The evolution of Facebook as a marketing platform has reached a critical point. While brands used to be able to reach consumers by publishing social content — without the assistance of media — to the News Feed, organic reach is on the decline, per a new whitepaper released by Facebook.
For brands, this means that publishing compelling and relevant content on Facebook does not necessarily guarantee that the right people, or a significant volume of total fans, will actually see it. Success through organic posting alone is no longer a given. Moving forward, having an integrated content and media plan is the only way to effectively reach your current and potential customers and drive business objectives via Facebook.
An analysis of a sampling of the hundreds of Facebook brand pages managed by 360i corroborates Facebook’s recent study, indicating an overall decrease in organic reach over the past three months. CPG brands in particular have seen the biggest declines in reach, with brands in the entertainment vertical experiencing less substantive declines.
The reason for this development: Facebook’s network of over 1.19 billion global users (Source: Facebook, November 2013. Generating Business Results on Facebook) is creating and sharing a higher volume of content than ever before, making it increasingly difficult to ensure that a brand’s content is seen. To quote Facebook: “Content that is eligible to be shown in the News Feed is increasing at a faster rate than people’s ability to consume it.”
Summary of Marketer Implications:
Brands should pursue a comprehensive approach to social content creation and amplification, baking paid social budget into the content creation plan and strategy from the start. In addition to amplifying high performing content to extend beyond the Facebook page, marketers should also proactively use paid social to target content to specific users based on their interests. This is made possible by leveraging consumer insights to unearth opportunities for reaching potential fans based on known characteristics of your audience.
Changes in the News Feed underscore the need for marketers to tailor their approach to the medium and their business objectives, keeping in mind their brand’s larger digitial infrastructure. Creating social content that’s ripe for engagement continues to be critical, as amassing Likes, shares, comments and link clicks correlates with better reach. However, as the News Feed has evolved it has broadened the range of strategies available for marketers to pursue, including a linking/referral strategy or reach strategy through paid amplification.
A test-and-learn approach is critical to success. Similar to search engines, Facebook’s News Feed algorithm is ever-evolving. Best practices will continue to shift and will vary by brand and audience.
Beyond Facebook, consider diversification through testing other social platforms with better organic opportunities. As it becomes increasingly difficult to reach people on Facebook without paid media support, marketers might want to explore smaller networks and engage with highly relevant communities in those spaces. For example, a travel brand might establish its presence in the Trip Advisor community and engage in conversations with people who demonstrate a high likelihood to book travel.
The following report explains the current state of the Facebook News Feed and details how marketers on Facebook adapt their approach to content in three key areas (Creation, Amplification and Optimization) to reach their audiences.
Today’s News Feed: It’s a Jungle Out There
Connectivity within Facebook is growing at a rapid pace. Users are connected to more people and more brands than ever before, as well as to Pages, apps and tools within the Facebook graph. More brands are using the site to share real-time marketing messages and people, themselves, are posting more content and creating more stories as they interact with friends or upload news from their mobile devices. Not surprisingly, the volume and frequency of publishing has escalated, as well, meaning that people see more content from fewer friends and Pages.
According to a Facebook study, more than 50 percent of a person’s time on Facebook is spent viewing and/or interacting with content in the News Feed. Each time someone visits the News Feed, an average of 1,500 potential stories are displayed. The News Feed algorithm takes cues from user behavior to determine what is most relevant to an individual, and prioritizes an average of 300 stories to show each day. These cues are based on factors such as how often users engage with content from other users or brands, as well as the amount of engagement garnered by that content. (Source: Facebook, August 2013. News Feed FYI: A Window Into News Feed. Retrieved from: https://www.facebook.com/facebookforbusiness/news/News-Feed-FYI-A-Window-Into-News-Feed)
Facebook has recently become more transparent when it comes to sharing how the News Feed algorithm determines which content to feature, how it is evolving and what those changes mean for brands. Recent News Feed updates include:
Story Bumping — Older organic stories that previously may not have been seen and continue to receive a high volume of interaction now reappear near the top of a user’s News Feed. Previously, 57 percent of News Feed stories were read by a user on average. With the introduction of Story Bumping, this figure has increased to an average of 70 percent (Source: Facebook, August 2013. News Feed FYI: A Window Into News Feed. Retrieved from: https://www.facebook.com/facebookforbusiness/news/News-Feed-FYI-A-Window-Into-News-Feed). This means a Page’s most popular organic Page posts have a higher chance of being shown to more people, even if they’re more than a few hours old.
