Yes, Facebook has decreased page reach

by Robin Grant in News Google+

TechCrunch recently carried the following article from me, commenting on the ongoing decline in the reach of Facebook pages. They’ve been kind enough to let us reproduce it in full below:

Josh Constine wrote an insightful post last week, debunking the myth that Facebook has decreased page post reach to increase the sales of promoted posts. However, just because that wasn’t the reason, that doesn’t mean that Facebook hasn’t reduced page reach.

Since the end of August there has been a precipitous drop in reach across pages of all sizes. There have been first hand reports of Facebook telling agencies who manage large numbers of pages for clients that they were going to experience a large drop in reach, and data clearly showing this drop from at least three independent sources – Facebook page analytics provider EdgeRank Checker, the head of social measurement at WPP’s Team Detroit and a study conducted by us here at We Are Social in conjunction with Socialbakers.

So We Are Social and Socialbakers went back to the data to see what has happened in the month since our first report, and whether a larger sample of data would lead to the same conclusions.

Data shows an average 40% drop in reach

Average post organic reach
Average post organic reach 10th Aug – 2nd Nov, based on 41,051 posts made by 274 sample pages in the period.

As you can see from the graph above, the average post’s organic reach has clearly dropped by over 40% since the end of August, and is showing no signs of levelling off.

Of course, how any one individual page has been affected will vary, and it’s long been known that the more fans a page has, the less reach and engagement it will get as a proportion of its audience, but the drop in reach seems to have affected pages of all sizes fairly equally:

Average post organic reach, broken down by page size
Average post organic reach 10th Aug – 2nd Nov, broken down by page size, based on 41,051 posts made by 274 sample pages in the period.

Interestingly, EdgeRank Checker has just released some follow-up research also showing a big drop in reach from September to October, drilling down into the average reach of different post types:

Median reach for different types of Facebook page posts

Their research is showing that plain status update posts don’t seem to be effected by the reach drop to the same extent as photo, video or link updates, but it may be too early to draw any firm conclusions on this.

Engagement stays constant

And as we found before, despite the drop in reach, the average page post engagement rate has stayed fairly steady during the period:

Average post engagement rate
Average post engagement rate 10th Aug – 2nd Nov, based on 41,051 posts made by 274 sample pages in the period.

For the average post reach to drop while the average engagement rate stays steady, this must mean that the posts that are getting seen by fans are now getting more engagement.

What does this mean?

We’ve used hard data to show there has been a drop in Facebook page reach since the end of August. And this drop has been ongoing for over two months – it’s not going away.

It’s clear that Facebook have changed their EdgeRank algorithm to reduce the amount of brands’ Facebook page posts seen in fans’ newsfeeds, but what does this mean?

Well, while some may say this is a deliberate move by Facebook to force page owners to pay for reach using promoted posts, others could reasonably say this is a sensible adjustment to compensate for the growing number of pages that its users are fans of, and the increased number of posts coming from those pages.

But overall, you shouldn’t be too worried. Posts never reached 100% of a pages fan base anyway, with EdgeRank always having determined the posts that pages fans would and wouldn’t see.

What can you do about it?

Pages are competing for a much smaller ‘share of newsfeed’, so optimizing your posts for engagement now more important than ever. Josh gives some good advice on this in his post:

Focus on publishing high-quality content. Don’t post too often and don’t cram your marketing down people’s throats. Be entertaining and informative. Then follow your analytics closely, consider hiring experts that can help, and refine your strategy.

And, as much as you don’t want to hear this, you’re also going to have to start spending money to promote your posts. Remember that more engaging posts perform better and spend your money wisely.

And Facebook’s position on this?

As to Facebook’s comments in Josh’ post:

Just to put an official nail in the coffin of this rumor, I asked news feed manager Cathcart straight-up: “Did Facebook decrease organic Page reach to boost sales of Promoted Posts?” His flat-out answer was “NO.” Cathcart says that for Pages, “the median reach is still above 16 percent as of a month ago” just like it was in February.

Well, you’ll note that Facebook’s representative is saying that Facebook didn’t decrease reach to boost sales of promoted posts, not that they didn’t decrease reach. And as our data shows, the median reach may have been above 16% a month ago, but it’s not today.

When I asked Facebook whether I’d misinterpreted their representative’s comments and if there had indeed been a decrease in reach, they dodged the question by saying:

We’re constantly improving the way stories are shown in newsfeed. With the growing number of pages on Facebook it is important that people see content that is most relevant to them. These findings show that engagement with newsfeed posts has actually increased. At the same time, the number of posts being dismissed as uninteresting or spam has fallen. That’s a great result for page owners and an improved experience for all of us who use Facebook.

I leave you to draw your own conclusions…

Update: TechCrunch have now published a follow-up story, with a vehement denial from Facebook:

Analytics providers are only looking at a relatively small number of Pages, typically fewer than 1,000. Facebook’s product marketing director for ads Matt Idema tells me that what those studies show “all depends on what set of pages you’re looking at and how many pages you’re looking at. We’re looking at all the Pages. The median reach did not decrease.”

