New Study Finds Facebook Page Reach Has Declined 20% in 2017

 

So many clients come to us telling us that they think people aren’t seeing their posts.  It’s not just you and your Page – according to new research by BuzzSumo, the average number of engagements with Facebook posts created by brands and publishers has fallen by more than 20% since January 2017.  BuzzSumo analyzed more than 880 million Facebook posts from publisher and brand Pages over the past year, noting a clear decline in engagements since early 2017.

That’s likely no surprise to most Facebook Page managers – organic reach on Facebook has been in decline since late 2013, according to various reports, with continual changes to the News Feed algorithm re-aligning the priority of what users see.

Indeed, in the past year, Facebook’s News Feed algorithm has seen a range of updates which could contribute to this decline:

In August 2016, Facebook announced a News Feed update focused on improving the individual relevance of the stories shown to each user
In January 2017, Facebook released a News Feed update which sought to better identify and rank authentic content
In May 2017, the News Feed got another tweak, this time to reduce the reach of links to sites covered with ads
Also in May 2017, Facebook released a News Feed change which aimed at reducing the reach of “clickbait”
And in August 2017, Facebook re-iterated the need for mobile optimization but announcing that links to non-mobile optimized pages would be penalized.

But then again, none of those changes individually correlates to the decline noted by BuzzSumo, which, as you can see, shifts significantly in January.

As listed above, the January News feed update focused on ‘authentic content’ is not likely to have been the cause of this drop – that was more aimed at weeding out posts that artificially seek to game the algorithm by asking for Likes, and on pushing the reach of real-time content. Maybe Facebook’s increased focus on live, real-time material has had some impact, but it would seem unlikely that it’s the cause of that January drop.

What’s more likely is actually another News Feed update introduced in June 2016, which put increased emphasis on content posted by friends and family over Page posts. Facebook’s always looking to get people sharing more personal updates, and those updates generate more engagement, which keeps people on platform longer, while also providing Facebook with more data to fuel their ad targeting.

In terms of News Feed shifts, this one appears to be the most significant of recent times, but then again, the impacts of that would have been evident earlier in BuzzSumo’s chart. Maybe Facebook turned up the volume on this update in January? It’s obviously impossible to know, and Facebook’s doesn’t reveal much about the inner workings of their News Feed team.

In terms of which posts, specifically, are driving engagement (or not), BuzzSumo found that:

“The biggest fall in engagement was with image posts and link posts. According to the data video posts had the smallest fall in engagement and videos now gain twice the level of engagement of other post formats on average.”

Again, video is king – if you’re concerned about declines in your Facebook reach, then video is where you should be looking. Of course, video posts are also seeing reach declines in line with the overall shift, but they’re outperforming all others, and are likely to be your best bet in maximizing your reach on the platform.

So what can you do? However you look at it, Facebook is a huge driver of referral traffic for a great many websites, with many now having an established reliance on The Social Network to push their numbers.

For one, these figures again underline why putting too much reliance on Facebook is a strategic risk. Diversifying your traffic sources and building your own e-mail list is sometimes easier said than done, particularly given Facebook’s scale, but the figures do underline that it’s important to consider how you can maximize your opportunities outside of The Social Network.

In terms of how to improve your Facebook performance, specifically, there are no definitive answers.

Some brands have seen success in posting less often – back in May, Buffer explained that they’ve been able to triple their Facebook reach while reducing their output by 50%. Less is more is an attractive strategy, but whether that’ll work for your business, it’s impossible to say.

Others have switched to posting more often, something Facebook recommends in their own documentation on how journalists can make best use of the News Feed.

“Post frequently – Don’t worry about over-posting. The goal of News Feed is to show each person the most relevant story so not all of your posts are guaranteed to show in their Feeds.”

In fact, Facebook notes that some Pages post up to 80 times per day, which seems excessive, but when you consider both the reach restrictions (less than 5% of your audience will see each of your posts) and the fact that most people will see your content in their News Feed, as opposed to coming to your Facebook Page, the chances of you spamming fans by over-posting or re-posting are far more limited than they used to be.

If you post more often, and you get less engagement per post, that could still average out to increasing your overall numbers – though you need to watch your negative feedback measures (unfollows and unlikes).

Really, no one has the answers, because it’ll be different for each Page, each audience. The only real way to counter such declines is to experiment, to encourage engagement, to spark conversation and generate more reach through interaction. That takes more work, of course, and you then have to match that additional time investment with return.

Again, it’ll be different for every business, there’s no magic formula. But Facebook reach is clearly declining. Worth considering how that impacts your process.

