Social media remains a top marketing channel for businesses all over the world. In 2016, the global spending on social media reached nearly $31 billion, and that number is only set to grow in the future.
One of the most appealing advantages of social media is that it doesn’t require any money to get started; any business with a tech-savvy employee can create a business profile and start communicating to a global audience.
But recent changes to social media dynamics have made it harder for businesses to achieve that level of reach organically. As a result, companies are starting to turn toward paid advertising opportunities on social media to close the gap, and get the audience they’re looking for, which begs the question — is it still possible to get seen on social media without the use of paid ads?
The Decline of Organic Visibility
This concept is called “organic visibility,” or “organic reach,” and refers to the number of people on social media a business can reach without the use of an ad or sponsored post. In the early days of Facebook and other social platforms, this was relatively easy to achieve; your content had an equal chance of being seen as content shared by any other individuals and brands a person followed. In other words, if you posted content regularly, you could count on having that content seen by the majority of your brand’s followers (they were actually called “fans” back then).
But in the past several years, Facebook has been reducing the amount of organic visibility a business or organization page can get. The company claims this is due to two main reasons:
1. Volume. There are millions of brands on Facebook, and there’s only so much room in a person’s newsfeed. Facebook has to throttle back the visibility each business gets in order to avoid flooding users’ newsfeeds and still give each business some potential reach.
2. Relevance. Facebook is primarily about making individual connections, and in recent years, it has optimized its newsfeed algorithms to stay true to that original purpose. It’s begun emphasizing the visibility of posts by friends and family members over those by companies and organizations.
However, skeptics can’t help but note that this has a fortunate secondary effect for Facebook. If companies are getting fewer and fewer views with purely organic tactics, they’re all but forced to pursue paid advertising to close the gap.
We could debate about whether or not this is the case, but it doesn’t change the fact that organic visibility has declined — significantly — for brands on Facebook, and many other social media platforms have followed the same pattern.
How Ads Work
I’ll use Facebook advertising as my central example here, since it’s the most robust and popular social media ad platform, and because it’s usually a trendsetter in the industry. There are a few different ways to pay for visibility on Facebook, but each of them has the similar effect of getting your content in front of more people in exchange for money.
First, you could boost a post; by paying anywhere from a few dollars to a few thousand dollars, you can take an otherwise organic post, such as your latest shared blog post, and distribute it to more people, including those outside your current followers. Second, you could pay for a standalone advertisement, much like Google’s PPC ad platform allows you to do, and pay per click or “like” to all but guarantee results.
In either case, paying will guarantee a higher level of success than trying to do things organically.
Keys for Success Without Ads
Does that mean it’s impossible to be successful without ads? Absolutely not. Facebook has restricted the organic visibility of brands, but it hasn’t eliminated it entirely. And knowing the modern nature of social media, you can adjust your strategy to make sure you get as much visibility as possible — without paying a cent for a boosted post or standalone ad.
These tactics, for example, can improve your organic visibility inexpensively:
· Avoid posting too much. Part of the reason organic visibility is declining is the sheer volume of content on social media; don’t make the problem worse by posting more often. Instead, funnel your efforts to making fewer, but more valuable and share-worthy posts.
· Stay as relevant and high-quality as possible. While you’re at it, only post content that’s highly relevant to your target audience, and make sure that content is as high-quality as possible. This will attract more engagements and shares, making your work appear more valuable to newsfeed algorithms.
· Get shares from individual profiles. Don’t rely on just your brand page to make a post visible; get individual profiles, such as you and your teammates’ personal brands, to share your work. Since Facebook sees individually shared material as more valuable, this can boost your visibility immediately. This is especially effective if you pair it with a guest posting strategy.
· Engage with your followers. Don’t just post your content and hope for it to perform well; go out of your way to engage with your followers, having conversations with them. Involved comment threads, shares, and reactions are all important for extending the reach of your content.
For now, it’s possible — but harder than it used to be — to build and retain an audience on social media through purely organic tactics. But could that change in the future? It seems unlikely, given that Facebook still needs open access to guarantee the biggest, most active user base possible.
Still, I could see major players like Facebook tightening the noose a little more, ratcheting down organic visibility so slowly it’s barely noticeable, to the point where it’s all but impossible to get a post trending without an individual profile or a paid promotion strategy.
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