Originally published on Hootesuite on February 23, 2015 By Ritika Puri.
In January 2015, Facebook implemented an algorithm change that limits the number of promotional Page posts that show up in users’ News Feeds. Now, users see much fewer ‘like my product’ announcements, promotions, or sweepstakes. The algorithm change also targets brand posts that “reuse the exact same content for ads.”
Changes like these have created a rumor that organic reach is dead. Like many things in marketing, there’s more to the story—much more. Organic reach isn’t ‘dead’ per se; it’s simply shifting with algorithm changes that draw clearer distinctions between ads and socially-driven content. Small businesses can still use Facebook to build brand awareness and generate organic reach. The tactics will just need more creativity than a simple ‘check out our product or service’ status update.
Think about Facebook’s changes from a ‘glass half full’ perspective, instead. As Kurt Wagner of Re/code points out, these changes will ultimately yield a better News Feed experience.
If the News Feed becomes a giant ad, Facebook users will likely stop engaging with it—which will hurt your business’s marketing strategy anyway. By implementing these algorithm changes, Facebook reduces the very real possibility of ‘banner blindness’—the well-established theory that people avoid engaging with things that look like ads.
Long story short, Facebook’s recent algorithm does introduce new constraints—but these constraints have the potential to foster creativity. Small businesses can achieve success on Facebook by becoming more conversation-oriented.
Here are 3 creative ways to boost your Facebook organic reach
1: Create a group with your most engaged audience
Sarah Schupp, founder at UniversityParent.com—a community that helps parents plan their children’s college education—has noticed a decline in her Facebook Page’s organic reach. With approximately 3,000 likes, she notices that a typical post will reach only 110 people—when she boosts the post with an ad, she’s able to reach about a thousand people.
She’s found, however, that when she posts the exact same content in her private Facebook group—a community of less than 800 people—she generates much higher levels of engagement..
Only Facebook knows and can explain what’s happening here, but it’s possible to make some educated guesses. For one, Schupp’s Facebook group is invite-only—in other words, members are opting into it. This user action may generate a cue to Facebook’s algorithm that is much stronger than a casual Like.
While brand Pages are channels for companies to promote themselves, groups are communities of people that are driven by active conversation and discussion—a marketing goal that is, ultimately, more valuable than the action of ‘liking’ something.
If you’re thinking of trying out your own Facebook group, here are some steps to follow:
- Create process to invite your most engaged audience, so that they continue to ask questions and comment upon posts
- Don’t worry about group size—focus on encouraging conversations
- Consistently ask—and encourage members—to ask questions that are important to the community
- Avoid selling anything, at all costs
Facebook groups have the potential to become a powerful conversation channel for your brand. By limiting membership, you’ll created a curated community of some of your most passionate advocates. You can get started by asking a handful of your most engaged stakeholders, professional contacts, and customers to join. Observe the resulting conversation dynamics, start measuring engagement, and look for ways to further optimize your content.
2: Create content marketing campaigns that encourage audiences to do the sharing
If you take a look at your Facebook feed, you’ll probably notice a lot of engaging content. If you pay attention to who’s doing the sharing, you’ll see that it’s most likely your friends and family—not brands.
As a small business owner, you can spark similar Facebook conversations by (1) publishing content on your blog, and (2) creating ‘systems’ that optimize sharing activity from your blog.
The process will take some inspiration, energy, and creativity but will be worth it—people will talk about your brand, and you won’t have to pay for it.
To begin, you’ll need two things:
- High-quality content
- Marketing ‘levers’ to generate organic traffic for that content
In terms of high-quality content, you should focus on publishing pieces that are introspective, thought-provoking, and generally helpful for your audience. For inspiration, check out Clarity.fm, which built up its blog into a go-to resource for entrepreneurs and marketers.
Next, create a system that promotes this content from your own blog. Every post that runs on Clarity, for instance, is sent to the company’s blog subscriber list that consists of thousands of people. A proportion of that audience inevitably shares that content on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. In 2014, Facebook was one of Clarity’s top 10 traffic drivers—generating tens of thousands of new sessions.
If you don’t have a blog subscriber base, don’t worry. It can take years to build a list like Clarity’s, and there are several actions that you can take to kickstart the process.
- Reach out to your customers and ask them to subscribe to your blog
- Send a message to your professional network and ask them to subscribe to your blog
- Optimize your existing, highest-traffic webpages with a prompt to encourage sign-ups for your list
- Promote your blog on channels outside of Facebook and email. You can turn to industry forums, word-of-mouth among professional associations, Twitter, and LinkedIn Groups.
Think of this approach as a means to kickstart organic reach from your audience rather than your brand. You’re kickstarting your social sharing activity that starts with your on-site community. It’s a process that requires patience, persistence, and creativity to get off the ground, and for that reason, an initial list of ‘dead zero’ shouldn’t scare you at all.
As a tip, when you’re promoting content across channels, you should explicitly ask your audience to share your content—if they love it—on Facebook. Sometimes, people can be absentminded, and even if they love your work, they won’t intuitively jump to share it. The clearer your calls-to-action (CTAs), the better.
3: Optimize your content with extremely compelling visuals
There’s a fun stat floating around the Internet—that 90 percent of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and that visuals are processed 60,000 times faster in the brain than text.
Regardless of whether this stat is accurate, it points out the fact that people love beautiful graphics. As you create your content strategy—and as you encourage your community to share your content with your social channels—don’t skimp on publishing amazing images.
At this point, as a small business owner, you’re thinking, “easier said than done.”
Custom designs are expensive, and if you’re going to drop thousands of dollars on an infographic, why not pay for advertising?
Don’t let this perspective hold you back from creating visually engaging content, or force you into spending more than you can afford on graphics. Well, you don’t always have to. While there is definitely value in creating your own visuals, custom design may not be the right approach for your business.
Here are some ways to leverage great visual content without creating your own graphics.
- Re-publish infographics that are available for public re-printing. There are many brand-sponsored infographics out there that were designed for the purpose of sharing. At Clarity, for instance, some of the posts that received the most Facebook likes were re-published infographics (like the following infographic from Funders and Founders). The ‘trick’ is to find infographics that have been popular and to re-distribute those infographics to your audience—through your email list, for instance
- Browse Flickr’s creative commons images, which are licensed for commercial use
- Source creative commons licensed images from the Wikimedia Foundation
- Use an online tool like Canva to create your own awesome graphics without hiring a designer
- Get an account with a stock photo service like Shutterstock
- When you discover a great image on social media, ask the image owner for permission to republish it
When sourcing images, you should always make sure that you have the rights to republish the material through your own blog and social media. Small business owners are often slapped with fines for violating copyright—which can put a damper on your social media and marketing plans.
Facebook organic reach isn’t dead. It’s simply shifted forms, which is a good thing. The best way for your business to respond is to invest in great content and encourage audiences to share it. Start by creating extremely high quality content and then promoting that content to our own customer base. Growth will take time, and it will be iterative. Throughout the process, however, you’ll be investing in reaching your target customers through the channels they care about—and that’s the best investment that you can possibly make.
Ritika Puri is an entrepreneur who founded Storyhackers, a company that helps business create impactful and inspiring content programs. She enjoys writing about data, teaching others things that she’s learning, and helping other business owners succeed. In past lives, she built enterprise analytics programs and created revenue streams for an ad tech company. She is also an advisor to a mobile app startup, Sortly.