Why your charity should think twice before abandoning Facebook

I’m sick of people complaining about reach on Facebook. But what’s more worrying is that charities seem to be buying into this guff.

At a recent Institute of Fundraising event someone told me reach on Facebook posts was down at 10%. I’ve seen big studies of US corporates who say it’s just 2%. Then, recently, I saw this

Really? Death!? It’s a good headline I suppose but it’s not based on the facts.

Taking the headlines at face value could cost you dear. Why? Because, missed opportunities cost.

So here are a few things to ponder before you decide “organic reach on Facebook is dead”

Facebook reach is (potentially) huge

If your posts don’t get seen as much as you like, chances are your content strategy is to blame. Because a quick scoot around Facebook shows NGOs are getting decent reach.

It’s easy to blame the big corporate and their nasty algorithm, but that doesn’t make it correct. Just this week a Dignity in Dying post on Facebook had reach of well over almost 500,000 – we had fewer than 60,000 fans at the time. This isn’t a one-off either. Reach on Facebook is constituently good and frequently huge.


Phwoar! check out the reach on this!

All your fans, is not 100 percent

The idea that you should reach all your fans with a single post is a nonsense – it implies all your fans are on Facebook all the time. They are not. 

Measuring this over a week would be more meaningful but comparing fan numbers with reach tells you nothing useful and ignores the fact that “post reach is not fan reach.”

Facebook hasn’t divorced email

The pew research which suggested reach was just 2% started off lots of “email isn’t dead” reactions (who said it was?) and some commentators suggested you should abandon Facebook for email marketing:

If you have to choose between adding a subscriber to you email list or gaining a new Facebook fan, go for email every time.

But life isn’t that simple and that is not a decision you’re going to be presented with. Email is an excellent way to fundraise/market stuff, but it does not live in isolation from Facebook.

Facebook is a great way to get people’s email addresses from them, ask the Tories.

Don’t forget your mobile

If your charity isn’t thinking mobile it.s missing a trick. Push notifications and the home screen are the prime real estate on the smartphone.

What’s the easiest way to get yourselves in that space on a daily bases? (Say it with me) FACEBOOK!

This isn’t just because lots (and lots and lots)  of people use Facebook, its because they use it very regularly: 70% of Facebook users visit daily

Everyone is on Facebook

Well,  most of them. As many as a third every day. Yes a third of all people in the UK

It has the most penetration of other social networks and even teens who declare “Facebook is dead” still use it for groups, messaging and finding people.

By all means use Instagram to reach younger people but know, most of those people (94%) are also on Facebook:

Facebook wins!

Facebook wins!

Reach isn’t that important anyway

Reach just means one person saw it. I can’t think of another marketing channel where reach is so scrutinised, no one seems to mention it about Twitter for example.

A good return on investment is more important than huge reach. You are investing your time in Facebook so your charity can drive action. Measure the actions taken. Focus on that. Reach is a distraction from what really matters – results.

Look at your own data

Don’t trust big American researchers, there findings have little bearing on a small UK charity.

And don’t trust me. I’m just some loud mouth on Twitter.

Trust your data.

My data tells me Facebook is a great tool and should be in the mix. But don’t expect Facebook to help you game their algorithm, it won’t make your posts any more interesting. That’s your job.


Social media: Are we doing it right? #socialconvo

I went to an unusual event yesterday. Unusual because it felt like the start of a conversation. I didn’t even tweet much on the day (I know!), I was thinking…


What the hell is going on with Facebook?

In a room of around 12 people, at an event about social media, there was no love for Facebook. There was a lot of positive talk about Twitter but, for Facebook, just disdain.


Facebook is an incredibly powerful tool but it got no traction in the room. Because it is too reciprocal. Too filtered. Too, well, too Facebook.

I don’t suppose I disagree with any of that. I don’t use Facebook as me. But as the brands I have worked for I have used it a lot and I’ve seen Facebook used to build a sense of community and deliver “value” where before there was none. For example, using Facebook groups to build a team/community for several 100 marathon runners who are spread across the country.

Are we dismissing Facebook as a tool simply because our annoying cousin is too heavy with the selfies and complement fishing?

Are marketing and communications teams getting it all wrong?

The language and culture of marketing, and the media focus of communications teams, are largely unhelpful. They bring to the table pre-set ways of thinking and doing things that are not right for the brave new social world. Marketers are too shouty and needy, storming onto twitter and screaming “like my crap, like my crap”. And their colleagues in comms are just as bad. They just want to post links to their latest press releases when they should be having a conversation!

Or do they? I think you can easily encounter this sort of behaviour but you can also encounter the opposite. Perhaps though, we can agree on what poor marketing and comms looks like on Twitter; Too corporate, not human.

What’s wrong with all our organisations?

The room felt that social media (if we must call it that) was of huge significance for any organisation that wants (or needs) to reach/engage/consult a public audience. But no one thought any organisation was good at that really. Not one. Local government was thought to be especially poor.

