A Second Test: Are Brands Organically Reaching the Facebook News Feed?

Brands Reach Facebook News Feed

[AUDIO VERSION: As an experiment, I also recorded an audio version of this blog post. Click below to listen. Let me know if this is something you find helpful!]

Back in December, many (but not all) brands began seeing a drop in Organic Reach. The immediate reaction was that Facebook was squeezing brands to force them to pay for advertising.

To test this theory, I ran an experiment of my own News Feed covering a 24 hour period. What I found then was that 28.4% of the content I saw in my News Feed came from 38 different brands who didn’t pay a penny to reach me.

More than three months have passed since then. Have things changed? Is the composition of my News Feed any different?

What I found was quite surprising. The composition of my News Feed has indeed changed, but not the way you’d expect.

The Experiment

The methods of my experiment three months ago and today were nearly identical. I did the following…

  • Sorted my News Feed by “Most Recent”
  • Documented the source of every story in my News Feed covering a 24-hour period
  • If a post came from a friend, I marked it as “Friend”
  • If a post came (organically) from a brand, I marked it as “Page” and noted the name of the page
  • If a post was an ad, I marked it as “Ad”

I decided to dig a little bit deeper this time, however, and I also noted any time a brand was given free advertising by my friends via commenting, liking, sharing and checking in. I marked these posts as “Friends – Page I Don’t Like.”

Results: The First Experiment

Distribution of Filtered Facebook News Feed Stories by Source

First, let’s recap what I found three months ago…

  • 373 Total Stories
  • 239 Stories from Friends (64.1%)
  • 106 Organic Stories from Pages (28.4%)
  • 25 Ads (6.7%)
  • 3 Stories from Lists (0.8%)

Keep in mind that for some time now, Facebook has shown — on average — about 300 of a possible 1,500 or so stories to the typical user on an average day. I was seeing a bit more than that.

Of the 106 organic page posts I saw, several brands reached me multiple times. In fact, there were three brands that reached me 10 times or more during that 24-hour period.

I concluded that my News Feed did not reflect what was being reported. If brands were getting squeezed — if they were forced to pay to reach me — I’d expect to see fewer organic page posts. But I feel 28.4% is a very healthy percentage.

And if brands could only reach me by paying, I expected to see more ads. But 6.7% seemed to be a reasonable percentage.

Results: The Second Experiment

Facebook News Feed Distribution Jon Loomer

Three months later, did anything change? You bet it did…

  • 484 Total Stories
  • 245 Total Stories from Friends (50.6%)
  • 227 Organic Stories from Pages (46.9%)
  • 10 Ads (2.1%)
  • 2 Stories from Groups (0.4%)

Three months ago, I noted that I was seeing 24.3% more stories in my News Feed than the typical user (Facebook said to expect around 300). Now, I’m seeing 61.3% more than the typical user and 29.8% more than I saw three months ago.

But of course, that’s not the big news here. The biggest news is the quantity of organic page posts I am seeing. Nearly half (46.9%) of my News Feed is composed of organic posts from brands. And those 227 posts came from 74 different pages.

Reminder: I saw 106 organic posts from 38 different pages three months ago.

I rarely like pages. I can promise you that the number of pages I like now is virtually unchanged from three months ago. The 374 pages I like represent an accumulation over my seven years on Facebook.

Now, something I didn’t measure three months ago was how my friends were also helping share brand messages. The addition of this data makes the prevalence of organic brand-related content all-the-more startling.

Of the 245 stories I saw from friends, 49 (20%) promoted a brand in some way by checking in (17), sharing a page photo (10), liking a page (8), sharing a page link (6), commenting on a page post (4) or liking a page post (4). Let me reiterate: None of these were ads.

So we could take this a step further. Of the 484 total stories I saw, 276 (57.0%) were organic posts that promoted brands in some way. These are startling numbers.

Facebook News Feed Distribution Jon Loomer

Oh, and you know how the common refrain right now is that brands can only reach you by paying for ads, right? Well, only 2.1% of my News Feed stories (down from 6.7% three months ago) were ads.

A Few Notes on Weaknesses

First, the obvious: This is an extremely small sample size. I am only one user. What I see does not reflect what you see.

