The Hunger Games of Growth: Organic Reach
Organic reach, per Facebook, refers to how many people your posts can reach for free on a social media platform. The algorithm varies per social media platform and evolves organically over time.
Before 2012, it was really easy to grow your business using free, organic social media posts. There are even success stories of companies able to reach between 16-20% of their entire audience every time they posted. For FREE on Facebook.
During the golden era of organic reach, lots of companies started expecting organic search to be enough to grow their business, sell their product and power their inbound strategy. Companies started aggressively churning organic content in large quantities to try to replicate the success of early adopters, inundating social media - mostly Facebook - with all sorts of content (from amazing to frankly terrible) to varying degrees of success.
As of today, mid-2019, organic reach for brands and companies has been aggressively curbed by the algorithm each social media network uses. Because inventory started to become saturated, and Facebook was the leader in monetizing their platform, spots normally reserved for organic branded posts were replaced with paid posts; the organic reach started to slow down, leading to the “big” change in 2012, when they changed their algorithm to curb low-quality content and only show people the cream of the crop of branded organic content.
This is how organic reach stands per social media platform today
Facebook reportedly limits organic reach for brands at right below 2%. That means, in a page with 1 million followers, only 20K will actually see your post on their news feeds.
Twitter’s algorithm values the time of day a post is made as well as the use of hashtags, and engagement. The more popular a tweet is, the more they will be boosted through the network, to followers and non-followers alike. Twitter is one of the social networks where you don’t have to follow an account in order to be served a viral post.
On Instagram, since their 2016 algorithm change you no longer see chronological posts, and instead posts appear “based on the likelihood you’ll be interested in the content, your relationship with the person posted, and the timeliness of the post.” Instagram, like parent company Facebook, is doing this because they want your advertising dollars in order to reach your audience.
Organic reach on Linkedin was recently affected when in October of 2018, their algorithm was changed to help private users get their posts seen while limiting the reach of super-popular “power users” including brands and large users. Therefore, similar to Facebook and Instagram, organic reach for your brand posts is trending down.
But, will organic reach go away forever?
The answer is right out of the Hunger Games trilogy. In the war for your news feed only the strong, relevant, quality content will survive.
Organic reach - at least in Facebook, Instagram and Linkedin - will benefit from fewer, high-quality posts. If you produce original content that actually engages your audience you will see better organic reach.
And this is the part that trips most customers looking for organic reach these days: high-quality original content is never really free. Whether you are freelancing out your content generation, or using your in-house team, it requires strategic planning down to high-quality deliverables: custom photography or illustration, on-screen talent, high resolution video, excellent audio quality, subtitles (when needed) to be able to stand out from the overcrowded pool of content churners. You might be paying Facebook, Instagram or Linkedin $0 to publish your post, but if you are not investing in the content itself, you won’t see success.
Similarly, the days of simply asking your audience for engagement are long over. However, real-time engagement can help your organic reach and even (gulp!) close sales. Monitoring social posts for responses, and engaging those responding can do wonders for your brand awareness and positioning. Something to note: real-time engagement is a hands-on, 24/7 job that requires patience. We usually recommend splitting the engagement portion of the equation between several team members to ensure all channels are being monitored. At the very least, someone should check responses to posts for any customer service issues that need to be resolved offline.
Going viral is not a thing for 99% of brands.
About 2 in 4 prospects we talk to, especially the smaller strapped-for-cash prospects, have an expectation to be able to predict “virability.” They think that because they are investing in organic social media strategy, or even a content plan, that the outcome will eventually be to “go viral” and event better, to go viral for free. This makes me think of being in Middle School and watching kids (ok it was me) trying “too hard” to fit in. If you’re trying to become viral, you won’t be.
Therefore, the most important piece of advice I can give if you’ve made it this far into this blog post is: to be realistic, invest actual dollars in quality evergreen content in a variety of mediums and have a paid strategy working in tandem with your organic one. Stop expecting success to find you, like a winning lottery number and instead work very hard at providing value in every interaction both on and off social media. A solid, thought out product, with the right kind of support will be successful.