Facebook just dealt a death blow to organic reach.

The social media giant recently announced it will alter its news feed to prioritize posts from friends and family.

Many fear this will give content from marketers and publishers the old heave-ho once and for all.

Coincidentally, this latest sea change arrived on the heels of Facebook testing a newsless Explore Feed in six non-U.S. countries late last year. That’s when the death knell of organic reach (the number of individuals you can reach, for free, by posting non-boosted content on your page) hit a crescendo.

Unlike those tests, Facebook said this tinkering stateside will not remove Page posts from the News feed. Still, this “major change” — said to take months to fully implement into all products — will effectively make paid advertising the only surefire way for business and media outlets to reach their desired audiences.

A Sea Change

Reasons for the change stemmed from the combat of misinformation and reports to the effects of passive consumption and scrolling on a person’s mental health.

Most notably, CEO Mark Zuckerberg expressed a desire to foster “meaningful interactions” between people. He said it’s a return to form for the platform — a chance to “bring us closer together.”

Interestingly, not a week after Zuckerberg’s announcement, CEO of the $6.3 trillion asset company BlackRock, Larry Fink, sent a letter to the CEOs of public companies across the country calling for a return to “social purpose.”

It all sounds like the start of a burgeoning “do-good” movement from influential figureheads. And that’s promising.

But in the marketing universe, there’s still the small matter of something else ending.

Agencies have long witnessed the languid ravaging of organic reach. In fact, according to a 2014 study by Social@Ogilvy, the organic posts of pages with more than 500,000 Likes reached only 2% of fans.
And now, the coffin nail. User time on Facebook is expected to drop, and ad prices are expected to do the opposite.

A New Strategy

If you’re a brand or a publisher, what can you do?
Well, grin. Bear it. And plan ahead.

• Get your wallet out. It’s unavoidable. You will ultimately have to pony up some cold, hard cash for advertising. It is important to keep in mind, however, that throwing money at the problem will not magically result in views.
• Get organized. Don’t find yourself suddenly clambering to stay connected with the audience that has been so harshly ripped from your embrace. Establish a plan that aligns your paid and non-paid channels and deploys them to attack in unified formation. Chart out a messaging strategy that includes multiple touch points of consistent messaging — but avoid sending duplicate content.
• Get creative. Dig deep and find new things to say or new actions for your fans to take. The most important component will be crafting ultra-relevant content and video that not only speaks to your audience, but rallies them to share the information amongst themselves.
• Get happy. Harness the power of happy customers. Incentivize your audience to share their positive experiences about your company so they are the ones that disseminate your content on Facebook. Focus on taking care of all your fans, but especially your brand loyalists and evangelists (if you can find them).
• Get Zen. Facebook’s emphasis on “meaningful” exchanges means companies will need to become particularly savvy and creative to rediscover and harness the “social” aspect of the medium. Embrace the new movement of social goodness. Find ways to connect your fans with each other. Build a community of evangelists. Build a family of fans.
• Get help. When one door closes, another one opens. Use this change as an opportunity to hone your talents in branding, marketing and social media campaigns. If becoming an expert is not an option — hire one.

Joe Bawol and Erin McMahon are with IMPACT Marketing & Public Relations. They can be reached at 410-312-0081.