Today there are gazillion things that business owners have to do when it comes to marketing their business. Thankfully, automation is the savior. It’s not like we can automate everything and then just sit back and watch the show. Still, it’s a big help. I don’t think email marketing as we know it would exist without automation. But what about social media posting? Especially facebook. The idea that facebook kills organic reach of posts scheduled through 3rd party automation has been a popular debate for quite some time now. So I spent some time checking the facts and examining the available data. Here’s what I found.
How it started-
Social media expert Ajay Pal Singh’s claim that using Buffer and other 3rd party automation reduces the organic reach of the post.
I had attended this social media workshop by Ajay Pal Singh a couple of months ago, where he recommended using facebook’s scheduler. While he had shown just a small sample of data. I did a background check and found that he uses 3rd party automation for all other social media platforms but not facebook. He has consulted many startups of all sizes to their success. So I had no reason to doubt his claims. His track record does not warrant doubt either.
Upon looking Further
Social media thought leader Mari Smith claims in her post that “BuzzSumo, analyzed 500 million Facebook posts to discover that Posting with a 3rd party tool results in 89.5% less engagement than directly posting to Facebook.” She is an expert with more than half million followers on twitter and 200K on facebook, 25K on Instagram. You don’t get to half a million followers without doing something right. But-
Mari has a plausible following but her claims don’t have any solid evidence. So this alone does not prove anything. But the claims can’t be discarded. Buffer or their allies won’t say that using their app will harm your organic reach. On the other hand here are reasons why it looks like a sensible move for facebook –
- Scheduling posts using 3rd party automation tools implies that facebook would have no control or oversight on the content of the post. So no way to know if the links and content in the post are genuine and reliable. If I am a spammer using Facebook’s automation is not an option for me because then my links would be flagged by facebook within a day.
So my go to tool would be a 3rd party tool like buffer. That uses link masking, therefore reducing the chances of my link being flagged. Facebook ideally wants to avoid that.
- Reducing organic outreach helps facebook make a lot of money. (Businesses use automation-> strangled organic reach -> they invest in promoting). I wouldn’t be surprised if facebook did that. ( That’s exactly what they did with their ‘friends first update‘ last year.)
- Even if facebook was penalizing 3rd party automation it won’t be transparent about it as that looks like using unfair means of competition for facebook’s own inbuilt-scheduler. (Which I think Facebook is comfortable doing).
Last year, facebook released their “Friends First” algorithm saying “We are not in the business of deciding what people should see”. The algorithm prioritizes feeds shared by friends over feeds of brand pages. This hit the organic reach of brand pages the most and almost doubled their quarterly revenue in just 9 months from $ 5.4 B in march 2016 to $8.9 B in December 2016. Facebook even made news for being under immense pressure for maintaining it’s growth rate of more than 50%. The stock fell, despite the fact that Facebook increased its revenue by 56%. Plus Mark is definitely comfortable using unfair means of competition. Business insider shows how Mark Zuckerberg openly follows of Bill Gates both in terms of charitability and business practices. For example, Mark’s ‘if you can’t beat them, buy them strategy’ with Whatsapp, Instagram. To quote from BI “Back in 2013, when Snapchat was still very new, Facebook tried to buy the startup for $3 billion in all cash. About a month later, Facebook released Poke, a Snapchat clone. Poke didn’t go anywhere, and neither did its successor Slingshot in 2014. But with those apps, the message from Facebook to Snapchat was made clear: There is nothing you can possess that we cannot take away, and there’s nothing you can build that we can’t build faster.” Ever since then facebook has been blatantly copying Snapchat features from Snapchat stories to the latest Snapchat filters.
So facebook has all the incentives to be hard on 3rd party automation, but does it actually do it?
We can’t expect the automation platforms themselves to tell us the truth. (Even though they are the people with all the data).
According to buffer here’s facebook’s official statement on the matter
I searched for more than an hour but I could not verify the source of this statement. And the funny part is that buffer cites an article on its own blog to back that statement. The more I look, the more I find that most of Buffer’s claim about being used by large clients without any effect on the organic reach are not backed by any verifiable, unbiased data. Plus, even if it were true, the statement intrinsically means that facebook for sure had an evil eye on 3rd party automation. Whereas there is no explicit statement that proves it isn’t that way anymore. And that’s a statement from 2011, the internet has practically changed since then.
