Midnight in the garden of organic social

Nic Murray, social insights executive for OMD Melbourne
By Nic Murray, social insights executive for OMD Melbourne | 16 February 2016
Nic Murray, social insights executive for OMD Melbourne

Just as Adam discovered in the Garden of Eden, the temptation and subsequent exploitation of low-hanging organic fruit, preludes the manifest truth that ‘good things never last’.

And in the same vein as tantalising organic fresh produce, organic reach (once untethered and plentiful) has become increasingly more difficult to attain, and more questionable in its necessity.

So now, as we stride into 2016, it makes sense to re-evaluate our social strategies, both paid and organic, in the wake of such dramatic change.

If you work in, or even know anyone who works in social media you may have heard about the increasingly stringent ways in which social networking platforms have been calculating and allocating organic reach over the last couple of years.

Suddenly (at least it felt like suddenly) the management of flustered bewilderment as to why many of our lovingly crafted social community posts were struggling to be seen by anyone became a more and more frequent event. And now it seems that even the most tentative of social dabblers are cottoning on to the fact that something has changed. Because of course, something really has.

But before I begin this digital parable I should clarify for the socially uninitiated our two key characters:

Organic Reach (i.e. David)

The simplest definition I have for you is that organic reach is essentially the number of unique fans that see your posts in their newsfeed, without you having spent any money (translation: free stuff).

Paid Reach (i.e. Goliath)

Essentially similar to organic reach as described above, except that you have achieved unique views by allocating a budget behind each post. Of course this is not just limited to your page fans, but a broader selection of individuals you would have targeted (translation: paid stuff).

So what has changed? Well, when vying for an underlying cause there isn’t really an intricate tapestry of effects and circumstances that have led to the steady decline of organic reach. It is essentially a case of supply and demand.

As more and more brands have chosen to engage in paid social marketing, social newsfeed real-estate has become more and more premium, leaving less room for organic cut-through. This was exacerbated in 2012 when Facebook infamously decided to amend their newsfeed algorithm in a manner that essentially hindered the reach of any organic posts that they deemed to be too ‘advertisey’.

Although largely considered synonymous with Facebook activity, organic reach may also be achieved via a number of other platforms. As such, Instagram has recently murmured that they would be following their older siblings lead and begin scaling back marketing communicator’s capabilities in driving consistent organic messaging through to their followers.

This is no doubt producing some serious ripples throughout the social marketing landscape. Not the least of which amongst social influencers, of whom traditionally rely on their follower bases as the key strength of their offering. If an influencer has to start sponsoring their own posts it will no doubt interrupt the native credibility of their social voice, and may dilute their endorsements.

So is there still a place for organic reach? Well yes and no. Organic reach can’t disappear completely, it would be at odds with the sharing nature of social platforms themselves. Although from a marketing perspective, it appears very much on the way out. There is a glimmer of hope in the form of an organic ‘snowball effect’, of which is primarily grounded in engagement; being the more an individual engages with your posts, the more likely they are to see future organic content you put out. But ultimately relying on reach from purely organic engagement stimulus is not generally considered now to be a viable social strategy.

So what now? Well, reviewing the most recent 2015 figures, social media ad spend in Australia has grown over 30% YOY. And accordingly to the most recent Sensis Social Media Report, the average spend of Australian businesses (from the very small to the very large) allocate between 10-20% of their entire media budget to social media marketing, and this is increasing every quarter. If any brand wants to compete in the social media realm for a share of voice it is widely recommended to consider doing the same. Of course just as with any media channel strategy, spend alone is obviously not enough to negotiate this transformation.

As such, here it's has become a key speciality of our social media experts to not just guide our clients through this change but to encourage them to embrace it, for the sole reason that (as I personally believe) this premium-isation of our consumers’ social network newsfeeds is ultimately a good thing.

It ensures that our community managers, our client’s social content teams, as well as our creative partners are being braved to post less frequently, but more evocatively. And with the growing prevalence of data-led social insights enabling sharper and more specialised targeting we are finding that, as Patrick Darcy the APAC commercial director of RadiumOne stated recently, it’s ‘relevance and timing that are replacing reach and frequency’. In turn giving social content producers the precious breathing space they need in-between posts to create uniquely tailored and engaging material.

So what are your tips for negotiating these twilight years in the era of organic reach? To answer simply and to reiterate on the above, don’t chase reach. An individual’s social newsfeed is not a direct sales platform. Besides, it has become much too intimate and powerful a channel to devalue with the endless desire for impressions. It’s much more valuable for a brand to focus efforts on their core audience than reaching as many people for the sake of it. Instead try strengthening the uniqueness and energy of your content voice. Befriend your customers, and then excite them with post material that you yourself would want to see.

Secondly as I mentioned earlier, and contrary to the apocalyptic premise of this article, organic reach is unlikely to disappear completely, it has just become profoundly more restricted. Of course the hyper-loyal contingent of your fan base are still likely to engage with your page, just in a more tightknit and community-like fashion. So again focus on your social voice. Use your page to engage and entertain, and build a relationship with your fans on a deeper level. Utilising dark posts can also aid in insuring that there isn’t mixed messages bouncing between your fans and your prospects, as they are both very likely at different stages down the conversion funnel.

And finally, to indulgently quote the Gospel according to Nic (from the Book of Socialites):
‘Know. Thine. Audience‘

Deepen your audience understandings and broaden your cache of social insights tools. Embrace the reality that paid social is now the vital element you need to consider to remain competitive, and brands need to be smarter and more efficient than ever. This means using data to inform target audiences and insights to inform content themes. Paid social allows you to cost effectively test and trial different formats and content with different audiences to develop a paid strategy that is highly optimised towards the right audience. This will drastically aid your content effectiveness, stimulate more engagement and subsequently drive more conversions, which ironically should loop back into building more organic reach and, perhaps, allow just a few more bites from this increasingly forbidden fruit.

By Nic Murray, social insights executive for OMD Melbourne

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