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Organic Reach on

Social Media
The Uphill Battle for Nonprofits

By: Mikayla McCormic

Abstract
The goal of nonprofit organizations is to reach as many
people as possible with their mission, and hope it will make a
difference in the corporations life. Recently, Facebook has
changed the way its News Feed generates content for users,
and incidentally causing nonprofit posts from reaching
around 16% of their followers organically to only reaching
around 2%, if they are lucky. Many web analysts have
already tried to tackle this reach scare, but they have all
come to a similar conclusion: destruction is imminent.

However, this does not mean the death of nonprofits on


Facebook. Despite its (possibly intentional) algorithm that
almost requires organizations to pay money for a larger
outreach, there is light at the end of the tunnel when it
comes to Facebook post engagement. As long as posts are
focused and easy for followers to engage, a lot of
organizations can still consider Facebook to be an asset. As
long as they are not putting all of their eggs in one social
media basket, nonprofits like United Way of Central Ohio
can continue to thrive; they just might have to pay a little
extra first.

2 exacttarget.com
Title of Whitepaper Here

Title of Whitepaper
exacttarget.com
Here 2

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The Beginning of the End


My research into the decline
Thousands of nonprofit organizations use social media,
like Facebook, to spread the word about campaigns,
events, needed donations, and even animals in need of
adoption (in the case of animal shelters). With so many
people in the world staying constantly connected via
smartphones, laptops, tablets, and so on it is a strong
tactic for these organizations to use social media to
spread the word and reach their fans effectively and
efficiently.

On average, there are 1,500 stories that


could appear in a persons News Feed
each time they log onto Facebook. For
people with lots of friends and Page likes,
as many as 15,000 potential stories could
appear any time they log on.
-Brian Boland, VP of Advertising Technology for
Facebook1

FIG. 1 Example of unboosted Facebook post by United Way of Central Ohio 3

Key Words
The
Problem

These are a few key terms that are important to know


throughout this paper:

Facebook developed an algorithm for the News Feed that


filters out any posts that might not appeal to a user.
Typically, a nonprofits post would reach about 16% of its
followers. However, beginning in 2012 Facebook has
changed its algorithm in such a way that only roughly 6%
of followers will see an organizations post. This means
that for every 100,000 people who like/follow a nonprofit s
page, only 600 people will actually see the post without
the organization paying to have the post boosted. 2 The
question is then, how do you increase organic reach
without paying a Facebook fee and costing the
organization money? Is this the death of nonprofits on this
social medium?

Organic Reach - the total number of people who were


shown an organizations post through unpaid distribution.
Paid Reach the total number of people who were shown
an organizations post through boosting.
Boosting the act of paying a fee for a post to be
broadcasted across a larger Facebook audience.

Boland
Zeigenfuse

3 exacttarget.com
Title of Whitepaper Here

United Way Facebook

Title of Whitepaper
exacttarget.com
Here 3

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5

Tackling the Issue

Fun Fact
United Way of Central Ohio, just like any other nonprofit organization, has been
feeling the sting of Facebooks new algorithm. Figures 2 and 3 illustrate the
constant decline of organic reach since Facebook announced its new News Feed
algorithm. There is even research on the different types of posts an organization
can make and how well they have done between September and October (Figure
4).
During my time there, I noticed a drastic difference between boosted and
unboosted posts. Any of my unboosted posts averaged about 400-700 people
reached (Figure 1), with the exception being Goodwill Columbus hitting over
1,000. I did notice that my more popular posts had pictures of young, smiling
children prominently displayed on top of the link to the United Way web page, so I
tried to implement that tactic as much as I could. Unfortunately, it is hard to fight
fate.

Ogilvy has created its own white


paper on the same subject. If
you are interested in a similar
study, click here for the full
white paper. I used a decent
amount of their finding here, but
they also have more extensive
thoughts and are much funnier.

However, when a post was boosted the average reach went from the hundreds to
the thousands. One post about the Champion of Children event reached over
16,000 people, with over 15,000 of those followers reached because someone
paid for it. Many web analysts, such as Ogilvy, believe that the best way to
survive on the new Facebook algorithm is to adapt and reach as many fans as
possible through four major strategies: 4
1. Focus on engaging content.
2. Diversify your social platforms.
3. Make the case for paid media support.
4. Weigh the cost/benefits of Facebook participation.

