Have you ever thrown a party, gotten a DJ and music, had drinks and seats ready to go — and then had that brief flash of panic before guests arrive, wondering if anyone's going to show up? Sometimes, it seems that launching a new social media property (or expanding your current one) is kind of like that.
Social media managers know that organic reach on Facebook is rapidly approaching a fraction of a percent, especially the larger your page's following. But, what you might not be thinking about yet is that this trend will spill over to Instagram with its new filtered feed view. And, it’s logical to expect we’ll start seeing the same filtering on Snapchat and future social networking channels as they grow in popularity.
Why are these networks showing your content to fewer of your fans? The cynical view is because they can; these walled gardens own their users and need to generate revenue, so by limiting your content’s organic reach and charging you for the privilege of promoting content, they’re in effect generating revenue on the backs of your fans’ loyalty to you.
The less cynical view is one that’s commonly given by the companies themselves: average users follow so many accounts that to show them everything that’s posted would be completely overwhelming. The data backs this view up, as well: studies show that users have an average of around 160 to 300 friends on Facebook, and a median of around 250 to an average of over 800 accounts followed on Instagram. That’s a ton of content to try and keep up with every day!
The true cause for filtering is probably somewhere in the middle of these two reasons. Yes, your average user would be overwhelmed if these networks showed them everything from every account they follow. But, at the same time, allowing brands and companies to promote their content definitely helps create revenue. No matter what the reason, pay-to-reach is the new normal going forward on any network that has an appreciable user base.
So how do you solve this organic reach/engagement “problem”? Well, the answer might not be one you were hoping for: It's our opinion that on established networks, you can't. On social media networks that are established and see high use, organic reach percentage will continue to trend downward, accelerating as more users engage in social media, and as they follow more properties. But even with that said, there are steps you can take to ensure that your brand’s slide to near-zero organic reach is a shallower slope, and potentially increase engagement while you're at it.
First, you have to bear in mind how these networks decide what content to show to users. They want users to be engaged and using their services, increasing eyeball time. So, these feed filtering algorithms will try to select content that users are the most likely to engage with, and the only way for them to do that is looking at historical performance of your content, both by the user in question and by others in a similar demographics.
It's much more complicated than just that, and the algorithms adjust to try and show you potentially interesting content as this article from Time about Facebook's algorithm shows, but it's not overly reductive to say: if your content consistently sees a high organic engagement rate, and users spend more time viewing it, the algorithm is more likely to show it to your fans. The flip side is true as well: if your brand’s content generally has low engagement, this can hurt you in terms of future organic reach.
So, give your users what they’re most likely to engage with, keeping in mind each specific network’s personality.
Of course, this doesn’t mean abandoning brand objectives, but you want to ensure you’re putting your fans first rather than creating a lot of self-serving content. The occasional press release and other one-way type of communication is of course okay, and you should always be willing to try new types of content to see what might stick… but if your property continues to pump out content that users don’t engage with, you’ll see your organic reach continue to fall. Remember, you want to build a community, and that means crafting engaging content for your fans.
Second, you need to be tracking and using your social analytics, deeper than what each network provides. We of course believe our True Engagement™ formula, where we compensate for different types of engagement, content, and promotion, is the most honest way to look at your content’s performance. But at the very least, any sort of advanced social analytics beyond the standard Facebook, Instagram and Twitter analytics is a must in this modern era.
You want to factor in the feedback your getting. Are users sharing your content? A manual reshare on Instagram is a much more labor-intensive process than a retweet or a share on Facebook, meaning the user not only really liked your content but really wanted to share it, too. A user choosing a "reaction" on Facebook beyond a standard Like requires more time & effort than just tapping, so this is more valuable feedback. Did they retweet you, or quote-retweet you? All of these factors and more will help guide you in terms of actual engagement.
It’s not enough to keep an eye on your analytics, though — you have to glean deep learnings from them and then incorporate these lessons into your content & strategy ideation sessions. The analytics will give you a picture of how you’re doing; the creativity comes into play in determining what to do with the data. You shouldn't merely assume that simply This Type Of Content Did Well, therefore This Type Of Content Will Do Well Again. The learnings you take away from your content's performance should be cross-referenced with your social media plan and expected performance, making adjustments as you go.
So ultimately, while organic reach might be nearing zero as networks grow, simply caring for your fans, crafting content they’ll love, and creating a community will lead to higher organic reach. And, more importantly, your fans will appreciate being a part of the communication, rather than just someone you talk at.
Like what you read? Be sure to follow Mattermind for more blog posts like this one, and if you’d like Mattermind to apply our learnings to your brand or service, contact us today!
(Photo used under Creative Commons license, courtesy Flickr user Keoni Cabral)
Greg is the founder & CEO of Mattermind. Before starting Mattermind, he was the Chief Technology Officer of VL Group and appliedSB for a decade, where he originated world-class media delivery & streaming platforms used by clients such as Live Nation, Billboard, Delta, Pepsi, IMVU, Shazam, and dozens more. Besides his career in technology, social media, and strategy, Greg is also the founder and Musical/Creative Director for New York Holiday Singers, Inc., and the mastermind behind the progressive pop/rock project Conspiracy Of Violet.