Second, I can’t be sure about how much I’m not seeing. However, I do have evidence that I see a very high percentage of page content. As mentioned earlier, I only like 374 pages in all, and many of these are now inactive. I did a quick check of all movies I like, and the only one that posted during the past 24 hours showed up in my News Feed.

To suggest that 20% of the pages I’ve liked over several years were active during a single 24-hour period is actually quite reasonable.

Third, maybe I like a lot of pages that are favored by Facebook. The brands who showed up most frequently were big brands who posted a lot like Bleacher Report (19), The Onion (19), Mashable (16) and Tech Crunch (12). These brands certainly weren’t being kept from my News Feed, but they are also considered “news” pages that may get some favoritism.

However, that doesn’t explain why I also saw stories from much smaller brands like these (number of likes in parentheses):

  • Alyssa Griffeth Real Estate (72)
  • golfcolorado9holes.com (89)
  • Osgood Team – Rocky Mountain Real Estate Advisors (213)
  • BeManaged (250)
  • Moody Eyes (303)
  • Ad Club Denver (831)
  • Rely Local Douglas County (1,112)
  • Brew Crew Ball (1,362)
  • Christopher S. Penn (1,372)
  • Naked Specs (1,416)
  • Powers Collectibles LLC (1,614)
  • Webonize: Online Marketing for Small Business (1,837)
  • Parker Colorado Community Blog (2,365)
  • My Kids’ Adventures (2,542)
  • Roto Arcade (4,077)
  • Mike Gingerich .com (4,271)
  • Carla Neggers (6,953)
  • Share 4 Kids Foundation (8,551)
  • The Nonprofit Facebook Guy (9,762)
  • AdEspresso (11,411)
  • Grandma Mary (11,692)
  • Beth Kanter (14,693)
  • Inbound Zombie (17,001)
  • Econsultancy (24,498)

That’s 24 pages that I had eyeballed as ones that would have smaller audiences. There could have been more.

Finally, results are fluid. Maybe something crazy happened during the 24-hour period I analyzed. Maybe there was a bug in filtering. Maybe brands posted far more frequently than they do typically, which slanted my results.


What Does It All Mean?

Now, I’m not going to make any grand proclamations about how my own results are proof that something definitely is or isn’t happening. But I have a theory regarding why I see what I see.

I won’t argue whether Organic Reach is down. That’s not debatable for most pages. What could be up for debate is the accuracy of that data since we repeatedly see bugs and inconsistencies with Reach data.

However, I know that many brands have seen a drop in measurable actions as well. While I’m not convinced Reach means much of anything, a drop in actions is certainly convincing that something is going on.

And yet, I’m seeing a TON of organic content from brands. Why?

Facebook can’t harm user experience and be successful. So it’s in their best interests to allow users to see the brand content they want to see. And Facebook knows which content that is through user actions.

So I believe that we’re still seeing just as many brand posts as we’ve always seen. Maybe even more, if you take my latest results seriously. For this to happen while so many brands have seen a drop in Reach, however, Facebook needs to be concentrating my News Feed with content I engage with most.

That doesn’t mean that the system is perfect. Some good brands may be getting harmed in the process. But some brands are seeing no change in — or even improved — Reach since December. And based on my latest experiment, this is not surprising.

That’s a theory. It’s still difficult to explain the doubling of organic brand content I saw in this latest experiment, but we can also go back to the “small sample size” explanation in that case.

Bottom line is that the results are interesting. They don’t reflect the overwhelming sentiment from brands that we’re approaching the Organic Reach Apocalypse.

Lesson: Post Frequently

This is the one lesson that appears clear from my results: If you want to reach more people, post frequently.

Of the 74 big and small brands who reached my News Feed during a 24-hour period, 41 posted multiple times. In fact, 29 posted three times or more.

I’ve said it repeatedly, but I’ll say it again: Stop obsessing over the reach of a single post. Reach more people by posting multiple times per day. Measure your reach over a given day or week rather than on a post-by-post basis.

Understand that even though 74 brands reached me, I wasn’t on Facebook for 24 hours. I only saw those posts because I ran this experiment. I didn’t notice the vast majority of those posts.

That’s not Facebook’s fault. That’s understanding that users aren’t on Facebook 24 hours per day. Post throughout the day to give yourself more chances to reach your audience!

