Business

Organic reach in Sri Lanka: Time to pay-to-play 

By Mohenesh Chamith Buthgumwa

The number of people who saw your post through unpaid distribution is referred to as organic reach in social media. The benefits of organic reach include the ability to publish posts for free. Paid reach is the polar opposite of organic reach, and it entails running paid advertisements. Users who organically saw your post in their news feed, watched a story, or browsed your account are included in your organic reach, which is represented by the number of unique accounts. Unlike paid content (such as Facebook ads), organic posts are not typically served to specific target audiences. Let’s take a deep dive into how organic reach has evolved; a much-needed update that needs to reach all marketing teams. I’ll concentrate on Facebook to simplify things because it’s the most commonly used social media platform in Sri Lanka.

When Facebook introduced the EdgeRank algorithm, organic posts began to decline. The goal was to make its platform more user-friendly, rather than the spammy, commerce-focused platform it was becoming. Businesses have felt the effects firsthand as Facebook’s algorithm has been updated regularly over the years.

Numbers look bleak

Most social platforms operate on a pay-to-play model for brands, which is no secret. In Sri Lanka, the average reach of an organic post on a Facebook Page hovers around 5% for entertainment and news content and around 2% for brand pages. To put this in perspective, a page with 100 fans could potentially reach only two people. The greater your fan base, the higher that number will rise. So, with a 2% reach, we’re approaching the end of an era in terms of organic reach being the most viable option for spreading our brand on social media. And the implication for business owners is clear. Your page’s organic reach will be reduced. And with reach on the decline, you can bet that engagement will follow suit. Previously, Facebook would count organic reach whenever an unpaid post appeared in someone’s news feed. However, simply appearing in the news feed is no longer sufficient; your unpaid post must now be opened and seen by someone to be counted as an organic reach. The organic reach of business pages dropped dramatically as a result of this minor platform change. Following the change, surveys revealed that only 2% of audiences saw the unpaid post organically due to the new definition.

In comparison, at a fraction of the cost of traditional media, social media advertising allows for unprecedented audience targeting. Furthermore, if you run a business online, your customers are only a click away from purchasing your goods or services. Compare this to placing an ad in your local newspaper, where you would pay a set fee (rather than deciding on your budget) to place a single ad that would be seen by anyone who reads the paper (instead of a specific, like-minded audience).

A proprietary algorithm for each social media platform determines how organic content is distributed on the platform. It’s only natural that Facebook would need to make adjustments to their system from time to time in light of the increasing amount of content being created and shared and how news feeds curate the content you see. According to Mark Zuckerberg, the decline in Facebook usage is due to the site’s very purpose – connecting with friends and seeing what they’re up to. In an effort to better balance the massive influx of business posts with those from friends, Facebook decided the algorithm itself required an update. So business page posts have declined, with users instead seeing updates from friends and family. As a result, Facebook is only showing its users the “best” content, which means that companies that want their posts seen as “best” must pay to get the same exposure they previously received organically.

For profit

Social media platforms are for profit. They exist solely to make money. I’m not trying to be condescending, but many people seem to forget that the first goal of Facebook is to make money, which it does in two significant ways; data collection and advertising sales. The organic reach numbers are down because social media platforms want you to pay them to promote your content.

As one might expect, newer platforms with smaller audiences are easier to grow on, and the platforms do organically push content to a larger audience. Facebook was a bit of a free for in its early days, and the more a company posted, the more likely it was that its post would achieve a high level of organic reach. However, organic reach has become more limited in recent years. At this point, TikTok is an excellent example of organic reach. It’s a new social platform, and it hasn’t yet officially launched advertising. As a result, the organic reach is at the higher 60%. Indeed over time, TikTok would also gradually reduce organic reach in favour of indue paid reach.

Organic reach’s future

While there has undoubtedly been a significant drop over the years, this does not imply that organic reach has vanished forever. It simply means that you must play the game more effectively to be noticed. While it’s easy to see the decline in organic reach as a universally bad thing for small businesses or organisations, it’s also possible that it will result in a higher standard of business-related content for the platform.

While Facebook’s content regulation leaves much to be desired, increased competition among brands for a limited amount of organic reach will inspire and push each brand to create better, more relevant content that users care about. This entails developing content that does not sell but engages, inspires, and intrigues people, resulting in more organic shares. In addition, in my follow-up article, rather than conversing in the manner of a traditional business, let’s discuss what steps can be taken to boost your organic reach game. So, in essence, we have not reached rock bottom in terms of organic reach on Facebook. There is hope.

(The writer is Isobar Vice President. He is the highest globally and locally awarded digital marketer in Sri Lanka. During the past five years, he has bagged over 80 global and local awards for his campaigns. His lecturing efforts have helped over 5,000 students and business owners embrace digital marketing)