Facebook’s experiments with its news feed are a reminder that both publishers and brands can’t take organic reach for granted on social platforms.

Last month, in response to user feedback, Facebook introduced the Explore feed, a news feed separate from the default news feed, as part of an initiative to separate ‘Personal’ posts from ‘Public’ posts from news brands. However, in six of its smaller markets Facebook went a step further and removed all organic posts from the original news feed, meaning all organic posts from news organisations and other brands were now ‘hidden’ in the new explore feed.

The change saw organic reach on Facebook for some of the leading news publishers in these territories fall by 60-80%. This move has prompted fears in the region about freedom of the press and has rung alarm bells more locally about the threat this could pose to news businesses who rely to a greater or lesser extent on traffic from Facebook.
Unsurprisingly, this change did not affect paid posts, raising the prospect of more spend having to be allocated to promote posts that would have previously achieved good organic reach. Facebook has made it clear for some time that in future brands can expect to assume their organic reach on the platform will fall to zero. However, this move also raises the same question about third-party influencers and news publishers that brands use to reach their audience organically on Facebook-owned platforms.

As it stands, the Facebook algorithm heavily favours paid content to the extent that influencers are struggling to reach new audiences even when the quality of the content and engagement is high. If Facebook rolls out this update globally this could spell the end of organic reach on the platform. For a company that promises to put user experience first, serving people content based on the spend behind it rather than its engagement or relevance could backfire. The benefit of organic branded content is its native seamless approach to getting users attention and the quality of the content itself. If spend has to be taken away from content creation and moved into media spend then both brands and the audience will miss out.

This is a reminder, if one were needed, that brands and influencers should invest in their owned assets because they risk having the carpet pulled from under them if they spend too much time building a profile on Facebook.