On September 20th, 2012 Facebook rolled out a significant change to their EdgeRank algorithm. This change directly impacted the organic reach of brand pages on Facebook. According to initial reports, this change has potentially impacted organic reach for brand pages with a decrease per post upwards of 50%.
After the initial announcements, instead of simply reporting what the changes were, I wanted to see what a month's worth of data would look like to truly gauge the impact that our brands are seeing. Prior to jumping into the results, let's quickly recap how we got to this point.
WHY THE CHANGE?
Here is a quote from Facebook's Q2 earnings call... "Feed quality is crucial in order to not turn off users" - Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook is laser-focused on making sure the integrity of a users newsfeed stays as relevant as possible. With billions of pieces of content being shared, and brands trying to drive organic engagement through content, Facebook's EdgeRank algorithm serves as the overarching authority of what content ultimately gets surfaced to an individual user. Here is a previous post outlining EdgeRank.
Facebook also strives to maintain an 80/20 mix with 80% of the content coming from relevant organic content and the other 20% coming from paid units. The goal is to streamline the newsfeed to reduce the impact of "spammy" messages while seamlessly integrating their paid offerings.
Now with the throttling back of organic brand reach, this may force brands into making decisions about how to proceed.
WHAT IS THE POTENTIAL IMPACT?
Early reports indicated that the new changes take into account the number of individuals who are most likely to take an action on behalf of the brand and removing impressions to users who are less likely to take action such as Like, comment or share. SocialBakers and other groups have reported average post's reach dropped by roughly 50% since September 20th.
Working with Michael Fein, Fanscape's Director of Research & Analytics, we took a cross section of 20 tier 1 accounts over the course of 30 days to gauge the impact before and after the September 20th date. To summarize, it appears that by Facebook tightening their formula, they are giving less reach to an individual brand, but that the reach they are eliminating is the reach that was not converting. We saw a decrease in organic reach, but a slight net increase in virality. (Virality defined as engagements / reach).
That said, we saw organic reach change by -4.3%. Industry reports noted a -6.5% shift. This means, (compared with -6.5%) our decrease was 33% less than the average decrease on Facebook. By following best practices tied to our brands content, we were able to reduce the impact but the fact remains that this change will cause fundamental changes in how we approach engagement rate KPI's and the owned & paid mix.
HOW TO MAXIMIZE THE OPPORTUNITY
After the September 20th change, brands can earn their media or pay for it, or both. In order to drive organic reach, brands will need to continue to focus on an engaging content strategy. To truly maximize content that is driving engagement, paid amplification of content is strongly recommended. Below are recommendations to continue to maximize reach through engagement.
Engaging Content Strategy - This is a best practice and consistently the focus of most Facebook conferences/events/briefings that I have attended. Brands should provide contextual quality/relevant content grounded in the social persona of the brand. According to Facebook, content should be as compelling as information shared by friends and family to break through the clutter.
One strategy that we have seen be very effective is to be very deliberate in the creation of a branded content calendar. This includes developing content buckets that are a direct extension of the social brand persona. Segmenting content by type makes it even easier to track the impact of each type of content and provides consistency & diversity of content. This includes following best practices tied to time of posting as well as mixing UGC with relevant branded content.
Here is an example of a brand campaign extension from Snickers. This content would fall in a "branded content bucket". It is visually interesting and extends the new "Horseless Headsman" Halloween campaign. Other forms of content could be tied to polls/trivia, pop-culture or brand partnerships. Again, each content bucket is grounded in the core attributes of the brands social persona (voice).
Paid Amplification - We have worked with Facebook directly on a number of campaigns and our focus prior to the September 20th change has been to create relevant and engaging content that resonates with our brands fans. Prior to the change, we had also begun to experiment with creating engagement thresholds tied to content "events" that can trigger amplification of content.
An event is any piece of organic content that receives a high amount of engagement. We then work to create a virality rate that ultimately becomes a threshold for organic content. Once the threshold has been exceeded the content can become a part of the paid Facebook inventory for a brand. This strategy ensures that the content that is most likely to drive engagement is amplified to maximize reach. This also allows for acquisition beyond the core base as the paid components allow affinity targeting beyond the current user base.
Here is an example of how it can work. This is a post from the AT&T On The Way To Saturday campaign. By driving engagement levels past a certain point, for this example if the post exceeded 1000+ likes, it could then be considered for amplification in the model mentioned above with increased targeting tied to college football even more specific, University of Georgia fans.
Here is another example that shows an organic brand post that has been amplified. Note the clear call to action to share. This is another important element tied to driving sharability and engagement with content.
Targeted Content - I had recently wrote about the new targeting abilities tied to posting content. A quick recap, brands now have the unique ability to target beyond language and location and focus more on demographic and interest targeting. Targeting content is going to prove to be a very valuable asset in brands content strategies moving forward. The ability to speak directly to certain audience segments on the post level can have greater impact if the content is relevant to the target. By targeting/personalizing the content to the segment can lead to greater engagement rates which leads to increased organic reach based on engaged content amplifying through a users friends.
Facebook Branded Groups - I recently wrote about the potential benefits of Facebook Branded Groups that are currently in Beta. Branded groups can provide many benefits for a brand, including the ability to further segment and target messaging, either by group topic or content within a group.
One of the key benefits to leveraging branded groups is the fact that when a brand posts to a group that user is subscribed to, the content updates show up directly in a users Facebook notifications. This is one of the only ways that branded content can show up in a users notifications outside of the brand directly interacting with the user. Note that the Facebook Brand Groups are in beta and require the assistance of your Facebook rep.
Interest Lists - One additional method to drive greater visibility of branded content is to direct users to action to see a majority of a brands posts. When a user hovers over the "Like" button on a brand page, they will see a drop-down menu. On this list they can be directed to ”ADD TO INTEREST LISTS”. The user can then create an interest list to ensure content associated with this interest is given a stronger weighting. This obviously puts the onus on the user to take action to maintain visibility of your content.
Even though organic reach has been somewhat throttled, virality rates are increasing for content that does get served. But note that more effort may be required to meet Reach KPI's that were set prior to September 20th. Be sure to re-evaluate your KPI's and client expectations, focus on creating engaging & contextually relevant content and strongly consider amplifying content that exceeds certain engagement thresholds.
Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360