Advertisers were the first to get the Facebook treatment: encouraged to build big followings on the social network, they enjoyed the salad days of wide organic reach for free, before Facebook gradually put the screws on – altering the algorithm and shrinking their reach in the name of user experience (which just coincidentally forces the advertisers to start paying).
Now it seems Facebook is pulling the same bait and switch with publishers, judging by a new study from social publishing platform. SocialFlow, which found that media companies have seen their average audiences per story decline by 42% from January to May of this year.
According to SocialFlow data cited by the Financial Times, the average reach for a story posted on Facebook has plunged from 117,000 in January to just 68,000 in May. The numbers are based on SocialFlow’s own customer base, who publish around half a million stories per month on Facebook. This suggests that Facebook has once again tweaked the algorithm which determines what content appears in users’ news feeds, this time ratcheting down publishers’ reach.
Separately, another study from analytics firm SocialWhip found that the combined activity for the ten biggest English-language publishers on Facebook fell from 287 million engagements per month in July 2015 to 162 million per month in April of this year, for a 44% decline over this period.
Given its reputation for opacity, it’s anyone’s guess what Facebook’s motives are: some media watchers speculate execs are concerned about an apparent drop in the amount of personal content posted on the site, and want to give users a greater share of voice to coax them into sharing more.
Another (and not mutually exclusive) possibility is that Facebook, having hooked them with free audiences, will now force publishers to pay for wider reach for their posts, just as it did with advertisers. Yet again proving the wisdom of the old adage: there is, indeed, no such thing as a free lunch.