Recalibrating for “Organic” engagements

News publishers can expect web traffic from Facebook to drop by about 35%, according to Kaleida estimates. The important number to track when things do eventually stabilise is going to be “Organic” engagements.

After news got demoted on Facebook publishers began wondering what Organic activity looks like for them. Facebook will no longer push the stories that publishers are promoting, but what about the stories people choose to share on their own without being prompted?

We recalibrated our data a bit to find the patterns and excluded all the activity that Facebook plans to block. It’s clear that some publishers will get hit harder than others, but everyone will be affected.

First, let’s clarify what we mean by “Organic” and how we derive those figures.

We collect the total engagement count for every article directly from Facebook’s published figures. That count is the sum of the number of likes, shares and comments for posts that include a link to an article. Posts with the link to the article may come from Facebook users, and they may come from the publisher of the story who posts it to their Facebook brand page.

We separate the engagement counts for the posts made by the publisher to get a Promoted engagement number.

So, for example, on this story by The New York Times Facebook tells us that there were 19,047 total engagements. The New York Times posted the story to their brand page here. That brand page post on its own accounted for 10,155 engagements or 53% of the 19,047 total engagements. Therefore, the Organic total is 8,892 engagements — that is 19,047 total engagements minus 10,155 Promoted engagements.

Organic Engagements = Total Engagements – Promoted Engagements

In this case you can see a significant bump in sharing activity after this article was posted by The New York Times to their Facebook brand page. They also posted it to their home page at about an hour prior to this and kept it there for 10 hours. It’s unclear what effect the home page had in promoting the story on Facebook, but it seems pretty obvious their Facebook promotion had an immediate and significant effect.

Source: Kaleida

The article was averaging 2 engagements per minute prior to the brand page promotion and 35 engagements per minute just moments after it was promoted.

We’re not seeing any particular pattern for different types of publishers. The Organic figure varies by region, politics, size and volume without any obvious distinction. There may be differences in subjects of coverage or article types. We will continue exploring those areas, but here is a snapshot of what we can see by publisher from last week, the 18th to the 25th of January.

This chart suggests most publishers can expect to lose about 35% of their engagements on average after the change is complete — more for those publishers who are reliant on Promoted engagements, less for those whose readers are actively engaging with their stories unprompted.

Not all Promoted activity will disappear. Publishers can still pay for placement. But we can expect most of it to be gone soon.

Based on our recent research correlating engagements to web traffic referrals, the data would suggest publishers will lose that much in referral traffic from Facebook, too.

Fox News, for example, will lose about half of their traffic from Facebook. Breitbart may see nearly all of their Facebook traffic disappear.

Managing the transition to Organic

Prior to the announcement Facebook was training publishers to take control of their presence on the platform, to post more content more often. But now that message has changed and news publishers are all rethinking their strategies for dealing with the company.

In this new world news orgs will need a better understanding of the natural activity happening across the social network, because they won’t be able to influence engagement without paying Facebook for placement. And there are still no guarantees that will work, either.

The “Organic” number will be key. The contrast between Organic and Promoted activity will help news orgs understand when their journalism is resonating on its own and how they can influence the market, if at all.

It would be reasonable to expect that this number will be a more reliable long term metric than total engagements. Facebook could continue demoting users’ posts with news article links in them, too, but at some point they will be affecting active users adversely in addition to publishers.

Facebook values their users more than any other contributor to the Facebook ecosystem, and they will give more thought to throwing away investments their users have made in the platform than they did to news orgs.

Publishers interested in seeing how they stack up against other news orgs can always give us a shout. Kaleida can prepare reports that show whether a trend you are seeing is unique to you or a wider market trend.

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