Understanding Facebook’s News Feed Algorithm is the Key to More Brand Attention and Sales

 

On its surface, Facebook’s News Feed algorithm appears as a helpful tool that delivers only the information most likely to appeal to its users’ unique likes and personality. It’s the ultimate customer-centric device.  “Our goal is to build the perfect personalized newspaper for every person in the world,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained in a public Q&A in 2014. “We’re trying to personalize it and show you the stuff that’s going to be most interesting to you.”

Zuckerberg has also revealed that to achieve this level of personalization, out of the 1,500 or more stories aimed at each personal profile every day, Facebook delivers only a fraction of that. Adding all 1,500 to your News Feed would make the platform overwhelming and drive users away. This means each post you see on your News Feed won out over more than a thousand others.

The algorithm is a practical solution, but its constant tweaks (on top of the new features Facebook frequently adds) drive marketers nuts.

The platform’s increasingly in-depth knowledge of each user’s habits and interests also freaks out social scientists.

In the beginning, Facebook’s engineers leveraged each user’s likes, shares, and comments to determine which posts to deliver. Each like or share clicked helped them build a better picture of what you wanted to see.

Today, the algorithm involves as many as 100,000 variables to determine whether a post is “relevant” to each user.

And the variation in content delivered can be significant. A Wall Street Journal feature – titled ‘Red Feed, Blue Feed’ – involved WSJ creating two alternate Facebook profiles, one which followed only conservative outlets, and another which followed Liberal pages. The experiment delivered some eye-opening results – on the topic of “Donald Trump”, for example, the system delivered entirely different posts to those it determined were liberals and those it considered conservatives.

The Wall Street Journal’s piece illuminates how the Facebook algorithm chooses which articles to post in every individual’s feed. While Facebook perceives itself as serving its users, social scientists worry that it’s also creating “echo chambers,” where people see news solely from those who agree with them.

In 2014, Nicholas Diakopolous of Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism warned:  “Software and algorithms have come to adjudicate an ever broader swath of our lives… algorithms, driven by vast troves of data, have become the new power brokers in society. And the automated decisions of algorithms deserve every bit as much scrutiny as other powerful and influential actors.”

The algorithm shift may be the most significant shift in our media consumption habits in history. And the implications reach beyond just news content alone.

Algorithm Awareness is Critical for Advertisers

While Facebook as an information gatekeeper may put academics on alert about our society’s future, advertisers aiming to get their brand messages out there need to focus on the realities of here and now.

For 62% of American adults, Facebook is their primary source of news. Any advertiser hoping to win meaningful results must understand which posts Facebook is most likely to put into its users’ feed.

That Facebook changes its features and algorithm with an enthusiasm only Google can match keeps marketers scrambling to catch up.

Facebook’s developers say they make these changes solely to keep their company the ultimate social, political, and entertainment distraction. Considering its monthly active user base is now nearing 2 billion, they must be onto something.

Review these recent changes to the Facebook algorithm to ensure your business has as broad a reach as possible.

Responsive Facebook Strives to Be a Worthy Platform

“Our goal is to give every person a voice. We believe deeply in people.” – Mark Zuckerberg in a November 2016 post

A medium of the people, Facebook certainly responds to criticism. Advertisers should know that the changes it makes spring from its efforts to deliver more honest and transparent information. Becoming the internet’s National Enquirer will cause it to lose market share quickly.

First, to address public fears that fake news posted on Facebook was swaying political events (especially the 2016 United States presidential election), Mark Zuckerberg vowed to increase efforts to weed out inaccurate information from the News Feed. Since 2016, Facebook has stepped up to this promise, implementing ways for users to flag hoaxes, offering tips and advice for identifying “fake news,” and cracking down on misinformation suppliers to hinder their financial gain.

In the lead-up to the 2017 French presidential election, the social media giant removed 30,000 fake accounts from its platform and promised to “keep getting better.”

While Facebook has made it clear that it’s a platform and not a news publisher responsible for upholding the truth, it has also shown a devotion to shielding its users from harmfully inaccurate information.

Facebook also recently adopted a “Stories” feature, initially cribbed from Snapchat by Instagram. As the owner of Instagram, it was only a matter of time before Facebook decided its users, too, wanted to upload pictures and video which disappear within 24 hours. Typically, these photos are strung together to tell a story.

Native Advertising is Now Transparent

Most know by now that “content” – or helpful and interesting informational pieces – is winning more eyeballs than traditional display advertising.