Your Turn

I encourage you to run a similar experiment. What are you seeing? And how do you explain the results?

Let me know in the comments below!

  • Afonso Malheiro

    Hey Jon, without disqualifying the age-old idea that Facebook is just getting us to buy ads, my feeling (no global stats to back this up) about Reach right now is that Facebook is being even more rigorous about measuring and showing engaging content. And, for that, they’re using smaller groups of users who liked a certain page to measure the post’s engagement and then decide the rate at which it’s shown to more users.

    Which means “sales” posts can be even more penalized.

  • Renato

    Hi Jon, if posting multiple times is the answer, do you recommend reposting the same content for those who haven’t seen it the first time?

    • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

      Definitely not, Renato. Unique content each time.

  • stevenaitchison

    Hi Jon

    Another great post.

    I have seen an up and down graph with reach over the last 4 months, but it seems to have stabilised over the last few months.

    My reach is now steady at an average of 2.2 million, this period, as opposed to an average of 251k last period, and I am seeing more organic stories in my newsfeed as well, but I haven’t tested it :)

    One tip I would give to facebook users is to only post 2-3 times per day. I have tested this a lot and went from publishing 6 posts per day right down to 2 posts per day at peak times, usually 2pm (GMT) and 2am (GMT). I find the organic reach gets much higher if you allow the post to marinate, so to speak, whereas if you post more than 3 times per day, the natural organic reach of a post gets stopped by adding a new post.

    And of course look at posting content that has the potential to go viral, I tend to value shares over likes and that’s what I focus on when posting content.

    • Beth

      I think that — posting only 2-3 times a day — depends upon your topic. Three of the brand pages I manage are very visual. My tests have shown that posting more frequently works best. I’ve done as much as a post an hour from 8am to 5pm and then one or two later in the day. Different material probably would benefit from time to “soak in” but for these brands, frequent posts work. When I only post 2-3 times a day, our numbers go down.

      • stevenaitchison

        That’s interesting Beth, what is your field of interest? Just curious to know.

  • http://www.robertlyon.org/ Robert A Lyon

    I started making use of the ‘pin to top’ feature a few weeks back for several reasons, one being to try to measure the number of people going directly to my page rather than seeing the post in news feed. What I’ve discovered is that Facebook’s reach reporting seems inaccurate. For example, the current pinned post from about three days ago started with 389 people saw this post. That number hasn’t changed at all since it’s been pinned to the top, however the post has gone from 25 likes to 28 likes, 4 shares to 6 shares. At the same time, other older post reach is increasing and and there’s other factors that don’t seem to jive. The point is something does seen fishy with the reporting accuracy, however like you’re constantly hammering, I’m trying my best to create content my fans enjoy, and post as frequently as possible.

  • http://jasoncurlee.me/ Jason Curlee

    I love it when people freak out over all this Jon. I’ve just kept my course. Offer multiple content at least 8 to 15 posts a day with a variety of types of posts through the day. Some posts bomb. Some hit home runs. Overall my page continues to reach my audience as well as grow in likes. Those that want to still see success on Facebook will. Create engaging and helpful content for your audience and it will reach them.

    • ijenti

      Jason, I have been managing our page for awhile now and I would like to receive more activity but very limited on ad budget. Right now my monthly budget it $20.00 and I use it for a new blog post on a promoted post. When you post 8 to 15 post a day do you post on your most active day from the insight? ~Madeline

      • http://jasoncurlee.me/ Jason Curlee

        Madeline, I post that amount every single day. Key is work to create engaging content. Content that people will like, comment or share. Think outside your box and what you may like. Think what your audience would like. I do look at insights and when most people are on through the day. For my page from 5pm to 9pm is when my audience is on Facebook. So I typically I will make sure I post every hour during those times and the rest of the day I space out.

  • Gec

    Hey Jon,

    Methinks, you should not have sorted by “most recent”. Virtually nobody does that. As much as I like,appreciate, and USE the information you post on your blog, I must say that this experiment is flawed. You should have sorted by Top stories, like everyone else.

    I challenge you to do just that now: See the top stories and count 100 posts and but them in buckets, then see most recent and count 100 posts and put them in buckets :-) see if you get the same numbers.


    • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

      Nope. Facebook’s been clear that sorting by Most Recent does not remove filtering. If it now does, it’s not only a huge development but one more reason why brands shouldn’t be crying.

      • http://www.socialmediachica.com/ Stacy-Ann Hayles | Social Medi

        “Most Recent’ doesn’t remove filtering? This is news to me. I think if I set up my profile as Most Recent, I should be permitted to see everything in the order they are posted. Doesn’t make sense to me

        • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

          Nope, always been filtered.

      • ASockUp

        Whether facebook filters the results or not, it is obviously filtered differently. I’m not sure why you would have based your entire experiment using a feature that very few people use.

  • Simon Stebbing

    24 hours of my news feed showed 62% of my posts were non-paid page posts. I have 60% more friends than pages I have liked. The 34% of posts that came from pages I’ve liked came from only 10% of all the pages I’d liked.

    • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

      Interesting! I’d be curious to know how many of the pages you’ve liked actually posted within that 24 hours. Like I said above, seeing 20% of the pages I liked represented seemed very reasonable — even high — given many of these pages are likely inactive.

      • Simon Stebbing

        Not sure where my earlier reply to your curiosity went, but of the pages I’d liked who posted, only 1 in 6 didn’t make my news feed. 88% of my liked pages either didn’t post (72%) or can’t post (16% – e.g., “jazz”).

  • Shelly Turner

    Great post, John. I too see inconsistencies with the reach data that Facebook provides. This weekend I posted a new cover photo for a customer. Facebook data shows that 34 people saw it, but 53 people liked it. ?

    Also, maybe you can answer a question for me. I never, ever see promoted posts in my news feed. Never. I’ve seen them on my husband’s feed and other friends and customers, but I never, ever see them. I’ve looked at my settings and don’t even see a choice to block them so I’m not sure why this is. I’m a marketing consultant an manage more than 30 business pages. Maybe that number of pages under my admin have something to do with it? I would like to see them to know how other brands and advertisers use them. Any suggestions?

    • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

      Yeah, Facebook’s had a bug regarding cover photo shares for quite a long time now. As long as I can remember. One more reason not to put much stock in the metric.

      I’ve never heard of your issue with not seeing ads, Shelly!

  • Beth

    I handle the Facebook pages for 4 different brands, one of which is very new so it has less than 600 followers and no money yet for ads. The shift in organic reach I’ve seen has been small. I’ll ignore the new brand page in this because they could skew the results but the other three established brand pages have either held steady or only had small decreases. I put a heavy focus on sharing useable, relevant content that our followers find entertaining or interesting. I think that’s why we’re doing fine.

    Like you, I agree that posting frequently is one of the keys. On the days we post less, we don’t do as well.

    Keep it interesting, keep it relevant, be personable if possible and post often — that’s the key.

    • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

      Good stuff!

    • ijenti

      When you post frequently does that include a share from other page or original content? ~Madeline

  • http://halthomas.com Hal Thomas

    I was under the impression that sorting your News Feed by Most Recent shows all posts from friends and pages liked (minus personal customizations), and that it is only under the Most Popular sort (which the News Feed defaults to every 24 hours no matter how many times you change it) that posts from friends and brands are “squeezed” as you put it. Is this not the case?

    • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

      Nope. Facebook has made it clear for some time that even “Most Recent” is filtered. It’s just in chronological order.

  • http://tarletonecampus.blogspot.com Dr. Anthony C. Edwards

    Thanks for doing this, @jonloomer:disqus. I think part of the concern is that brands have gotten used to posting several times a day on Twitter and once or twice a day on Facebook. Brands will have to post more often on Facebook to be seen but it stands a better chance of being seen if it’s content individuals find engaging and want to share.

    • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

      Good point!

  • Blake Jamieson

    Good stuff Jon! My only question is – do you think (most) people sort by ‘most recent’? Seems like that will affect the data (of what is actually shown) quite a bit.

    • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

      I don’t know, Blake. But since the info is filtered either way, I don’t see why it would make much of a difference.