I felt organisations where painted the enemy of progress. The bastions of mediocrity where control, risk aversion and dull content live. Part of the problem.

But the problem is hard to define. It might be that “there is no  punishment for mediocrity”, that the culture is wrong. That the powers that be have the tools to change the world but not the digital leadership, or will, to make that change happen.

There was a sense, or hope, that the diverse voices found on the twittersphere could collaborate is some way to challenge “the old way” of doing things. But also a sense we need help to do this. We need more people to collaborate with. Too many legends of life on land are not online. We need to get them involved, to improve the quality of the democracy people are finding on Twitter and to enrich it. But how?

I don’t care if the reach of your page is down and neither does Facebook!

There is always a lot of talk about Facebook but articles about changes that kicked in early in December last year seem to keep coming back and it’s starting to get on my wick! So before I read yet another article bitching about reach and my head explodes, I need to have a bit of rant to get it out of my system.

This post isn’t just a rant, I hope it can be helpful. But first…

A Facebook reach rant

I don’t care if the reach of your page is down and neither does Facebook. Why should it? If an ant where to complain it didn’t like the crumbs that fell from the table, would the table care?

If you want to promote your product/cause/brand on Facebook then it is your job to make it work. Complaining about your falling reach just means you are failing to adapt to changes in Facebook’s algorithm. In other words, you’re not doing your job properly. So, ask yourself:

  • Are you paying attention to what actually works on Facebook?
  • Are you keeping an eye on the moves Facebook is making and what it is saying about the news feed?
  • Have you figured out how to create content that people connect with?

End of rant.

Focus on engagement not reach

There is no reason a Facebook page cannot deliver your marketing objectives. Take a look at this graph

Facebook reach graph

Changes in the newsfeed are not stopping people seeing your content. Your content is

I looked into this because what I was seeing results that where not matching up with the mega-moaning of many, many, many articles about Facebook. Which has led me to the conclusion that those bitching about reach, aren’t using Facebook properly. To start with they care too much about the wrong metric – reach is a pretty meaningless because it doesn’t tell you very much. Engagement though (likes, comments and shares)  is something that you can learn from.

I believe the pretty steady reach shown in my graph above – generally trending upwards –  is because we focused on analysis of what got the most engagement. It is engagement that drives reach.

Find content that works

This is pretty simple. Click into Facebook insights, click on the “Posts” tab, highlight likes, comments and shares in the drop down and then rank the posts be engagement. Like this:

Facebook Insights

Use insights to learn what your audience engages with most

What do you see? When I did this I found that the posts with the most engagement fell into three or four broad categories:

  1. Quotes and messages about our campaign as an image
  2. Celebrity quotes and their pictures – thanks Hugh!
  3. Compelling stories about every day people (with a photo)
  4. Genuine news, like when Stephen Hawking wrote about his support for assisted dying

From this point on we focussed on quotes and stories presented visually.

We also looked at the length of the copy we used (shorter is better) and the best time to post (7pm working well). Lots of this was broadly in line with what people have been saying for ages – see How to Get More Likes, Comments and Shares on Facebook from June 2012.

“Only promote awesome”

Only once we were happy with our organic performance did we looking into boosting posts with a bit of spend and promoted stories.  Working out what to promote was pretty simple, as John Haydon puts it, we only promote awesome (see tip 10).

But we are not reliant on paid posts to reach our fan base. In fact some of our most popular content, was not promoted at all because it was more than 20% text – this post reach more than 5x our fanbase, but only because we focused engagement by asking people to share it.

Do your homework

None of what we did was especially original or ground breaking, it was just best practice.I knew it was best practice because I stayed in tune with what was working by reading around the subject. Here’s some stuff I’ve found helpful lately:

So, what did I miss?

The (perceived) discrepancy between Facebook insights and the posts on your page explained

Juding by the amount of questions listed when you serach for “discrepancy” in Facebook help, a fair few people are puzzled by what they see on their page VS what they see in insights. At first glance it can be a puzzler, but dig a little deeper and all becomes clear.

This is the summary data you get on all posts:

Here's what you see when you look at post data in Facebook insights (correct as of Oct 2013)

Here’s what you see when you look at post data in Facebook insights (correct as of Oct 2013)

But when you compare this to what you (and everyone else) sees on your Facebook page:

Here's what you see on your actual page - the figure is much less than the summary in insights

Here’s what you see on your actual page – the figure is much less than the summary in insights

To get to the bottom of why this is, simply click on the post from within Facebook insights and all is revealed:

Here is the breakdown of how the total likes of 2.4k are calculated

Here is the breakdown of how the total likes of 2.4k are calculated

In conclusion

Facebook is not telling you porkies but perhaps their insights could benifit from showing more data in the summary section.

Also in the process of figuring this out, I discovered that pinning a post to the top of your page temporarily removes it from the insights but I’m not sure why. Something to do with it no longer being at the correct place in the timeline perhaps?