Facebook’s decision to limit the organic reach of brands means that a platform, which for advertisers was a great (and free) way to reach their audience will now become less effective and more expensive. A study by Ogilvy suggests that by February, brand organic reach had dropped to almost 6 per cent. Brand pages with less than 500,000 Likes, meanwhile, saw organic reach drop to less than 2%. What this means is that if a brand page has, say, 400,000 Likes, their posts will only reach about 8,000 people, unless, of course, you pay for it.
Brand managers we spoke to agreed that they will feel the pinch, but some also opined that it could turn out to be a blessing in disguise. “While there is a marked decrease in reach in the distribution of text updates, the engagement and reach associated with other story types, specifically rich media is not so dramatic. This is because the emphasis has shifted away from text to rich media formats. At HDFC Life, our Facebook page updates leverage imagery to complement text copy,” said Sanjay Tripathy, Senior Executive VP (Marketing, Product, Digital & Direct Channels), HDFC Life.
He further added that though while the change in algorithm means content that is less relevant will have little opportunity to show-up in users' news feed, it presents an opportunity for brands to get noticed in the news feeds of users who have an inclination to the interest categories in which the brand operates. “With the fall in stories appearing in users' news feed, brands have an excellent opportunity to get noticed and engage with users, though this will increasingly have to be via a paid or sponsored route that brands will have to take going forward,” he added.
There is no doubt that advertisers will need to rethink their Facebook strategy and, especially, their content strategy. The onus will now be on how brands create better engagement and content that will compel people to share it. However, this is easier said than done. As Deepali Naair, CMO of Club Mahindra puts it, “The challenge that marketers face is in the space of creating engaging content. There is the content that readers really like (and so they share it), and then there is the second level content, which readers might like but will not share. So brands will need to work hard to create engaging content that readers really like and share further within their community.” The ideal situation, according to her, would be if Facebook starts providing advice and solutions to brands for running better communities and engaging better with customers.
With brands now having to pay for reach, Jaimit Doshi, SVP (Marketing) of Kotak Securities, feels that this is just an indication of the change taking place in the entire digital space, which is becoming more objective driven in terms of numbers. “I think it is a great thing because when reach is organic you get a lot of views but you don’t know whether it is relevant. When you start paying for it, you will question the value you are getting out of it. It is a market-driven model, a brand will only pay for what it gets,” he said.
A brand that has very high visibility on Facebook is MTV, with around 10 different fan pages and followers that number in the lakhs. In an earlier chat with exchange4media, Ekalavya Bhattacharya, Head (Digital) of MTV, had discussed how the broadcaster makes efforts to create engagement on social media. When asked about his thoughts on how the decline of organic reach will affect advertisers, Bhattacharya opined that it will mainly affect brands that use Facebook as the sole social media platform or “just to please the bosses”. He agreed that the focus would now be on how many people are actually engaging with the brand. “I think it is now important for brands to take a step back and figure out what their Facebook strategy really is and is it working out. Are my communications reaching all my fans? Should I continue to invest in Facebook if I cannot reach fans? These are the questions we should be asking,” he suggested.