Drug dealers like to give away a “taste” of their product for free.  They want to get you to sample it and then get hooked.  It’s only then that they start charging for it and, the more you crave it, the higher the price.

Now I’m not really comparing Facebook to a drug dealer (Oh, wait, I just did), but is that strategy what Facebook has done to publishers?

Facebook_logo-7We’ve been noticing that many of our posts aren’t getting reach they used to get.  We noticed we have to post more content to get the numbers we were used to getting.  Content that had generated broad reach and a lot of engagement suddenly seemed to reach fewer people.  Our feeling was that Facebook had “tightened the spigot” on content.

We had a couple of thoughts on what Facebook might be doing:

  • We supposed, like the crack dealers, they were getting us used to the traffic stream coming from their social media platform and now they were going to force us to work harder (and pay more) to get our posts in front of a bigger audience.
  • With the launch of Instant Articles, Facebook may be limiting the reach of publishers in an effort to get more of us into their walled garden.
  • Facebook was screwing with us, because, well, just because.

Regardless of the motivation, there’s been a change and it’s fairly dramatic.  SocialFlow did the science to show that when they looked at 3,000 publisher/media companies’ Facebook pages over the last year. After upwards trends in reach for the past year, reach peaked in January and has been declining ever since.  Since then, SocialFlow’s CEO Jim Anderson said media companies have had to increase the volume of posts to get the same level of reach.

How big of a drop?

42% drop of Reach per post.

Screen Grab:  SocialFlow live on Facebook

Some media companies see as much as half of their website or mobile traffic come from Facebook, so when it drops 42%, it’s a big deal for them.

“Back in the fourth quarter and through January, media companies were doing phenomenally well,” said Anderson.  “Then Facebook made a change to the algorithm.”

In May, the publishers in the analysis produced around 550,000 posts—up from 470,000 in April—but overall reach from January to May was off 42% per post.  “This is evidence, in part, of Facebook’s algorithmic change,” said Anderson.

The Algorithm

The algorithm is the mysterious secret sauce that decides to show you funny dog videos and family photos rather than news about things you don’t care about.  How exactly it knows what to show you and what not to show you is wrapped in mystery.  When Facebook tweaks it – and they are constantly testing tweaks – things happen.

It may have nothing to do with publishers at all.  It may simply be Facebook trying to serve up the best content for its 1.6 billion users.

“Facebook is constantly adjusting its algorithms up and down to try to tune the user experience and the type of content they want to surface to their users.” – SocialFlow’s CEO Jim Anderson

Or, is it all about getting publishers hooked on the traffic, then raising the price for media companies to get its media delivered?

No Silver Bullet

Anderson says there’s no silver bullet to change things.  As first steps, he suggests you get a better understand of your data and see if it matches their results.  He also suggests continued experimentation about the type of content you’re posting.

Since Facebook is constantly changing its algorithm, it’s sometimes tough to nail down exactly what works.  It can also be a moving target.  What works one day might not work the next because none of it happens in a vacuum.  Is today the day that someone more significant (per Facebook’s algorithm) is posting tons of family photos, or is on the vacation of a lifetime, or – god forbid – has a tragedy?  That may indeed have an impact on your reach.

Still, you should be in a constant state of experimentation with types and volume of posting, times of day and days of the week, video, images, links, and live video.  What performs will?  What happens if we do more of it?

And just about the time you get it dialed in, things will change.  That’s what we’ve found.

The traffic coming from Facebook is significant.  So is getting the content in front of Facebook’s users.  That’s why the darn habit is so hard to break.