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Marketing Social Media

Can You Drive Facebook ROI Without Resorting to Paid Reach?

5 Minute Read

It’s been a long time since major brands were able to drive strong Facebook ROI through organic reach alone.

As its paid advertising platform gained advertisers and momentum, Facebook sought to curb the amount of organic reach brands received for their content. After hooking them on the steady drip of engagement with a large Facebook audience, Facebook incrementally turned off the flow, hoping brands turned to paid reach instead. As Digiday reports, current organic reach for Facebook Business Pages is believed to be around two percent of total reach right now, and many experts anticipate this organic reach eventually dropping to zero.

The next—possibly final—big hit to organic reach is already on the horizon: After revealing that engagement in its critical News Feed feature dropped by roughly five percent over one quarter, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that the company is looking to revitalize the content stream to give its users more of what they want. That means more content from friends and family and less content from online businesses.

Simply put, brands will have to pay up if they want to continue getting strong results from Facebook activity. In the meantime, it’s worth wondering if any Facebook strategy can succeed by depending on organic reach alone, especially where large brands are concerned. Small mom-and-pop shops may not have the means to do anything more than post to Facebook and hope their friends and family spread the word. But enterprise companies need results on a much bigger scale, and these latest changes call into question whether there’s any point in marketing through Facebook unless you’re willing to pay for promotion.

Is Organic Reach a Fool’s Game?

For marketers at big brands around the world, the shrinking ROI for organic Facebook campaigns may not be news. If you’ve been marketing on the platform for the better part of a decade, there’s no way you would have overlooked the steady decline in organic reach and ROI, especially as its advertising products matured and became the focal point of its business strategy.

But social media’s ROI is strongest when brands are consistent and diligent in their posting, which may result in marketers continuing to go through the motions even as their returns dwindle. Facebook’s plans to overhaul its News Feed may provide the perfect moment to reassess this strategy. As Ad Age points out, this shift isn’t solely being driven by Facebook’s desire to make a buck: Surveys of social media consumers have identified a palpable “Facebook fatigue,” with users regretting the amount of time they’re spending on the platform and, in some cases, discovering a renewed desire to wean themselves off their social media addiction.

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If there’s value to be found in an organic Facebook strategy, it’s not likely to come in the form of using the platform as a simple content amplifier. The Wall Street Journal notes that companies seeing success in building organic content strategies are ones focused on engagement and conversations, rather than one-sided content distribution. For large brands with a big following, this is a strategy worth experimenting with, since your built-in audience offers a platform for driving conversations that smaller businesses can’t manage with more modest numbers of Facebook fans.

Embracing a shift toward engagement-centric content may help preserve some value for organic ROI. But even as brands try to minimize their losses and preserve the value of a free marketing channel, it’s time to look at how Facebook’s paid reach can deliver greater value and bolstered ROI—and even potentially improve your organic reach.

Facebook’s Paid Reach Gets a Facelift

With its organic-reach opportunities in decline, Facebook’s advertising platform has taken off. Already the most profitable among competing social networks, Facebook added one million new advertisers to its platform in the second and third quarters of 2017, demonstrating continued interest from its business clients.

Research from AdStage found that the performance metrics for Facebook ad products continue to improve, highlighting the company’s ability to produce better ad products that elevate ROI. A study of 1.7 billion ad impressions found that the average CPM for Facebook ads jumped by 37 percent between the third and fourth quarters of 2017, while the average CPC improved by 14 percent, and the average CTR rose by 25 percent.

According to Business Insider, big brands like eBay and Airbnb are aggressively using Facebook to test ad performance and identify which ads offer the highest ROI opportunity. The number of brand lift tests conducted on ads in 2017 was 40 percent higher than the numbers in 2016. Major enterprises are building data-science teams to evaluate the performance of these ads and reorganize marketing budgets and strategy to drive better ROI.

Meanwhile, Relevance and other researchers have found that paid reach does not exist in a vacuum. In multiple studies, paid campaigns on Facebook have had a subsequent impact on that brand’s organic reach for content published after a paid campaign.

Relevance notes that paid reach for one piece of content can result in a wave of additional organic reach for the next few posts published to Facebook and that the organic “momentum” can carry on for a few days. Consider this a sweetener anytime you plan to run paid promotions, and consider planning for this bump when scheduling campaigns on Facebook: Instead of arranging posts for paid promotion back-to-back, separate paid campaigns with organic content to see whether you can ride a similar wave of heightened reach. And, as always, use analytics to track your results and see whether these trends hold true for your business campaigns.

Organic reach isn’t the money tree it once was on Facebook, but it’s not all bad news for marketers. With strategic investment in paid promotion and a focus on engagement, Facebook can still offer unmatched value to brands targeting a social audience. Organic reach may be on its way out, but we always knew this day would come.

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Jonathan Crowl specializes in digital marketing and content creation for both B2B and B2C brands, with an emphasis on startups and technology. His past and current clients include B2B brands IBM, LinkedIn, Mad Mobile, Oktopost, BrightSpot, and Waze, as well as B2C brands Porsche, Epson, and PayPal. He lives in Minneapolis.

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