Facebook Quietly Destroys Half the Value of Your Brand Page Overnight

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.

 

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19 Responses to Facebook Quietly Destroys Half the Value of Your Brand Page Overnight

  1. Keri says:

    Jeff,

    Awesome statements. I appreciate your sharing your insight! :)

    On September 26, 2012 I was noticing that the usual way I could “gate” a post had changed (only that day), and I had to use the “target post” function. Without adding ANY targeting data at all, and just by pressing the button to target, the number of fans predicted to reach dropped by thousands for a large page I manage.

    I g’fawed, and people did not really want to share my outrage. They probably had not really realized what was happening yet. But I believe this is part of keeping fans from seeing our posts. Thousands???

    Many have predicted that Facebook would change with their going public. And that it would take a great deal of time to see the final demise. I predict that this is the beginning of the downturn, and it won’t take too much time for people to jump.

    Took the tour of the new MySpace this morning, and it was pretty groovy! I’ve not had an account there before, but it’s like all the social networks best bits rolled into one. And highly visual — with music. All host stuff right now.

    And then there’s Pinterest, and Instagram. Social networking on infographics. The only game in town – Facebook? I think not.

    But would love to hear what others have to say… :)

    ~Keri

  2. Jeff says:

    @Keri, completely agree on this signals something significant for Facebook’s role as a marketing channel for brands. If there was demand in the market for a competitor before this, it’s just going to explode now. Keeping my fingers crossed that MySpace (or someone else) comes along who understands how a social network can help brands without destroying user experience.

  3. Kate Jones says:

    This makes me so angry and concerned. For me, someone who manages many pages for a non-profit, Facebook is the most cost effective way for us to reach our audience as we don’t have an advertising budget. And to know that half of our posts aren’t reaching the audience…. it is simply not acceptable!
    The only good I see is it has forced me to step outside of my social media comfort zone and start to use twitter and pinterest more. I just hope that a combination of all 3 gets my message out to enough people.
    Kate

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  7. Shel Holtz says:

    With no warning? It took a minute of searching to find out they announced a major change to the Edgerank algorithm on Sept. 20. It was covered here, among other places:
    http://edgerankchecker.com/blog/2012/10/facebook-decreases-pages-reach/

  8. Jeff says:

    @Shel Holtz I think you misunderstood my use of “no warning.” They leaked a small announcement to a handful of people and made no public announcement. If Ogilvy hadn’t been privy to that private announcement, there would have been no coverage of this at all. As an agency we were left completely in the dark about a change that would strongly affect Ford’s Facebook presence. One would think that a change that cuts reach to your own fans in half would have merited a more public warning and explanation.

  9. Jeff,
    Great post. This is something I’ve been struggling for sometime now. We saw this exact same thing happen to us as early as this past spring. For months I thought I was going crazy, especially have arguing with our Facebook contacts for months. It’s somewhat comforting to know that other major brands and companies are experiencing the same thing and I’m really not the only one banging my head on a wall. But let’s be honest, numbers never lie.

  10. Matt says:

    Thanks for this writeup. I had no idea why, after a month or two of real good steady growth, my numbers started to drop severely. I tried being diligent with providing daily or near daily material but nothing seemed to help. That is really frustrating that they use their monopoly hold on social media to do whatever they want. I understand they’re a business and they need to monetize, but they’re starting to get into the territory of traditional old ineffective advertising models (i.e. TV commercials) where everything is paid for so the consumer has no interest in consuming it. At least if they know the material reaching them is organic, they’d be more inclined to give it a few seconds of their time.

    If this trend continues, the value of a Facebook presence for a business will sink down to the same value as putting up a TV spot or radio ad, getting drowned out in all of the rest of the advertising noise. Businesses will lose interest, stop bothering, and find another platform to push their message. At least, I hope that’s what happens rather than everyone trying to one-up everyone else by paying more and more for their post to end up in their fan’s feeds.

  11. Steven says:

    “will sink down to the same value as putting up a TV spot or radio ad” Oh, TV is useless? Would the brands that drop millions there all agree?

    Sure “businesses will lose interest, stop bothering”, just like they all pulled out of those utterly useless TV campaigns, right?

