The issue of reach and engagement with content published to Facebook can cause a massive amount of angst for businesses big and small. If it’s bothering you, you are definitely not alone! But in case you are new to the topic let’s clarify a few terms.
Reach is the number of people who who receive a post or update you publish, in their personal news-feed. Generally this refers to just those who have liked (or followed) your business page but if someone who likes your pages shares your post to their friends/audience this is included in you total reach. You find these figures in the analytics section of your business page.
When people in small businesses talk about their reach, we are generally talking about organic reach. This is how far a social media platform distributes something you publish for ‘free’ and therefore how many people get to see it in order to engage with it (or not depending on their preference).
The issue of paid reach and advertising is a whole other topic.
Engagement is the word generally used to refer to the actions people take in response to your post, such as liking, commenting, sharing, clicking to read more. But prior to taking some sort of action engagement is the process by which someone chooses to pay attention to what you have published because it is interesting or relevant to them.
Reduction in reach
Over the past few years Facebook has dramatically reduced the number of people your content reaches without you paying for wider distribution (hence the angst!).
It is quite usual to reach less than 10% of your audience, even with really good content. And of that 10% it is quite usual to have less than 10% show active engagement.
There are two main reasons for this. Firstly the development of Facebook’s business model to ‘encourage’ increasing use of paid advertising on the platform. And secondly the sheer volume of content being created means that algorithms (complex programs that determine who sees what, based on specific interests and previous interaction), need to target content topics very specifically to those who will want to see them. This is to stop the platform becoming a low quality irrelevant experience for content consumers i.e. people on the platform.
Engagement and reach are interconnected because the more of the people who engage with what you post (of those who receive) the further it will be distributed to more of your audience. This is based on an assumption made by an algorithm that if people are engaging with your content more people will find it engaging, and will want to see it.
It’s essentially like a reward system. If you post something engaging and people interact with it, you are ‘rewarded’ with greater distribution of your content and therefore greater reach.
This situation isn’t without it’s problems though, as social media algorithms operate on the massive assumption that if people aren’t taking specific measurable actions (to like, share, click or comment), then they aren’t engaging. And this isn’t really true.
In general we all consume content a lot more passively than in the past i.e. we’re interested but we don’t feel the need to signal that by taking some sort of action. The fact that like counts have recently been removed from the audience facing elements of your content on both Facebook and Instagram, is likely to lead to even fewer reactions in my opinion. This in turn is likely to lead to even less organic reach.
Opinion is divided on the reason behind this change, though the explanation given by Facebook (I’m paraphrasing) is that it is better for the well-being of social media users, because removing like counts removes the pressure to appear ‘popular’ among peers. There are those who see a more commercial bias behind the decision, but the ‘jury is still out’ on how this will affect engagement and therefore reach in the long term.
The sum of your content efforts
People can get very hung-up on whether they are getting much organic reach or not, but the fact is it will vary. A LOT. As an example, in my first year of consistently publishing relevant content to my Facebook business page, my lowest reach post was seen by 8 people, my largest reach post – a video – reached 25,000 people. Yes that’s not a typo, twenty-five thousand people! And just to show that big organic reach isn’t always a good thing I had to delete this particular video once it started to reach some questionable corners of the social media world. I was blocking and removing people from my page daily, who I didn’t consider were a good fit for my ideal audience (that’s putting it politely!)
Going viral is not always a good thing despite the hype it gets.
However defeated or elated you may feel looking at reactions, comments, likes or reach on individual posts it is important to focus on the sum of all your content efforts, not how well a specific post does. It’s also important to remember that the people who you reach organically with your posts when you first publish are not the only ones who will see them.
It is extremely common for people to go and ‘check you out’ as a business by looking at your Facebook business page. They may even go there before they go to your website. So what you post is what often gives people their first impression of you and your business.
Consistent, professional content says to them you are active and consistent in your business and this is a perception they will take with them if they choose to learn more about you.
If you are in the early stages of building your audience on your Facebook business page you will need to expect low reach and engagement with a small audience. Expect to reach less than 10% of your audience and expect less than 10% of those to engage. So yes, that means 1% audience engagement is quite usual or common.
If you keep posting consistently and make your content good quality and valuable to your target audience, your reach and engagement will gradually grow, as you focus more clearly on certain topics and fine tune your tone of voice and positioning.
Personally I reach around 25% of the audience who like my business page, consistently. This is because I have spent a lot of time focussing on what content and times of posting work best for my audience.
I want to encourage you that consistent effort does pay off in terms of reach and engagement.
Other factors that can positively impact your reach on Facebook are shown in this infographic:
YOUR FACEBOOK CONTENT REACH
Creating and publishing content is research
How closely your content is matching what people find interesting or useful, inspiring or informative will have a big impact on engagement and therefore reach. As you get more feedback in terms of engagement you can refine your choices for your content depending on what gets a favourable response.
My best advice is to focus on creating things that people need to click to view the whole post (or click to play a video, or see all images) as a strong indication of whether or not it is resonating with them. Getting reactions and sparking conversations it great but it’s quite difficult to create something that people feel so strongly about that they will actively react.
