An image of a mobile phone and a laptop

Why is organic reach declining?

If you run a Facebook page, you will probably have noticed your organic reach gradually declining. Why is this? And what can you do about it?

The simple answers are (a) the inevitability of mathematics and (b) other than producing better content, not a huge amount.

The facts

We define organic reach as the percentage of your followers who see your content. This can vary widely depending on which social network; how many followers an account has; subject, format and quality of content, and various other factors.

I’m going to focus on Facebook here, but one thing is consistent across all social networks: page reach has dropped steadily over time.

According to research by EdgeRank Checker, the average organic reach for a Facebook page fell from 16% in 2012 to 6.5% in 2014.

Hootsuite’s 2019 global digital review suggests it’s now down to 5.3% – and some studies quote figures of 2% or less. The rate of decline has slowed – but reach is still falling.

Okay, but why?

What’s the reason for this ongoing decline? It’s popular in some quarters to blame the News Feed algorithm. The truth is more complex than that. Social media algorithms aren’t the cause of the problem: they’re the networks’ attempts to address it to ensure that users’ feeds remain relevant.

Facebook’s Brian Boland addressed this back in 2014. He pointed out that the average Facebook user could see 1,500 different pieces of content every time they log on. For heavy users with large friendship groups and who follow many pages, that number could easily be ten times as many. It’s a safe bet that in 2020, those numbers are significantly higher because brands and individuals are constantly pumping more and more content onto Facebook. Not only that, but over time most of us follow more people and pages. The net result is that our feeds get more and more full every day.

In fact, the amount of content on our Facebook feeds is almost incomprehensible. Every minute, there are 317,000 new status updates, 147,000 photos uploaded and 54,000 shared links.

But the growth of the amount of content in our news feeds isn’t matched by an increase in the amount of time we spend on social media. According to Statista, the average user spent 153 minutes per day on social media in 2019, up from 126 minutes in 2016. While that represents a 6.7% increase each year, that’s not enough to offset overall content growth and the increasing number of social networks we’re signed up to, many of them pushing out rich media content such as videos that take us longer to consume. Indeed, the amount of time we spend on Facebook as a single platform has remained fairly steady for a few years now. The average US Facebook user spends 38 minutes per day on the site.

So we have explosive growth in content (particularly video) – but only a small increase in available time. Do the maths. Something has to give, and the outcome is that we see a lower proportion of the content that is available to us with every passing year. In other words: declining organic reach.

Beating the decline (1): Better content

The overall downward trend in organic reach is ultimately irreversible. But there are certainly ways you can improve your performance or drive greater reach.

The first step that anyone can take is to focus on producing better quality, more relevant content. Attention-grabbing titles and copy. Stand-out images and video. Clear calls to action: click to learn more, “five hacks to improve your SEO today”, et cetera. Content that demands that your audience engage with it. Every positive interaction: a share, a click, a comment, a like, a video view, even stopping the scroll for long enough for someone to read your caption – all these interactions are positive signals within Facebook’s algorithm. This promotes your future posts to a higher position in your followers’ news feeds. Which, in turn, means your future content will reach more people. Do this consistently enough, and you will soon find your posts achieving higher reach and engagement levels.

Not all content is created equal. So make sure you’re on the right side of that equation. Focus on quality. Take note of what works – and do more of it.

Beating the decline (2): Ads

The other key thing you can do is to give your content a boost by paying for ads to push your content in a prominent position to more people.

Now don’t get me wrong here. Ads are not a panacea for all ills. A one-off boost of £5 is not going to suddenly transform the organic reach of all your future posts. But they are a way that you can push important content – or posts that you know have already performed well organically – to a larger number of people, to users who have never seen your page before, and to targeted niches to maximise your chance of driving engagement with them.

Just as not all content is created equal, the same is true for ads. No two ads will perform the same, and a bad piece of organic content will still perform poorly as an ad. But, as with any form of marketing investment, done well it can have a significant impact over time.

To some page owners, ads are an unnecessary luxury. To others, though, they are a cost-effective and sometimes essential way to maintain and grow their audience. According to Hootsuite, 27% of Facebook pages now use ads to some degree – and that percentage is growing all the time. Virtually every major brand uses Facebook advertising to some degree, adding up to a staggering $70 billion of spend in 2019.

If you can’t beat them, maybe it’s time to join them? (I’ll cover the pros and cons of Facebook advertising in a future post.)

In conclusion …

If you are a business, a blogger or an influencer, then organic reach is important to you. It has been declining for several years and will continue to do so. So you have a choice. You can either complain about it or stick your head in the sand. Or you can do something about it.

An unceasing focus on improving the quality and relevance of your content is essential. Focus on quality. Pay attention to what works (and what doesn’t). Make adjustments based on data not emotion.

Paying for ads is an optional extra. They can work as a quick fix but are better as part of a more considered strategy. They can’t reverse the decline in organic reach, but they can drive increased reach to new, relevant audiences.

Good luck!

Written by Tim Liew.

Leave a Reply