    Why would Facebook, or anyone else for that matter, be obligated to provide a valuable marketing platform for free indefinitely? Especially when we are talking about major brands, who are used to spend top dollars to reach their audience? Honestly, I’m surprised they kept pages free as long as they did. I’d probably start charging for just having a page once you go over, say, 100,000 fans. Facebook is a business, after all.

  12. Karen Naide says:

    Hi Jeff, thanks for your well-written article.

    So what can be done about this? I also have a few clients who maintain pages with thousands of fans, and yet the read per post which used to be 300 (which wasn’t that great to begin with) is now closer to 100). For somebody working very hard to plan content that will be engaging and yet also helps the clients reach their goals, I can’t tell you how much this PISSES me off! We don’t buy ads, so it’s not like we can say, “Fine, we’ll let our pocketbook do the talking.”

    How can we express outrage?

  13. Michael Amoruso says:

    Hi Jeff, thanks for the article. When looking at your reach data, how far back did you look and what was your sample size? When looking at ~89 days worth of data, this apparently precipitous decline looks to either be 1) chance, or 2) drop that almost perfectly corresponded to an increase around Sept. 10 — though for the pages I looked at, the net result of this spike was an *increase* in reach. However, my sample size is too small to draw any conclusions.

    • Jeff says:

      @Michael I can’t get into specifics of my data set, but it did go back long enough to be statistically relevant. More than that I am hearing stories from other people in the industry (including in these comments) that this is not just an error in analysis, this is a significant change.

  14. Andrew says:

    Brand page with nearly 9,000 likes posted a photo album of an event that the mayor attended. After two hours, only “15 people saw this post.” Ridiculous.

  15. I have a FB page for alternative therapies for veterans and active duty. I make no money, I am not selling anything. I share articles, particularly those that relate to mental health problems, TBI, and over-all health. Just trying to give some options and hope for suffering people who were willing to die for this country. It was just beginning to get popular when FB changed. Now most times only 3 or 4 people see a post. Very disappointing. I certainly do not have money to promote my page being a disabled vet myself.

  16. Excellent article Jeff! I’ve been sending feedback to FB about this issue for months now.

    I was reaching 4 times the amount of fans when I had 30,000 of them in February (with an average of 2,600 likes per post), than today when my page has 126,000 fans (with an average of 680 likes per post). So, in reality the reach has gone down way more than 50%.

    Here’s the feedback I sent them three weeks ago (probably the 15th of such messages):

    “Hi guys, I manage the page http://www.facebook.com/bewareofimages

    I don’t want to be annoying and insistent, but the way my page is behaving lately is TERRIBLE. Some posts are shown to the tiniest percentage of fans, and many get them very low on their feeds.

    The way posts are now shown to fans in a slow trickle, totally disrupts the dynamic of conversations. I would say this is the worst effect of your new approach, the disjointed and out-of sync threads.

    I have spent a considerable amount of resources (time AND money) to gather a community that I’m finding increasingly harder to reach. I find it disingenuous of your company to charge for ads that generate new fans, just to make it extremely difficult to reach them later.

    I’m very disappointed with this developments, as well as with the fact that you NEVER, EVER reply to, or even acknowledge, ANY of your costumers feedback.

    I would appreciate your attention to these issues.

    Yours truly,
    Sergio Toporek”

    I’m still waiting for a reply :(

  17. Caleb says:

    This is an opening for someone to come and be the next Facebook. There is beginning to be a void happening here where Facebook is becoming less effective since they have gone private!

  18. Craig says:

    I manage social media and communications for a medium-sized nonprofit (about 2000 members), but like others here had been pleased with the reach I was starting to get on Facebook–particularly when sharing photos or videos. I noticed the change, too, and am glad it wasn’t just us!

    I wish that Facebook would find a way to differentiate between nonprofits and for-profit companies in this decision, like Google has with its Google Grants program. Facebook trumpets messaging around community, sharing–even “building a great nation” as stated in their most recent (hilariously bad) advertisement. Yet their treatment of nonprofit users in this decision clearly undermines those statements, demonstrating the only values at Facebook are data collection and eyeballs on ads. It’s a shame.