While the brands have been filling their websites with content, they’ve also worked to convince popular online publishers to present this sponsored content as articles from their own publications. Overt, or covert, calls-to-action are placed at the end or within these articles to get readers to visit the brand’s website.

Feeding the profits of The New York Times, BuzzFeed and others, these articles have been labeled “native advertising” or “branded content” because they resemble content the publication is known to produce.

For The New York Times, the company or brand writes something serious. For BuzzFeed, a lighter, more fun tone dominates. But the full potential of the ad doesn’t stop with simple upload to a publisher’s site. The publisher posts the article on Facebook, implying that it’s one of its own informational (NYT) or entertaining (BF) articles. Experts speculate that a huge slice of BuzzFeed’s profits come from this service.

The publications separate these native ads from their own “true” content by setting up “partner” sites on Facebook. The New York Times created ‘T Brand Studio’, which enables it to benefit from the integrity of the Times logo, while maintaining a safe distance for credibility. BuzzFeed more candidly started ‘BuzzFeed Partner’.

Until 2016, posts linking to these native advertisements appeared without an attribution to the sponsoring brand. T Brand Studio, for example, posted the piece below to Facebook as if it were strictly informational when it was, in fact, a native ad for Goldman Sachs.

Posted in March 2016, this article looks like an informational piece, aside from the URL to paidpost.nytimes.com.

As of June 2016, again to promote transparency and quality on its site, Facebook began insisting that companies behind these ads identify themselves.

Below, The New York Times comes clean on native advertising pieces by listing the brand name beside the publisher’s at the top of the post.

Here, the native advertiser is revealed.

It seems minor enough, but brands and advertising writers know the tag on the post lessens its value. Facebook users – in that millisecond of attention they give to it – are more likely to identify this content as an ad and thumb right past it. The more covert method may have a better chance of generating more clicks.

Play Facebook’s Game with Algorithm-Pleasing Posts

So given all these changes and features, how can your business play nice with Facebook’s News Feed algorithm and maximize it’s organic reach?

As mentioned above, 100,000 different factors feed into Facebook’s algorithm. Marketers can control the items below to increase the odds of landing in consumer’s News Feeds.

  • Create meaningful content – Facebook measures how long a user stays on a video or “Instant Article” (an article by a brand but on the channel itself). The longer they remain, the more favor Facebook rewards the posting brand. Robust, engaging content that delivers on the promise of its headline and addresses reader needs and pain points tends to get the longest, most comprehensive views.
  • Experiment with live video – Users consume live video three times as much as uploaded video. Facebook has noted that video is the most popular content consumed on mobile devices. Live, in-the-moment video gets attention. Brands that produce live video are rewarded by Facebook by being featured higher in News Feed . You can broadcast live video to a personal profile, a business page, and even a group if settings allow.
  • Post only the best content – Publishers get to post on Facebook all day long if they want. Facebook wants to be the ultimate personalized newspaper, and the Facebook brand is improved every time The New York Times posts breaking news. Consumer brands don’t have the same freedom. Don’t flood Facebook with every idea. Instead, start on Twitter, see what wins engagement, and then migrate those posts to Facebook. More engagement on Facebook will attune the algorithm to your popularity.
  • Use Facebook’s Audience Optimization for preferred audience targeting – Facebook enables brands to select a specific audience for a post, even without paying for an ad. This means that, even for organic reach, brands can limit the audience to those most likely to engage. More engagement means more algorithm love. .
  • Add engaged followers – This is a tip for Pages with fewer than 10,000 total Page Likes -when you create a post and people like it, click on that list of names of those “like”rs. A dialogue box showing each name will appear. If the user doesn’t already like your Page, a button appears to the right of his or her name with the word, “invite.” When you click that button, Facebook sends an invitation. This is an easy way to gain new followers through your Facebook posts.

Facebook has certainly moved beyond its initial business model of connecting Harvard pals. Today it’s an über-newspaper, with the ability to micro-target audiences by interest, geographic location, age, and more. It’s even rolling out a feature to let users pay for news subscriptions, further embedding it as a company intricately involved in the production and sharing of news.

Most marketers encourage businesses of all sizes to engage there, but doing so gets more complicated by the day. Striving to understand the various workings of the News Feed algorithm may be the way through the thicket of Facebook options.

Inside the Instagram Algorithm

In regards to Instagram, the key measures they use (or considered using) to determine relevance and decide which posts show up higher in your Instagram feed are:

  • People who’s content you like
  • People you direct message
  • People you search for
  • People you know in real life

Now, how exactly each of these elements might be weighted is hard to say, but these are the measures Instagram initially considered in their testing, which means they’re also very likely the same measures they use now.