To find out the truth I analyzed 7 popular buffer using brands and experts to see how they schedule their posts. The results are shocking, to say the least.
Steve Rayson (director of BuzzSumo) claimed some sort of collaboration and his love Buffer but BuzzSumo uses buffer for only twitter
And not for Linkedin, Google+ or Facebook
Buffer presents Fortune Magazine as a success case study on their Blog. The blog post contains an interview with Heather Muse the Franchises and Social Media Editor at Fortune. There’s a question in the article “How do you use Buffer’s analytics?” to which buffer’s writer cites examples
with a disclaimer in smaller letters: “Example of top posts (mock data)”
I find it misleading as the disclaimer is easy to miss
Notice the size of the disclaimer compared to the normal text?
Plus, why use a surgically created snapshot containing mock data anyways? Don’t snapshots by definition mean “SNAPshots”?
This increased my suspicion, so I went ahead and checked if fortune magazine does use Buffer. As of 13 Feb, I strongly believe It doesn’t (I am waiting for their confirmation). Here’s why-
1. http://for.tn/2kD09sv -> 2. http://trib.al/zV11PWc -> 3. http://fortune.com/2017/02/13/john-oliver-tv-ads-trump/?xid=soc_socialflow_facebook_FORTUNE
So fortune does use trib.al which is a “link shortening & advanced analytics” but not buffer.
Let’s look into the other success case studies of Buffer
About.com uses Buffer for Facebook and Twitter
But judging by the number of interactions generated (less than 10) on about.com facebook posts (even the ones that are more than 3 days old), I honestly think they would not know if using Buffer is harming their organic reach. (They don’t have enough traffic for that).
Even though buffer claims that Business Insider Grew Its Facebook Page to 1M+ Fans With Buffer the article is patronizing, overly full of praises for Buffer. Very few hard numbers and no citations to back them up. (Even the snapshots provided in the article are missing). BI does not use Buffer for every link that’s shared on their facebook page. I analyzed last 20 articles shared on the BI facebook page. Here are the results-Shared
Using Buffer: 12
Without using Buffer: 8Interactions generated (reactions, comments and shares)
(Average 213 interactions per post)
Non Buffer Posts: 1822
(Average 228 interactions per post)
Buffer posts perform marginally low (7%) in this sample. (Which is honestly non-conclusive.)
Especially considering the fact that it’s a small sample and there were very large variations (one article had 1189 interactions while another had only 22). It would be interesting to see what that number is for a larger sample.
That’s about the brands. Here’s what 3 top SEO and social media experts do-
Does not use buffer for Facebook or twitter
Maybe he does use Buffer for Instagram (buffer claims so, I haven’t checked, need Instagram users to confirm). He does not use Buffer for twitter. His facebook timeline is filled with videos and images. I scrolled through 200 posts to find only 2 articles from his blog. Both were not shared using Buffer.
I think it’s safe to say he does not use Buffer for facebook. Let me know if you have data that says otherwise.
Brian Dean (Backlinko)
Does not use buffer for facebook. (but he posts rarely)
Need more data to conclude, but most of them don’t use it for facebook.
I could not find sufficient data to say beyond doubt that 3rd Party Automation do negatively impact organic reach. I don’t have enough data from my own past works as an SEO. So there’s still a possibility that the social media experts like Mari Smith and Ajay Pal Singh are right. Hopefully, other social media will come up with more data after reading this article. It’s possible that lately facebook has improved and become more accommodating towards 3rd party automation. But as of now I still believe that facebook promotes a closed ecosystem. I am certain that we can not take buffer at their word when they say “3rd Party Facebook Publishing Tools Aren’t Penalized”. Not when it’s common practice for them to
Use patronizing and over-sympathetic interviews with writers at popular magazines without proof to back it
Create fabricated snapshots with small disclaimers to mislead the audience.
It’s not entirely unfair, when they say it they are acting in the best interest of their business. But they are provably not entirely honest.