Some social media trainers encourage you to go for topics that are polarizing to elicit emotion and spark a debate. I say tread with caution here. It takes experience to know how to do this well! It can easily backfire and land you in all sorts of mess. Your position on a topic can be misread or misinterpreted. Or people can simply respond to what they think you said rather than what you actually said. You will need to go back and craft a careful response to clarify, so that your standing or authority are not diminished. And whatever you say people may still hang on to their first impressions or interpretations anyway.
Play it safe till you feel you can position yourself strongly and clearly on emotive topics, to stay in control of the dialogue.
Choose a few key topics
Stick to a few topics that you have identified as being beneficial to your audience. You want to help them solve the problems they have, or answer their questions.
You will probably have different audiences or audience segments who are at different stages of their awareness journey in terms of the problems they are looking for solutions for (or different stages of their readiness to work with you journey). You will therefore need to create different types of content for these different audience segments, which will also impact your engagement as you are talking to different sub-sets of your audience at different times.
You will also have topics that have a universal appeal, such as holiday posts or sharing behind the scenes of your business, where you are bringing more personally relatable elements to your content.
Posts that give people the opportunity to get to know you personally spark more engagement and reach, generally, because of the authentic connection you are creating.
Try new topics or new topic angles
Repetition is fine, and clarity of focus will bring you back to the same key points repeatedly, but don’t get stuck in a rut always talking about the exact same things. It is important to try some new topics or new angles on a tried and tested topic too.
When you offer up a new perspective in your content you may be surprised what happens. A topic you didn’t think would resonate gets a lot of attention or interaction and you can learn from this. This was how I first tapped into the big emotional toll that creating content can take on business owners.
Whilst other business owners were pushing the mid-year goal setting goal achievement topics, I put up a short video asking, ‘Do you have the mid-year content blues?’ discussing dips in motivation as the year progressed. I was surprised when it proved to be a really popular post and from there I dug deeper into what has become one of my key topics, managing our well-being with the pressure to create content consistently.
I would never have arrived at what has become a key topic for me if I hadn’t gone against the tide and tried something new.
Other factors affecting reach
Another factor affecting how much reach you get with your content is the time of day you post and the time of day your audience are on social media and most engaged. There are various scheduling tools which will analyze the data of your audience and predict the ‘best times’ to post. My experience has shown me it’s best not take these as prescriptive.
Do your own testing when it comes to the best times to post to your audience.
For example my Facebook analytics, and scheduling tools I have tried, indicate a whole range of times I ‘should’ post according to their analysis of my ‘ideal times to post’. These have included early in the morning, late at night, in the middle of the night (I have an international audience) but I have consistently found posting between 5 and 6pm my time (Adelaide, Australia), gets the best reach and engagement.
Busy times are not always top engagement times
This may sound counter-intuitive but another thing to consider is that the time that most of your audience is on Facebook, may not be your best reach and engagement time. For example people often check in first thing in the morning but don’t actually have time to actively get stuck in with reading much or having conversations. They are more likely to be giving greater time and engagement in the evening when all the chores are done, or for people who have families, after their kids are put to bed.
Try different things at different times to come up with the best recipe for reach and engagement for you and your business and your audience.
How frequently you post will also have an impact on reach. If you post infrequently or erratically you can expect that the algorithm will only distribute your content to an especially small number of your audience, but if you post regularly several times a week this will go up.
If you have been lapsed or absent for a while, don’t panic. You can get your reach back. I am very consistent on my Facebook business page but on the times I have a content rest of 10 days or more which occasionally I do (yes it’s OK to rest!), it only takes a few days of regular posting to get the reach back up to my usual levels, which is averagely 25% of my audience who like the page.
Competition for attention and engagement is massive
One final issue to consider, which may or may not make you feel reassured or deflated (please don’t feel deflated!) is that the amount of content being published every minute of every day is mind-blowing. This is why algorithms filter who sees what with increasing specificity and selectivity.
The Facebook algorithm is something people business-owners get very hung-up on. There can be a lot of frustration about Facebook ‘limiting’ who sees your content. But they literally HAVE TO. With all the poor quality and irrelevant content out there if they weren’t selecting by minutely focussed algorithms what people get in their news feed, audiences would have been overwhelmed with irrelevant, boring, questionable stuff they didn’t want to see, and abandoned the platform altogether a long time ago. Which obviously as a business Facebook wouldn’t want.
This is not to say that algorithms couldn’t be kinder to small businesses in terms of distribution. I definitely think they could be!
This means with your content you are competing for attention and newsfeed placing with millions of other businesses and content creators out there. And, yes, this is overwhelming and daunting, and can be frustrating. But small businesses have the advantage of being personable and relatable. They can make connections with their customers and audiences in a very immediate way that larger businesses, corporations, other organisations cannot do as directly or as easily.
So I really encourage you to capitalize and focus on the issue of connection and being personally relatable in your content efforts, to build the right kind of online relationships to build you business. And to stick at it.
Go create content that connects, my creator friends!