Personalized Content Delivery — Facebook surveyed thousands of users to determine what makes for a high-quality post. Users were asked questions such as, “Would you share it with friends or recommend it to others?” and “Is this content genuinely interesting to you?” Adjustments were made to the algorithm based on responses. Results have shown a significant increase in interactions and a drop-off in negative feedback reported on content.
More Relevant Articles — In the past year, Facebook referral traffic to media sites has nearly tripled (Source: Facebook, December 2013. New Feed FYI: Helping You Find More News To Talk About. Retrieved from http://newsroom.fb.com/News/768/News-Feed-FYI-Helping-You-Find-More-News-to-Talk-About). This indicates that people are interested in seeing links articles on current events in their News Feeds as well as what their friends have to say about them. Based on this, Facebook has begun showing more articles in the News Feed, and is also surfacing similar articles directly below these posts to help users discover additional content that they may also find interesting. In an effort to highlight conversations around articles, stories with new comments will start being bumped more frequently into users’ News Feeds so they can see what their friends are saying. As a result of these updates, high quality links are likely to garner more engagement.
These and future changes are core to Facebook’s mission, which is to deliver a “personalized newspaper experience” to users; meaning connecting the best content to those that it will find it most relevant. Facebook explicitly confirmed in their whitepaper that the “organic distribution [of content] is not guaranteed.” Despite updates such as “Story Bumping,” referenced above, brand pages have experienced declines in the organic reach of their content. Similarly, each piece of content sees a different level of organic reach.
As a result, marketers must shift their approach to content in three key areas: Creation (what to make), Amplification (ensuring people see it) and Optimization (measurement and analysis).
Content Creation: Improving the Quality
As competition for real estate in the News Feed intensifies, marketers will want to favor the quality of posts rather than the quantity. Visual content has come to dominate communication over text only in the digital space — and why shouldn’t it? Platforms have become so cluttered with content that powerful imagery creates stopping power in places like Facebook and Twitter, where users are constantly scrolling to see what’s new and what’s next.
The reality is that as Facebook becomes more cluttered with content, marketers generally will not see the same results with the same budget. To achieve the same impact, marketers can either focus on fewer pieces of high-quality content (and amplify with media) OR up the frequency and quantity of organic posts. Our general recommendation is the former, as it would ensure more high-quality content along with the opportunity to target relevant people outside of the current community.
As brands become smarter, so do consumers. Today’s consumers expect a highly personal relationship with the brands from which they’re buying (or even considering). This means having a clearly defined personality to connect with a set of complex consumers at scale. You can learn more about that in 360i’s report on how to establish a social tone of voice.
With so much content with which they can engage, yet a relatively similar period of time in which to engage, consumers are more selective in what they choose to share, and ultimately purchase. Differentiating factors include things like location, interests and platform usage, meaning how they interact with their friends and family every day.
In the case of 360i client Oscar Mayer, we tapped into a universal insight — that fans know how to spell “bologna” because of Oscar Mayer — and used that to craft copy and help introduce a new product in a way that contributed to above average likes and most notably, shares.
While good content contains compelling imagery, great content unifies the visuals with the overarching message. And what is often the most important message to a marketer may not appeal to the average consumer. In social, the caliber of visual creativity has risen significantly as social media has matured — with campaigns like OREO’s Daily Twist and the emergence of new platforms like Vine and Instagram propelling the change.
Brands should align their content and posting behaviors with those of their audience, approaching the platform in an authentic and personable way. This means creating content that uses relevant and resonant language and mimics the way consumers engage in everyday life — not by like-baiting and over-complicating the call-to-action, but by creating content that connects with personal emotions like humor, curiosity and empathy. Humans are natural storytellers, and brands should be, too.
Amplification: More May Not Be Better
With fewer people seeing content through organic means, non-media supported Page posts will continue to reach a fraction of a Page’s fan base. This places a much greater emphasis on getting content in front of more of the right people. For many brands, that may mean fewer high-quality posts published per week, but boosting each post with media support. To optimize this effort, brands should monitor engagement and leverage audience insights to optimize content and inform media targeting.
One brand experimenting with this approach is 360i client Hanes. In a recent campaign, the success of a certain post relied heavily on viewers identifying with “The Walking Dead” TV series. To ensure the post reached this niche audience, the brand specifically targeted fans of the TV show and similar interest groups. In the absence of paid media, there would have been limited to no guarantee this message would hit the right target. Yet with paid media Hanes was able to not only target this unique interest group, but also reach non-fans and generate strong engagement. Through relying on organic, earned media alone, marketers miss out on key opportunities to target specific users based on interest and their propensity to engage and interact with certain pieces of content from a brand.
