What Happened to Organic?

Not that you need any sort of reminder but this is 2016, and not 2010. We take for granted the always-on supercomputer in our pocket that allows us to capture and share moments with friends in real time.

But, just six years ago the social media landscape looked completely different. In 2010, Instagram wasn’t event a thing (it launched in October of that year), and Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel was (probably) getting stuffed in trash cans during his sophomore year at Stanford.

These were also the salad days for organic reach on Facebook. Many brands were taking significant steps to build up their follower audiences, with whom they could engage.

Remember like-gates? Apps that required users to “like” a page in order to gain exclusive content or offers? One of the most ingenious examples of this was Oreo’s Golden Double-Stuff giveaway. In order to claim your free pack of cookies, you had to “like” the Oreo page, and opt-in to be mailed a physical coupon.

Full disclosure: I participated in this, and they were delicious!

Full disclosure: I participated in this, and they were delicious!

This was the ultimate value exchange that went a long way toward Oreobuilding their fanbase exponentially while providing their fans with some tasty snacks.

But what was Oreo’s end game? In 2010, it was rooted firmly in the fact thatFacebook’s Edgerank algorithm ruled over what everyday users saw in their newsfeeds. If you published organic content from your page, Facebook would serve it up to the vast majority of your followers, as long as it met the Edgerank requirements.

Outside the cost and logistics of giving away 150,000 free packs of cookies, Oreo didn’t spend a dime on any paid placements on Facebook (Sponsored Stories wouldn’t launch for another year).

More followers = more engaged users. More engaged users = more sales.

Now let’s leave 2010 behind and head back to the future.

Facebook’s market cap is north of $360B — the vast majority of its revenue sourced from ads. The decline of organic reach on Facebook has been well documented.

A study from Edgerank Checker found that between February 2012 and March 2014, organic reach for the average Facebook Page dropped from 16% to 6.5%.Research from Social@Ogilvy, meanwhile, suggests that for Pages with more than 500,000 Likes, organic reach could be as low as 2%.

Jay Baer has an in-depth article on the whole phenomenon on his blog. One of his more striking charts depicts the increase in Facebook’s stock price laid over the decrease in organic reach!

Until recently, Instagram (purchased by Facebook in 2012) has been a best friend to brands looking for that unpaid reach. But the “Facebookification” of Instagram is giving a lot of brands who are looking for organic engagement deja vu all over again.

Companies no longer have the luxury of riding the organic engagement train. Experienced digital marketers have known for some time that a good paid+earned+owned strategy (PEO) is the best way to diversify your messaging in social.

David Berkowitz, former CMO of MRY and founder of Serial Marketer, states it best in this article from CMO magazine:

“One of the big reasons for the confusion with PEO is you often have one component in ascendance and another decreasing. Right now ‘PEO’ is more like uppercase ‘P,’ lowercase ‘e,’ and lowercase ‘o.’ [PEO is] increasingly driven by the media model, whereas when PEO started it was driven by the creative. Earned and owned media are still important, but right now paid is in the driver’s seat.”

Having said this, Snapchat and its stories platform has recently given marketers hope that organic isn’t completely off the table. Additionally, the recent launch of Instagram Stories might actually be the best place for marketers to engage with a captive audience of fans. Some marketers have already made their decision between the two:

Whether or not a business focuses upon the P the E or the O, one thing that hasn’t changed is the need for expertise (either internally or externally) to help navigate these waters.

Mitch Mirsky is the Principal at Black Lab Digital, LLC, and has led social strategy at global organizations such as Fisher-Price and New Era Cap.