F acebook vs. Reach: Finding your community
When Facebook altered its algorithm to throttle organic reach for brands (ie. limiting how often a page’s updates appear in a fan’s feed), it was never going to be a popular change.
But is it time to accept this as the new norm, and move on?
The road so far
No matter how you cut it, Facebook has always been a lightning rod for controversy. I signed up for Facebook in 2004 – the same year it launched – and I still remember the “Change It Back!” groups that would pop up on the social network each time a new feature or design update was launched.
Nevertheless, it became pretty clear, pretty fast, that Facebook was going to do what Facebook was going to do. Step ahead ten years, and the same holds true today. Problem is, Facebook isn’t just for individual users anymore – not by a long stretch.
When Facebook officially began supporting business integration with group pages in late 2007, it paved the way for social media marketing as we know it today – and it didn’t take long for “not being on Facebook” to mean “lagging behind the competition.”
Like it or not, Facebook has become too big to ignore – which is exactly why it’s been the focal point of countless online marketing strategies for years. It’s also why the reach-crippling update spawned wave after wave of heated debates and articles that continue to this day.
The debate rages on
Initially, only the most ardent of the social network’s supporters stood in support of the change. Facebook expert Jon Loomer was quick to suggest that reach was the wrong metric to obsess over – and to be fair, he made some compelling points.
In a similar vein, others have stepped forward and said, look: Facebook is a business, and a publicly traded entity. They need to make money. What did you expect? Free lunch, forever?
Perhaps not – but for the average Facebook business user, the update has been crippling, and it hasn’t let up. Less reach means – in most cases – less engagement, and less traffic to your site from Facebook.
Big brands might be able to afford to pay Facebook directly for consistent visibility, but what about the small businesses, or startup brands that can’t afford more than the occasional ad spend?
Turns out, that might not be the primary issue after all.
Simply Measured recently published a study with a series of eye-opening graphs and data points, proving that it’s not just the little brands struggling; it’s everyone – even Disney and Starbucks.
The year-over-year data showed a 40.41% average loss of monthly engagement, even with an average posting activity increase of 20.1%.
That’s a fairly sobering chunk of data. If even the big companies are faltering, what hope is there? In Simply Measured’s study, however, there was one notable exception: Harley-Davidson.
So how exactly did this one brand beat the odds, while everyone else was suffering?
The case of Harley-Davidson
The day after the study was released, Simply Measured delivered a follow-up post examining Harley’s successful Facebook presence.
Most of the findings follow fairly standard social media best practices:
- The brand measured its own Facebook posting statistics, found the best time of day to reach their audience, and stuck to a schedule after that, including reliable “Photo of the Day” posts.
- The brand leveraged OPA (Other People’s Audiences/Authority), tapping demographically catered celebrity icons like Kid Rock and Hank Williams Jr. to tag the brand in their posts, and drive both traffic and engagement to the brand’s page.
- The brand posted photos more frequently than any other content (photos generally receive higher engagement than just about any other form of media, on most social networks).
While these are all without a doubt excellent practices, it’s a good bet that the other major brands are following a similar playbook.
As article author Lucy Hitz of Simply Measured points out, the real success is in the brand’s ability to cultivate the “holy grail” of social media: fostering a true community online, located on their Facebook page.
The difference is that fans weren’t just waiting for posts to show up in their feed from Harley-Davidson, and passively liking posts, or maybe dropping in a comment, in between browsing updates from their friends.
These fans were actively visiting the Hardley-Davidson Facebook page of their own accord, posting photos of their own motorcycles, and engaging with other members of the community.
The brand had managed to create a hub for its passionate customers in the very same place they could push out announcements, promotions, and links relating to their product; in effect, they had bypassed the dilemma of reach almost altogether.
Community and brand size
As a major brand with a classic product, and a passionate existing fan base, Harley-Davidson certainly has the consumer base that some smaller or newer business might not. They also have the resources to (presumably) employ a highly experienced and dedicated social media team, judging by the quality of their Facebook activity.
Smaller brands might not have the same resources, but that doesn’t mean that transitioning a passionate, local fan base to an online space is impossible – quite the opposite, in fact.
Your repeat customers – the people you see on a regular basis, that keep coming back out of brand loyalty – these are the people you want to reach out to, and connect with online.
Identify your niche
In the wake of Facebook’s reach reduction, there has been a key takeaway for many brands: don’t put your social eggs all in one basket.
Facebook might have been the only major social venue for brands eight years ago, but that has changed in a big way. Between Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and all the other up-and-coming social networks, businesses have a lot of choices.
At the same time, you don’t want to try to be on every network ever. Having a strong social presence on a few networks is far preferable to having a skeletal presence everywhere.
Do some research: where does your target market hang out online? Where is your niche? Sure, pretty much everyone’s on Facebook, but that doesn’t mean that everyone’s active on Facebook.
Find your people
Google recently released a new service called Google My Business. The feature compiles several Google business services – including Google+ – into one convenient dashboard.
It’s a great feature, and one that shows Google+ is stepping up its game with courting businesses, but that’s not the reason I’m bringing it up.
The announcement video presented a core message and tagline: Find your people.
It’s a great phrase, because it applies to every social network – not just Google+.
If you can create a hub of community engagement within your brand’s own space, then it shouldn’t come as large of a blow each time [insert social network here] tightens the noose on reach; your people will be coming to your page regardless, of their own accord, to engage with the community there.
And sure – that isn’t a simple task. But it is an important one.
In the end, Facebook’s reduced organic reach is a definitely bummer, and it’s undeniably something that brands just about everywhere are struggling with. But perhaps we’re looking at it the wrong way.
Perhaps rather than relying on an algorithm-generated feed to deliver our content to our fans, we should be focused on building a true community in our own spaces online – regardless of whether that’s on Facebook, Google+, or somewhere else altogether.