First let me give credit to Geoffrey Colon at Ogilvy for breaking this news over a week ago, though before data had accumulated enough to understand the full impact of what Facebook has done. And let me also say that Facebook can fix this at any time, and may be forced to, considering the backlash they are about to receive from the very advertisers that are practically their sole source of revenue.
Bottom line is this: on or around September 21, Facebook made a major change to the Edgerank algorithm that determines, among other things, which of your brand’s Facebook posts end up in your fans’ feeds, and that change resulted in many pages losing 40-50% (or more) of their organic reach. Let me say that again a different way: with no warning and no explanation by Facebook, your brand page may have just lost half of its value.
As an analyst and lover of statistics and data, I should say it’s a bit early to nail the number down completely. But I pulled data from a number of pages I have access to, and all of them show a sudden decrease in reach starting on September 21, ranging anywhere from a 24% to a 63% decrease (averaging out to around 45%) in average organic reach when compared to the previous two months. And that page that had a 24% decrease has a huge fan base, so that percentage translates into 100,000 fewer fans, on average, seeing each post. 100,000 fans.
There have been stories written previously about how only 16% of the fans of a brand page will see a given post, though my internal numbers range anywhere from 7% to 15% depending on the size of the fan base. That, frankly, was pretty horrible, but could be explained away by insisting that Facebook knew better, and part of their insight into your fans was that they responded better when Facebook made the decision of which posts they should see. We have to trust Facebook, because they don’t tell us a whole lot about our fans; unlike other platforms like Twitter, you can’t even pull a list of all the fans who like your page.
This change is more than just a minor tweak. This is Facebook doubling down and admitting that they really don’t have any interest in brands having a real relationship with the fans they’ve accumulated. This is admitting they don’t know how to create a real ad model other than making brands pay to talk to the fans they may have already paid to find and cultivate. This is also Facebook (probably) admitting that they don’t care about their user experience and are perfectly fine increasing the number of ads or promoted posts that you will see every day.
One could make the argument that the value of a Facebook fan page is not all in the reach you get with each post, that there is value in having a presence there, that the demographic and other data you can gather about your fans is valuable, and that perhaps being able to reach that audience, even if it costs money, has value. To that I say, maybe. But the real value of the page is in the ability for a brand to reach its fans and to engage with them, and that has suddenly become much harder.
How will the industry respond? Hard to say, because Facebook is still the only game in town, at least when it comes to large social networks. They made this change because they can, and I suspect they aren’t very worried about brands pulling out and giving up. I think it speaks volumes that Facebook made no public announcement about this and didn’t reach out to its partners to explain ahead of time. Time will tell, but I know the analysts and strategists I talk to think Facebook has finally crossed a line that puts their entire value proposition in question.