An internal study from Instagram showed Instagram users weren’t seeing around 70% of the content matched to them in the chronological feed. 

Now, Instagram has not necessarily weighted any of these elements at all, but they’ve instead focused on engagement, and using any engagement as an indicator, but it’s interesting to note the various ways in which that engagement can be measured, which could then result in certain posts by certain people appearing higher in your Instagram feed.  An important note is that algorithms help networks deal with ‘a problem of success’ – that being that they become too popular, and there’s too much activity happening for users to find all the most relevant content on their own.

Essentially, the content from users you engage with will rank higher, and Instagram takes all of these forms of interaction into account.

 

Because you can’t insist that people follow fewer users so they see content important to them, Instagram tested a second theory using their algorithm based on engagement, and they saw significant increases in all key metrics when the new system was rolled out to a small percentage of users  The only metric which went down was the amount of searches users were conducting, which they actually saw as a good thing as it showed people were finding more of what they wanted for without having to seek it out themselves.

All of those efforts have obviously paid off – the platform added 100 million extra new users in the second half of 2016, taking them to 600 million monthly actives, 400 million of whom now log in daily. The introduction of Instagram Stories also played a part, no doubt, but it’s important to recognize the significance of the algorithm also in this context.

It’s an interesting insight into the workings of Instagram’s system – it doesn’t provide all the answers, and the onus is still on you to create compelling content to inspire engagement and rank higher in people’s feeds. But it does give you some idea of the various elements potentially at play (Instagram may, of course, have refined their system since their initial testing).

Facebook Updated Their News Feed to Penalize Non-Mobile Optimized Websites

In August, Facebook announced another News Feed algorithm update, this time focused on reducing the reach of websites which are not optimized for mobile devices.

As explained by Facebook: “We’ve heard from people that it’s frustrating to click on a link that leads to a slow-loading webpage. […] During the coming months we’re making an update to News Feed to show people more stories that will load quickly on mobile and fewer stories that might take longer to load, so they can spend more time reading the stories they find relevant.”

Just as Google has moved to give priority to mobile optimized sites, Facebook’s now following suit – and given that some 94% of Facebook users access the site via mobile, the focus makes sense.

So how will Facebook measure mobile responsiveness and use it as a ranking factor?

“With this update, we’ll soon take into account the estimated load time of a webpage that someone clicks to from any link in News Feed on the mobile app. Factors such as the person’s current network connection and the general speed of the corresponding webpage will be considered. If signals indicate the webpage will load quickly, the link to that webpage might appear higher in your feed.”

But this is nothing new.  Facebook has actually factored in the device and connection you’re using within the algorithm since 2015:  “For example, if you’re on a slower internet connection that won’t load videos, News Feed will show you fewer videos and more status updates and links.”

In addition to this, Facebook also has another existing algorithm penalty which is relevant to slow-loading sites – back in 2014, Facebook started taking into account the amount of time people spend reading a post after clicking on a link.  “If they click through to a link and then come straight back to Facebook, it suggests that they didn’t find something that they wanted.”

If, as Facebook also notes, some 40% of website visitors abandon a site after three seconds of delay, that would see them coming straight back to Facebook, so there are already penalties in place for slow-loading sites. This new update just adds further emphasis, and underlines, once again, the need for all businesses to ensure they have fast-loading, mobile-friendly systems.

Facebook says that they don’t anticipate the change will significantly impact ‘most pages’ – but ‘most’ is a subjective term. Facebook does say that webpages which are particularly slow could see decreases in referral traffic.

‘Particularly slow’ is also a bit vague – basically, if your site is not optimized, you can probably expect your Facebook Page reach to decline. By how much, who knows, but don’t be surprised when you see it.

So what can you do to ensure your page is up to scratch? Helpfully, Facebook has also provided some tips on how to make your site faster and more mobile-friendly, which includes a listing of free tools you can use to evaluate and get suggestions on how to up your page performance (including Google’s PageSpeed Insights), and ten tips on changes you can make to improve your page speed.

Even if you have optimized your site, it’s probably worth going through the tools and suggestions to see if you can improve it further, updating wherever you can to avoid any penalties.

The changes keep coming with Facebook’s algorithm – just when you think you’ve got a process down pat, they add in another factor to keep you on your toes. And while the constant updates can be tough to keep up with, the reality is that they’re going to keep coming as Facebook learns from user behaviors and works to evolve in-step.

Theoretically the impact of this change should be minimal, as Facebook says, as most websites are no doubt optimized by now, but it’ll be important to keep an eye on your analytics to assess any significant shifts.