Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in Mar-Apr 2017

Why brands can no longer rely on organic reach

Depending on organic reach alone is a bad idea, and brands must start spending to achieve maximum reach on social media.
Illustration by Creative Unit.
Illustration by Creative Unit.

It was in the mid of 2015 when a friend, who happens to be a media planner, walked into my room. He sat down, took out a cigar and lit it slowly for dramatic effect. As he rolled out a thick puff of smoke, he casually proclaimed, “Content was King. The King is dead. Long live the King!”

Although I normally dismiss him as a peddler of conspiracy theories (UFO abductions and jinns playing Tetris on Macs after office hours), in this particular case, he was a couple of years late with his epiphany.

I don’t agree that content is dead; however, I do believe that organic reach on most social platforms is a thing of the past. In a study we did some time ago, we got hold of a well-known comedian with a great following. We shot two one-minute videos of a stand-up act with him; both videos had similar content. Nevertheless, we carried out a survey of 50 people who judged the first video to be slightly more entertaining. Sticking to the same audience, we boosted the second video by paying five dollars a day.

This is what we found out. The organic post grew quickly to an initial 105 likes. However, after that it only managed four to eight likes a day before levelling off at 133 likes. The total organic reach was approximately 3,000 before it stopped growing completely. Remember that this was the video that was judged to be slightly better. On the other hand, the boosted post grew by an average of 786 likes per day and by the end of the week it had accumulated a paid reach of 103,000.

Although these results are not surprising for people in the digital industry, most clients still do not understand that depending on organic reach alone is a bad idea if they want an effective digital presence. I find that most clients are still living in the social media world of the early 2000s when Facebook was giving great results without the need to invest in a single dollar. However, since then, Facebook have been cutting their organic reach by half every second quarter. As alarming as this may sound, can you blame them?

The average Facebook user misses about 75% of his/her newsfeed, because, unlike Twitter, Facebook do not follow a strict chronological order to populate their newsfeed.

What clients don’t understand is that these digital juggernauts have to pay their bills and they cannot afford to continue to give away free goodies perpetually. The payroll alone for some goes into millions of dollars and many social platforms have not yet really cracked how to monetise; WhatsApp is a prime example. Even Twitter, the second largest social media platform in the world, nearly doubled their losses in the fourth quarter of 2016 (even if their user base is increasing, their revenues are not growing proportionately). Facebook, on the other hand, have been very intelligent when it comes to monetisation.

The average Facebook user misses about 75% of his/her newsfeed, because, unlike Twitter, Facebook do not follow a strict chronological order to populate their newsfeed. Instead they have built algorithms that determine what a user wants to see, and then displays an optimum balance between news and updates from friends. In the process, Facebook have almost killed organic branded messaging. Simply put, unless you pay for it, Facebook will mostly display what viewers find interesting in terms of news and friends’ updates. This is primarily why Facebook has become a successful brand. Their newsfeeds keep bringing their audience back for more, and in doing so, they have managed to make themselves profitable. This, however, is not good news if, as a brand manager, your mantra is ‘Hafta jaey per mufta na jaey.’

Is there no way to get good organic reach?

It depends. There are places where you can get relatively good organic reach, but these are emerging platforms such as Snapchat and Marco Polo. When I say ‘relatively’, it’s relative to that platform and not to Facebook, because of the reach disparity between Facebook and their closest competitors. So even if these alternative platforms give you a sizeable percentage of their audience, that audience is really nothing compared to what Facebook offers.

Can good content drive organic reach?

Yes it can. Much, much more slowly than paid content, but it can eventually drive organic reach. However, there are problems with this line of thinking. Firstly, good content is created by great people. Great people with good ideas don’t come for free or even for cheap. Most clients who can’t afford to pay for reach usually can’t afford to hire good people. Secondly, no agency no matter how good they are, can achieve repeated success without a break. The Ice Bucket Challenge was a great campaign, yet how many bigger or even similar campaigns has the agency churned out since then? Can they repeat the same success for every client and in every single one of their campaigns? Creative delivery always has ups and downs and although good content can drive reach, it is really sad to waste good content on organic reach.

Organic does not allow you to talk to your audience

The other major problem with going organic is that Facebook does not allow you to fine tune your organic audience for free. The message is there for everyone to see, but the problem is that most of it may end up being viewed by people who are not the intended audience. The only way to target specific audiences is through paid advertising.

You cannot retarget with organic

Retargeting is an important tool in the digital marketer’s arsenal, but it is available only through paid advertising on Facebook. A retargeting campaign enables you to control different functions by using anonymous user data and focusing on the preferences of that particular user.

If this is bad news for brands that are used to getting things done for free, there is some good news as well. Even with a small budget of five dollars a day you can gradually build a community who will eventually give you reach. Any business that is unwilling to invest even Rs 15,000 is not taking their marketing seriously. For quicker results, bigger budgets are required.

What is certain is that it will become increasingly difficult to build communities and get engagement through organic reach. If Facebook can help it, this will eventually become impossible. Brands have to wake up to this reality and start spending. Other social platforms will follow Facebook and develop similar monetisation strategies. It is unrealistic to think that these platforms will go on developing technology and offering their services for free forever.

To sum up, take your digital marketing efforts seriously, allocate budgets and start experimenting. Every brand is unique and you have to figure out what kind of content gives better results. Once you figure that out, put your money on that content and drive paid reach. The results will surprise you.

Syed Amir Haleem is CEO, KueBall Digital.