about what a social strategy would look like if there were no organic reach.

With the impending end of organic reach, what will be the consequences for marketers and others who use Facebook to connect with their communities? How can brands and corporates get the most from Facebook in the future? Is Facebook still a driver of “earned” conversation and word of mouth? Or is it just a straightforward paid channel? How should communities approach content and engagement going forward?

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