      • Blake Jamieson

        The way I understand it (could be off here)… ‘most recent’ will only filter out the stories from people/pages I explicitly “unfollow” or click “hide stories from newsfeed.” Outside of that, I thought it was just real-time collection of posts from friends/liked pages. If ‘most recent’ is, in fact filtered, can you post a link to the FB’s docs about how? I didn’t see it in Facebook help anywhere.

    • http://www.antoniocalero.com/ Antonio Calero

      @blakejamieson:disqus: I did some research on this topic some months ago. With responses from nearly 500 people in 5 countries (US, UK, AU, Spain, Italy), being none of them a Social Media or Digital Marketing expert (thus, average users) my findings were:
      1) Most of them were not aware of this option
      2) From those who were aware of this option, most of them didn’t change it, unless…
      3) On specific days they get very pissed with a lot of irrelevant content.

      I do not have my figures with me at the moment, but I’m happy to share them, although my sample size was not large enough and I’m not sure how accurate my findings would be for other audiences (e.g.: computer skilled users, etc…)

  • jaoxygen

    My data from the last 24h:

    Pages I like: 68,56%
    Groups: 2,68%
    Pages via friends: 8,70%
    Friends: 17,06%
    Ads: 3,01%

    My details: 798 pages I like, 239 friends. Country: Spain.

    • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

      Wow. That’s a lot of page-related content!

  • Yasmin Chrzescijanski

    Just did a test for the last 4 hours (i meant to stop at 100 posts but got distracted)-
    10 Group news items
    21 Friend posts
    17 Page post due to a friend’s interaction
    56 Page posts; and
    7 Sponsored stories (including yours)

    I do “like” a lot of pages (1070) and have 442 friends

  • Emeric

    Hey Jon, that’s an interesting test! However, I think displaying the content with the “most recent” filter inroduces a serious bias as to the results. I’m pretty much convinced that 99% of users just go with the default filter, and pretty sure the default filter uses an algorithm that is different, and may be the cause for the decrease in reach that most admins are experiencing. My 2 cents.

    In any events, your experiment show one thing: there is way more content from pages than from friends in that newsfeed, and the average users is probably not interested in seeing that many pieces of content from brands and too few pieces from friends, so edgerank is definitely a necessity!

  • RealJDDuran

    My biggest question with this is ratio. How many friends do you have vs how many pages you like, wouldn’t that influence the results in a big way? And if so, how much? I haven’t run any data yet, but browsing through my news feed, it’s mostly friends and any brands I see are what you would call “big brands”. This is pretty interesting stuff and I hope that the results of this experiment is more true to what I personally see on my news feed. Either way, great work Jon.

  • http://www.somethingfabulous.com.au Lynn Crow

    Great research!!! A question, if I boost a page post to my page likers only, does this show as a paid ad in their newsfeed or does it appear as an organic post? I have just completed a course with Facebook to learn a little more about Facebook advertising and my tutor confirmed that now just because someone has liked my page it does not mean they will see my posts. She suggested to boost individual posts to my page likers to make sure that they see the post. A sales pitch or an indication of the direction of organic page posts?

  • TheMikeBal

    Sorry if I’m late to the discussion. Do you think this data is somewhat skewed because most of us are marketers and ‘like’ more brand pages than the average person?

    Also – for posting frequency – I’ve seen that pages that have little engagement to begin with do in fact get penalized for posting more often. I’ve chalked it up to a negative impact in average post engagement but I was wondering what the engagement metrics look like per post for you?

    Explained: If you’re getting consistent engagement on all of your posts, posting more often should help. But if you’re not getting much engagement, posting more often should hurt.

  • JDK

    hey Jon, why don’t you run the experiment again, this time including a wider sample of your readers willing to participate (like myself)? :)

  • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

    I like, comment and share VERY rarely on page content. And I can say confidently that I haven’t done any of that during the past day or week.

  • Geoff

    I also think that your results are extremely optimistic as in the last month shares and reach is 20% of what it used to be (80% reduction). Actions dropped by almost 80% as well. Sometimes I (the page admin) can’t see the page posts in my newfeed and I only have 3 pages that I liked with 10 friends. From my own experience reach is important – there is a direct correlation between reach and actions. I’ve had huge engagement before the change with hundreds of comments per post and thousands of shares – it all vanished within a day like someone flicked a switch.