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Why Facebook's Declining Organic Reach Isn't All Bad

Organic reach has been declining on Facebook for some time. This has sparked outrage among brands for forcing them to pay for their fans’ attention, fans that they may have already paid to obtain in the first place. And while these complaints are valid and it you wouldn’t be wrong to say that Facebook is manipulating the site to make money, it doesn’t explain the full story.

To use a phrase all Facebook users are familiar with: it’s complicated. Facebook’s Newsfeed algorithm is incredibly complex, made up of thousands of mysterious ranking factors that are continuously tweaked and experimented with. Facebook users are incredibly complex as well, falling victim to perceived social obligations, variable dispositions and an innate wavering of interests. These intricacies of technology and human nature make it difficult to pinpoint the true dilemma.

Results from recent newsfeed tweaks may help to highlight the disconnect. Last month, Facebook made some changes to the newsfeed ranking algorithm in an effort to show more relevant and interesting stories.

Two new factors were added to the newsfeed algorithm: 1. probability that users will want to see the story at the top of their feed, and 2. probability that they will engage with that story. These changes were based on survey results from users and ratings from their Feed Quality Panel, a group of employees whose sole job is to read through their newsfeed, rate each story’s interestingness and relevance, and provide notes as to why they assigned that rating.

After these recent algorithm changes, Locowise, a social analytics and reporting company, noted a surge in organic page growth and post reach. Great news, right? Facebook actually did something to increase organic reach after years of decline! However, it’s not all cute kitten videos and funny memes. Locowise also noted that engagement rate dropped 11.18%, marking the lowest number over the past three quarters.

This begs the question: If more people see your posts but fewer engage, is there a benefit for your company? The answer is without a doubt “no.” If a post was shown to all of your fans, but not a single one engaged, you wouldn’t benefit from the compounding awareness that Likes, comments and shares can have. You also wouldn’t benefit from fans clicking through to your site to  take action on whatever it is you’re promoting. Sure, the post could be seen by fans, but if they don’t act, it falls into the social media abyss and does nothing for your Facebook page or your broader business goals.

Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm supports their ultimate goal of keeping users engaged on the site. That’s why content is only show to a percentage of your fanbase. But it’s the percentage with the highest likelihood of engaging. As one Redditor perfectly explained, when they do engage, Facebook loosens the reins on reach, exposing that post to a wider and wider audience the more engagement it gets. It’s the age-old quality-over-quantity adage. Facebook is focused on driving engagement above reach, and your brand should be, too.

When you see the line on your organic reach chart steadily dropping, it’s easy to blame Facebook for not showing your posts to the widest audience possible. But it’s exceedingly more complicated than this one factor. Theoretically, if you are posting interesting and actionable posts that your audience wants to see, you will get enough engagement to break free from the organic reach limits Facebook has placed. And it’s here where you will see the benefits that organic reach and engagement can have for your brand.