Facebook’s targeting capabilities offer great opportunities for brands to deliver content to users based on location, demographic and interest. As organic reach declines, it’s necessary for a brand to leverage targeted media to reach consumers and potential consumers.
Optimization: Shifting How We Evaluate Performance
Engagement is an all-encompassing term that includes Likes, comments, shares and links clicked. This metric in particular continues to be a contributing factor for organic reach as Facebook’s algorithm serves relevant content to users. However, weighing engagement against post reach will become increasingly important as reach (and subsequently, engagement) varies from post to post.
Similarly, due to the inconsistencies of Facebook’s organic post reach and the number of variables affecting this metric, it is difficult to determine the true performance of any post or compare performance of posts over time. We recommend using the below performance metrics as a guide, but not the rule, to identify macro-trends across a brand’s content to ensure wider reach and engagement.
The following metrics can be considered when evaluating post performance:
Engagement Rate: Percentage of people who saw a post and Liked, shared, clicked or commented on it.
Engagement: Unique number of people who Liked, commented, shared or clicked your post.
Likes, Comments & Shares: Total number of actions taken on any post.
Post Reach: Unique number of people who saw your post in the News Feed. Impressions are the total number of times that content was served. Both unique reach and total impressions can be further segmented into organic and paid reach if media is associated with the post.
Negative Feedback: Users that took a negative action after seeing a post, including hiding it from their News Feed, hiding all future posts, reporting the post as spam and un-Liking the Page.
Comment sentiment: A qualitative analysis of overall sentiment of users commenting on your post.
Implications for Marketers
With the significant changes to Facebook over the past several years, marketers have had to continue to evolve their content strategies for that environment while continuing to test and learn other ways to reach and engage people via other social channels. Organic distribution alone is no longer viable as the sole way to distribute content to your consumers; media has moved from the support line to the front line in a content strategy. Without an integrated earned and paid media strategy, optimization to your content strategy and series of test-and-learn campaigns, brands will continue to see a decrease in their reach and overall engagements on the platform.
Marketers require comprehensive approach to content creation and amplification. As social content continues to evolve, so does the consumer base to which it is targeted. Brands must create a more cohesive and comprehensive approach to what, when and how they post social content, creating parameters for paid support and allowing a full development of a content strategy.
Media must play a larger role from the beginning. Brands have been told to amplify high performing content to go beyond the base of followers, but we now understand that an “always on” paid content strategy must be implemented. Targeting content to followers should be part of every brand’s paid campaigns, and using the new post analysis breakdown should allow brands to create stronger demographics to target.
Facebook requires an approach tailored to the medium as well as the business objectives. Engagement continues to be a core component to the Facebook equation since brands there are vying for same as space consumers. That said, as the News Feed evolves it opens up a broader range of approaches for marketers to pursue, including considering a linking/referral strategy or a reach strategy (through targeted paid social). Marketers will want to consider the nature of the medium and its reliance on engagement in addition to the overall goals of their content (e.g. raising awareness for a TV show premiere or generating clicks to your brand’s website).
Test and learn is critical to success. We’ve been working with our clients for years to understand that there is not one universal social strategy for all brands and this is truer than ever as a result of recent changes to the Facebook platform. While some brands are seeing decreases in reach, others are doing better than they have ever before. Timing is key, the content and to whom it’s delivered to is essential. Testing can also expand outside of Facebook, where marketers may want to explore emerging opportunities in relevant niche social networks where organic reach is still a worthwhile endeavor.
Facebook has evolved its platform and its users have evolved their behaviors — now, marketers must now evolve their content distribution strategy. How will your brand get into the eyes of more than a billion users and entice those users to share, Like and comment? How will this evolution change the way you approach content creation and distribution? At 360i, we are helping our clients by performing ongoing tests to determine the best strategies on a brand-by-brand basis for creating and sharing content to achieve success on Facebook.
360i is an award-winning digital marketing agency that drives results for Fortune 500 marketers through insights, ideas and technologies. 360i helps its clients think differently about their online presence and evolve their strategies to take advantage of the new world of marketing communications — one where brands and consumers engage in interactive and multi-directional conversations. Ad Age named 360i the #2 Agency in the country in its 2013 A-List issue and also named it one of the “Best Places to Work” in Marketing & Media for two years running. Current clients include Oreo, Coca-Cola, Clinique and Capital One, among others. For more information, please visit blog.360i.com or follow us on Twitter @360i.