Imagine if a website lost a third of its traffic overnight. There would be panic. Editors would be questioned about the content, designers would be told to create a more appealing look and publishers would work hard to reassure advertisers that issues would be fixed.
That’s what’s just happened on Facebook. After changing the EdgeRank algorithm - which determines what content appears on users’ news feeds - on September 21, each post sent out by a brand now reaches 35.5% fewer fans.
Based on an analysis of 22 brands and 4,000 posts in Scandinavia, Germany, Italy, Spain and France, we know this loss of reach is widespread. It’s not just down to poor posting by uninspired brands (in fact we only used pages that we knew had high levels of engagement and brands with poor content will have suffered even more).
Our colleagues at GroupM Next in the US have found similar results. Their Gaining an Edge report evaluating the impact on Facebook pages of 25 brands, revealed an average 38% drop in organic distribution due to the algorithm change.
But it’s not all bad news. Brands can fix the problem because while their reach has gone down by a third, brands are benefiting from a significantly higher level of conversation.
Their messages have become more targeted, reaching those who are more engaged with the brand and hence benefiting from more earned exposure.
In Europe we found a 37.6% increase in the key measure "People Talking About This" (PTAT) – which means activities such as sharing, reposting, commentating, liking and mentioning has increased dramatically relative to the amount of reached people. In the US that figure was even more impressive at 96%.
The bottom line is that Facebook’s new regime means that brands will be more likely to reach their most active (and valuable fans) whenever they post. In addition there’s a significantly higher possibility that those fans will interact and spread or share the post - extending the reach of that message.
Brands should as a consequence be very conscious about the fact that it’s very likely that they will reach the same people with every message.
In such an environment, maximising benefit of that reach requires a smart content strategy. Because significant volume of reach is determined by the brand’s ability to appeal and excite its core fans, content must therefore be varied, interesting and regular.
This means that the value of prioritising intelligent content planning and content management has become even more important if brands want their social media devotion to be successful in the long run.
For many clients, the vital importance of great content is a revelation in part because the new EdgeRank means that without great content their efforts on Facebook will have a significantly reduced reach.
Brands need to understand the impact that each type of post makes and marry that data with a clear publishing schedule and content creation schedule to keep interest and engagement high.
Where brands want to expand their community, they will also have to match this effort with promoted posts to people they might have reached in the past but from whose feeds they are now excluded. In such cases great content designed to earn attention will have to be backed up by cold cash.
The development of digital innovations and their acceptance/adoption by the marketing community is often described by the Gartner Hype Cycle. This takes technologies through their natural development journey and all the ups and downs that entails.
Right now, Facebook strategy for many marketers is currently in what Gartner would describe as the "trough of disillusionment", smart content and insights will help them climb up to the "slope of enlightenment" and finally reach the "plateau of productivity".
Facebook’s new EdgeRank strategy ensures that brands without a content-based approach will find that return on investment remains firmly in the trough of disillusionment.