The basis for the first suggestion can be found in figure 5. Despite the constantly
decreasing organic reach that organizations are facing, engagement has remained
surprisingly steady. TechCrunch continues to suggest focusing on publishing highquality content. Dont post too often and dont cram marketing down peoples throats.
Be entertaining and informative, follow analytics closely, consider hiring experts that
can help, and refine the strategy an organization takes.5

TechCrunch continues to suggest focusing on


publishing high-quality content. Dont post too often
and dont cram marketing down peoples throats. Be
entertaining and informative, follow analytics
closely, consider hiring experts that can help, and
refine the strategy an organization takes.

Zeigenfuse
Grant

4 exacttarget.com
Title of Whitepaper Here

Title of Whitepaper
exacttarget.com
Here 4

By diversifying social platforms, it allows an organization to remain media neutral


and not become totally dependent on one form of social media for all of the
organizations needs. If there is some sort of campaign that requires constant
updates, dont overload a Facebook page; use Twitter as an always on platform.6
United Way of Central Ohio was really smart about balancing their social media
platforms and catering to each media norm. I often found my Twitter posts to be
much shorter (partly due to the 140 character limit) and punchier than their
Facebook counterparts. However, my pictures were not as important on Twitter and
served me far better on Facebook.
Suggestions 3 and 4 go hand-in-hand, in my opinion. There is no avoiding the
decreased organic reach that Facebook provides, so organizations have to ask
themselves whether or not Facebook is worth the pursuit. Despite the fact that this
could be a money-making scheme on Facebooks part, it is still a potent social
media platform for organizations to spread campaigns. United Way of Central Ohio
continues to use Facebook for that very purpose.

Final Verdict?
It seems like there is no real way to win the battle with Facebook. Despite their
claims that organic reach remains at manageable levels, statistics show that it is
continuing downward on a graph and will soon approach 0% organic outreach.
Whether or not this is intentional on Facebooks part, organizations need to adapt
if they want to continue to have that option. This isnt to say that a nonprofit cant
survive without Facebook by any means, but my research has lead me to
understand that it can be very valuable to maintain the strong engagement and
one-on-one follower connection that Facebook provides. So, my greatest
suggestion is to adapt to this change, embrace it, and continue to produce
engaging content that no follower could pass up. Facebook is a business before
anything else, and should be treated as such in any future endeavor.

Ogilvy
5 exacttarget.com
Title of Whitepaper Here

Title of Whitepaper
exacttarget.com
Here 5

Charts and Graphs

FIG. 2 - AVERAGE POST ORGANIC REACH 10 TH AUG 2 ND NOV, BASED ON 41,051 POSTS MADE BY
274 SAMPLE PAGES IN THE PERIOD. 7

TH

ND

AVERAGE POST ORGANIC REACH 10 AUG 2 NOV, BROKEN DOWN BY PAGE


SIZE, BASED ON 41,051 POSTS MADE BY 274 SAMPLE PAGES IN THE PERIOD.8

7
8

Grant
Grant

FIG. 4 AVERAGE REACH OF DIFFERENT POST TYPES BETWEEN SEPTEMBER AND OCTOBER 9

FIG. 5 - AVERAGE POST ENGAGEMENT RATE 10


274 SAMPLE PAGES IN THE PERIOD.10

Grant
Grant

10

TH

ND

AUG 2

NOV, BASED ON 41,051 POSTS MADE BY

Works Cited

Boland, Brian. "Organic Reach on Facebook: Your Questions Answered."Facebook for


Business. Facebook, 5 June 2014. Web. 02 May 2015.

Grant, Robin. "Facebook Has Decreased Page Reach, And Heres Why."TechCrunch. We Are
Social, 16 Nov. 2012. Web. 02 May 2015.

Manson, Marshall. "Facebook Zero: Considering Life After the Demise of Organic
Reach." Social@Ogilvy. Ogilvy, 5 Mar. 2015. Web. 02 May 2015.

"United Way of Central Ohio." Facebook. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 May 2015.

Zeigenfuse, Emily, and Sarah Van Velsor. "Abstract: Overcoming Facebook Zero for Health:
Strategies for Managing the Decline in Organic Facebook Reach." Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention. National Conference on Health Communication,
Marketing, and Media, n.d. Web. 02 May 2015.

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