While Ad Age have just published data from Group M, showing a 38% drop in reach across 25 brands’ Facebook pages:

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  • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

    Good information, Robin. While this is not reflective of what I’m finding, I appreciate the research.

    My biggest issue is with the Reach metric in general. You note that Reach started dropping in late August. This is what I have found as well. But it’s directly related to a complete disappearance of Viral Reach. Even before Facebook tweaked in September, I saw this drop but while nothing else changed with engagement.

    In general, I just don’t find those numbers reliable. Here’s another example…

    I created two posts yesterday:

    Post #1
    8 Likes
    9 Comments
    2 Shares
    1,983 Reach

    Post #2
    49 Likes
    25 Comments
    14 Shares
    1,185 Reach

    Post #1 has nearly double (okay not nearly, but approaching) the Reach of Post #2, but Post #2 has more than 4X the number of Likes/Comments/Shares. This is again a point where I call BS since all of that engagement (especially the Shares) would have resulted in a ton of Reach.

    Overall, this Mark Cuban and George Takei stuff miss the mark. Reach is an imaginary number that can’t be proven. I can prove engagement. And if Engagement is either unchanged or trending up (which mine is), what’s the big deal??

    Engagement pays the bills. Reach does not. I think you get this, but it seems the vast majority do not.

  • http://www.BlitzMetrics.com Dennis Yu

    There are many forms of reach– we need to separate them out to see the impact of page growth, ads, and seasonality. For example, if a page’s fan base has doubled, but reach is the same, they’ve still lost half their coverage in the newsfeed.

    Not mentioned in most articles, but ads will increase not just paid reach, but organic and viral, as well. We have our data broken out by those who advertise vs those who don’t. Data is not surprising.

    The impact on reach is different for local businesses, medium sized enterprises, and global brands. So while it’s technically true that sample size affects what folks are reporting, it’s perhaps not truly accurate to just say 3rd party analytics companies are blanket wrong. Facebook, we’re using your data and we want to make the case for social being word of mouth at scale, not play PR games.

    While reach is down, frequency has really taken a hit. This is expected, since there’s just more stuff in the newsfeed competing, including ads. We don’t see this as monkeying by Facebook, but certainly having ads in the newsfeed does make the situation appear less objective, whether it is or not.

    We’re giving TechCrunch an exclusive into our data next week– so we hope to put this issue to rest at least for now.

  • http://wearesocial.net/ Robin Grant

    Hey Dennis – looking forward to seeing your data. Hopefully it will be enough to force Facebook to stop denying what’s actually going on…

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  • Ruan Harding

    “it is important that people see content that is most relevant to them” –

    Worrying. Exactly what parameters and quality control mechanisms are in place to decide relevance remains unbiased with respect to targetting?

    In fact, even with them it sounds like FB would have to compromise privacy at some level to facilitate this agenda. Assuming they are, you are more than correct to challenge their reach metrics.

  • http://twitter.com/JonathanHudson2 Jonathan Hudson

    This is fascinating stuff and we are certainly seeing the same trends. If customers Like a brand they should expect to see content, if they don’t want to see it they should unlike. Users need to be given better ways to manage their own newsfeeds to get more of what they want, and less of what they don’t want .

  • PaulSussex

    It’s been really frustrating that pages I’ve liked because I want to see their content has disappeared from my timeline. I’m careful what I liked to as to keep sensible what I see. 

    So how do I engage some of the pages I’ve liked. When the local constabulary report a death from a road traffic accident should I really like the page so I can remain engaged?

    What about the charities I follow? One of which alarmingly disappeared off my timeline. Should I donate them some money so that they can give that to a very rich Facebook so that their followers can still their comments? That would be quite outrageous! 

    As to 2 pages I have set up, well we use Twitter a lot more to get people to see it. Disappointing that our hard work getting people engaged on Facebook has been wasted.

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  • Kontakt

    Iv’e tried to pay bills with engagement, and They answered “oh, you must have talked to a social media consultant?”

  • http://twitter.com/RichardStacy Richard Stacy

    Why are we all worried about reach and engagement? Facebook is not a form of media that brands should use to reach consumers, it is a tool consumers can use to reach brands (if and when they want to).
    http://richardstacy.com/2012/11/22/silly-debate-about-facebook-metrics-because-facebook-is-the-metric/

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  • http://coachgrazina.com/ Grazina Ajana Szewczyk

    My clients Facebook pages and my own pages reflect similar trends.  It takes more effort, and definitely much better quality content to get the same results that we had a few months ago.  

    I believe that part of the story is that there are many pages created every day, so people have more choice. They also get bored or annoyed easily, and if you are do not make them laugh, cry or wonder, someone else will…

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