We often have clients who express their frustration with decreasing Facebook reach and engagement. Oh, and … in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal and Facebook information leaks, it’s also a time of greater mistrust. However, while changes are occurring and there will be more to come—both with how data is used and protected, and potentially in upper management of the social media giant—Facebook is here to stay for now.
For causes, the common experience of decreasing reach has little to do with a lack of commitment to social media best practices or their capacity to create and boost great content. Instead, they are simply victims of the ever-changing Facebook algorithm. These changes have forced even the largest, most popular brand accounts to come up with strategic ways to maintain reach, protect their messaging against platform changes, and keep their audiences as engaged as before.
We at DBT have compiled a list of effective tactics that some of the most successful nonprofits and foundations are using on Facebook and across other social channels alike to achieve just that. Some of them might seem obvious, while others are significant strategic shifts away from traditional uses of the platform. However, they seem to be working for now and are worth putting into practice.
Savvy organizations have shifted quickly to maintain the reach they were receiving before the algorithm caused a dramatic drop in their organic reach in early 2017. One major shift was in how they approached Facebook’s platform itself. Instead of seeing it as a free social platform, they now treat it like they would any paid Software as a Service (SaaS) tool, accepting the fact that it performs best when a healthy budget is used to promote content strategically to targeted audiences.
Smart organizations have a social media strategy that includes a calculated use of promoted posts to help boost both their targeted and organic reach. This means that they are not only able to control whom and to a certain extent, how many people will see a particular post, but they also increase the post’s organic reach to the followers of their page.
This is a tactic that smaller nonprofits may struggle to execute well without the budget to allocate for this specific purpose. However, we have seen that nonprofits that choose to prioritize paid promotion have continued to build a large, engaged audience with content that has achieved phenomenal reach—the kind that many organizations dream of. That is why we think it is worth allocating budget, even if it’s small.
This leads us into our second tactic focusing on the types of content organizations post. Organizations that couple proper budget with strategic content see a much larger return on reach, engagement, and organic reach for the money they are investing.
It is also useful to note that the benefits of such a strategic focus within the platform are not only reaped by the organization’s community on Facebook, but also has significant implications for their websites. More often than not, the larger the reach an organization has on Facebook, the more visitors they can direct to their website, either as a result of campaign landing pages, blog posts, or other links posted in their boosted social content.
Gone are the days where organizations could create a piece of content and then schedule it across all their platforms at the same time. Even though posting content on a consistent basis on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social accounts is a great way to grow followers and fan engagement over time, efforts have seen increasingly diminished returns when the content isn’t customized for each platform.
The more the content itself is optimized toward the respective platform’s algorithm (video content with captions, timely and relevant hashtags, mentions, style of writing, etc.), the more success the organization will see in achieving its growth goals through the platform.
Consider the following when posting on Facebook:
These factors can be strategized by going into the Insights section of your Facebook page and noting which types of content continually perform best for you, what types of audiences are most engaged, and at what times. You must first understand what performs best for your target audience, and then optimize the content around what the audience data is saying.
One easy way to gain powerful data is by collaborating with peer organizations and brands who are reaching similar audiences on similar issues to identify trends in audience and content performance over a period of time.
Many savvy organizations are also effective at connecting their messaging to those of influencers and growing movements online, such as the #MeToo movement. Aligning your message with broader digital movements can be beneficial because your content has the potential to be promoted by influencers with incredibly engaged followers and then promoted organically by others through shares and tagging in the comments.
This is a great way to build followers, show the importance and relevance of your organization’s messaging, and protect your content from any changes in the algorithm that would hurt a brand account’s organic reach. In a study conducted in 2018, DBT analyzed and tracked the reach and impression performance of several nonprofit Facebook accounts and found that most platforms have a trend toward favoring content that is shared organically by regular Facebook users.
In other words, the more shares a post receives by organic Facebook users, the more likely it is to be placed in front of their networks who will share it and increase the overall organic reach of the post.
While a post on your organization’s main page may only reach 2% of your overall followers and fans, you can organically place your content in groups of highly engaged people who want to talk about a specific topic. Facebook Groups are a great place to do this. Many groups have specific topic and guidelines to help maintain the integrity of the conversations taking place in the group, providing a high quality atmosphere for your organization’s relevant posts.
Some organizations are also spending a significant amount of time building up their own groups and even their own messenger campaign. There are very compelling reasons why your organization should consider doing this— Messenger bots are a great tool for nonprofits that are experiencing lower email engagement and want another digital tool through which to help guide their followers up the ladder of engagement.
In general, it can be helpful to shift your focus from pushing content through your organization’s main page toward smaller, one-on-one, more personal channels like Facebook Groups and Messenger. Think creatively about how you can continue to reach more followers in new, personal, and engaging ways.
Studies like this report on how nonprofits spend their time on social media show that most nonprofits have no consistent metrics tracking practices to complete their social media strategy. This is a key piece in differentiating those organizations that are winning on social from those who are experiencing average, static results.
The more your organization understands how your reach and engagement are performing week over week, month over month, and quarterly, the more informed strategic decisions you can make about the tactics listed above. While Facebook Insights offers a broad view of current and recent performance, many nonprofits are finding the need to supplement platform-provided metrics with their own reporting.
The highest-performing nonprofits on social media study their metrics daily, challenging themselves to outperform their growth goals in spite of changing platforms and user behavior. Nonprofits that hope to win along with them must do the same.
Abigail Ahoude is Research Analyst at Do Big Things. Written with Avery Lord, Digital Technology Director.