Tell Me This: Is It Possible to Still Get Organic Reach?

The Social Media Insider has (yet another) confession to make: if she could write about just anything this week, it would be the news that HBO and CBS are both planning to offer subscriber-based streaming services. And to think that cable companies used to deny that cord-cutting was a thing!

But, alas, as there’s nothing very social about holing up in one’s house and binge-watching “Game of Thrones,” I’m using this week’s column to ask for some social media advice that I hope will also benefit loyal readers.  (I know -- the columnist is supposed to give the advice, not take it. But if you have an issue, go whine about it on Twitter.)

Here’s what I need to know: Is it possible to get organic reach anymore -- and, if so, how and where are you achieving it?

I ask this because I’ve confronted this problem myself lately, as I spend some of my time in the World Without Ad Budgets. For these types of entities, social media used to be even more of a dream come true than it was for major marketers. Finally, a way to do an end-run around all of the gatekeepers of older forms of media! No nasty editors to deal with, and no need to scrape together money for a one-time ad placement that likely produces hard-to-measure results!



But, as we all know, things have changed. As the trade press has mentioned, organic reach has plummeted. Hell, Facebook has admitted as much. However, I wonder repeatedly if it’s time to admit defeat and declare organic reach officially dead. It seems to be on Facebook, as well as   Twitter -- unless you’re lucky enough to make an extremely witty quip about a #sharknado -- but what of other platforms? Are people still seeing organic reach on Instagram, Pinterest, or LinkedIn? Or are those platforms, too, swimming in so much content that almost nothing floats to the top unless it is paid?

Please reply below. The Social Media Insider really wants to know.

9 comments about "Tell Me This: Is It Possible to Still Get Organic Reach? ".
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  1. Brad Stewart from Molecule Inc., October 17, 2014 at 2:51 p.m.

    If you're talking about reach that has an appreciable business impact, the answer has been "no" for a few years. With the single exception of google page rank, which is synonymous with the word "organic". Biased here, but YouTube does offer opportunity for reach and improved ranking. Not in the millions of eyeballs but certainly in the 10's of thousands.

  2. Doug Schumacher from Zuum, October 17, 2014 at 3:30 p.m.

    Thanks for posting that -- definitely a topic of broad concern.

    Based on various organic reach data I’ve seen for Facebook, it’s down to anywhere from 1-5% of the community. And probably not going up. The real problem is what Josh Constine at TechCrunch called the ‘filtered feed’ problem. There’s simply too much content and not enough user time to go around.

    Regarding the other networks, I haven’t seen the same level of reach-based data presented, but one data point I’ve looked at quite a bit is the ratio of engagements to community members, on a per post average. While not directly tied to reach, if content is not reaching people, they won’t be able to engage.

    Viewed in that light, Instagram is consistently performing well above the rest of the field. Of course, if Instagram has as many users and brands active on the platform as Facebook, they’d probably be in a similar situation in terms of how much brand content can make it’s way to a fan impression.

    Here’s a report we just published -- Social Media Benchmarks Across 5 Industries -- that details the community size and engagement levels of 6 major social networks across 5 industries.

    Hope that helps.

  3. James Welty from vdR Group, October 17, 2014 at 3:37 p.m.

    Good content equals organic reach. The trick is in creating distinctive content that rises above the noise like many companies are already doing as shown on (not mine). The notion that organic is dead has traditionally been true for flat content on other media too, so nothing new here. However, only successful content companies know what their organic reach really is.

  4. Steven Poley from Daily Radio Deals, October 17, 2014 at 3:44 p.m.

    Thank you for the candor. Masters of the media universe exposed ... you get what you pay for. Organic may have worked 10-years ago but the networks are now optimized for their own revenue and maximized for immediate engagement. Even when a niche reveals itself the networks take action to bid up CPC$. Just hope you can capture more value than your CPC.

  5. Maarten Albarda from Flock Associates (USA), October 17, 2014 at 4:32 p.m.

    Hi Catherine: I think there are two answers. If your aim is mass reach and (immediate) consumer impact than the answer is no apart from a few flash in the pan moments like Oreo or the Samsung selfie. But that is not a viable strategy but a hope-to-strike-it-lucky tactic. And even those, although #zeropaidmedia in actual media cost had a whole team of people and process involved which arguably cost money. The second answer is that, as a person, you can still generate and build your social standing without reverting to the "Pay $50 for 1000 real Twitter follower" tactics. When I started on each of the social media I use, I had zero followers, and today those numbers reach in the 1,000's. That is an incredibly small number and does not amount to much, but what I can tell you is that these contacts are all "real" (i.e. a person or a business that I accepted). The same has been accomplished on FB, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. It goes incredibly slow so for business purposes it is not a viable strategy. Even if you are a more well known brand than me-as-a-person, you will grow your reach too slowly to be able to make any of these social media avenues a viable and impactful marketing option. So I guess the answer is pay-up to accelerate (this means investing in both content as well as paid-placements like sponsored tweets, posts, search, etc.). Once you are at a level where the reach growth stops, lower/stop the dollars in building reach and only invest in content creation and dissemination.

  6. Ruth Barrett from, October 17, 2014 at 4:33 p.m.

    We are seeking organic reach using a specialized search engine with plans to interconnect like-minded organizations by customizing our engine to their look/feel and our aggregated and original video content to their audience. It's a variation on the PBS model adapted to meeting the objective with a search strategy, based on a taxonomy, to increase sustainability awareness. We anticipated this problem seven years ago when I founded, voices of sustainability after thirty years in high tech, four with a database company. Ultimately, we are talking partnership and collaboration to meet non-commercial goals of educating our children, increasing sustainability awareness, and bringing unfiltered voices to the fore. My progress has been hampered by the lack of knowledge on the part of the non-profit leadership of the challenge. The horse is nearly out the barn door.

  7. Jim Anderson from SocialFlow, October 17, 2014 at 5:23 p.m.

    Yes, organic reach is still possible. The quality of the content is an important factor, but one other important consideration is the gross ineffectiveness of scheduling your content. We recently published a white paper (Google it if you're interested) analyzing 1.6 million posts through our platform, and found that scheduling is the *worst* way to publish your content. A data-driven approach that predictively slots your quality content into the right windows of attention makes a huge difference. As other commenters have noted, there is too much content competing for what is essentially a fixed amount of consumer attention. Technology can help your content navigate this congestion so that it actually is noticed.

  8. Todd Randolph from in.apropos media, October 20, 2014 at 12:31 p.m.

    Catherine, your answer may be right on mediapost. I reposted a recent article about a 2014 study that examined viewer behavior (heatmapping) relative to 2005 when the google SERP looked very different. Turns out though that organic can still be a winning play, you just have to do it at the category and the item level. (

    +1 to Maarten's comment on social. yes it works; no, it ain't a quick fix.

  9. Adriana L Kogelis from Sears, November 3, 2014 at 5:31 p.m.

    Yes, it's possible with captivating content. However, the algorithm changes that continue to dominate the social media industry (YouTube, Google, Facebook, Twitter) make it more of a science. Social is akin to search these days where SEO still provides organic results provided the strategy, content and latest algorithms are in sync with your site. You also need to do a strong paid search strategy, just as you need to do with social at this point. Social is now of a scientific approach to organic traffic and more pay-to-play.

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