No, Organic Content Isn’t Dead: It Just Has a New Purpose

Opinion: Many brands have mistakenly scrapped organic altogether

Now is a good time to revisit why brands need an organic content strategy marekuliasz/iStock
Headshot of Jill Sherman

You probably heard that Facebook is testing a separate feed where only promoted content appears alongside posts from friends and family.

While the test is small (six countries) and only applies to publishers, I’ve been inundated with “organic is dead” emails, tweets and posts from clients, co-workers and industry thought leaders.

Reality check: Even if Facebook eventually splits the feed, organic content isn’t going away. (One could argue that the social network split the feed awhile back with Trending Topics and video tabs.)

But all panic aside, now is a good time to revisit why brands need an organic content strategy.

First, let’s acknowledge that organic content as a “reach and scale” tactic is fruitless and has been for some time. Currently, a brand’s organic social content is getting 2 percent to 4 percent reach on Facebook on a good day (significantly more reach on platforms like Instagram and Twitter, but with a much shorter shelf life), As a result, many brands have mistakenly scrapped organic altogether.

Why is this a mistake? What if I told you that instead of the feed, organic content is now being tethered to things like brand searches, trending topics and contextual video recommendations on platforms like Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram? And what if I told you that promoted posts are only a tiny fraction of the content that appears in these spaces? Do I have your attention now?

The fact is, social platforms are evolving. Yes, the feed (while still central to the user experience) is now losing its luster as more on-platform features like trending topics, image search, video tabs, etc. are luring people to branch out. And as the platforms change, so must your organic content strategy. Instead of reach and scale, discovery and relevance are now they keys to the castle.

Here are six reasons why you shouldn’t abandon your organic content strategy:

  1. Capitalizing on social discovery: Seeking behavior is rapidly evolving on all social platforms. As social search provides users with up-to-the-minute relevant content, brands need to take notice. Let’s focus on Facebook: When people do a search for your brand in Facebook, Featured Posts appear right after the link to your page. And these posts are your most recent organic posts, not promoted posts. When people do a topical Facebook search because they’re looking for something they remember seeing in the feed (like “unicorn hair”), the first thing to appear are videos. Right now, Lime Crime is taking the top spot with a great video that’s six months old—very organic and probably still relevant, at least to the person seeking it out.
  2. Riding a trending topic: Users following trending topics is growing on all social platforms, but let’s focus on Facebook again. When a user clicks a trending headline in Facebook, a video carousel of the latest associated videos appears beneath the articles. These include organic brand posts. If you’re not paying attention, you can miss the opportunity to have adjacent content. I’ve seen countless brands miss this opportunity, even when it’s their own brand’s breaking news trending. Facebook will simply grab the latest organic post from the brand page, even if it’s one month old or not topically relevant.
  3. Offsetting negative algorithm scoring: Algorithms look at overall engagement vs. reach as part of their scoring mechanism to determine if future content should get an added (earned) algorithmic boost. Because broad reach can negatively impact engagement in promoted posts, having organic content in the mix can offset this.
  4. Optimizing media spend: Organic posts can be leveraged as the “vetting” stage for content. If your fans and followers don’t love it, it’s likely dead in the water. Don’t waste your precious media dollars to promote.
  5. Brand validation: Potential employees, customers, brand ambassadors, etc. often look to social channels to validate their decision to have a relationship with a brand. Because the people that see organic content are your best fans and leave the best comments, there will be more positivity for anyone researching.
  6. Crisis response: The first thing people do in a crisis is seek out information. Planting content in social channels quickly means you’ll be providing much needed answers, whether it’s directly or indirectly related to your brand.

But even with the potential benefits of organic social content, you’ll need to focus in on the type of content that makes the most sense in a discovery and relevance model.

I recommend aligning content with what your customers or fans will likely seek out. For example, if you’re an automotive brand, perhaps it’s positive owner stories. If you’re a consumer-packaged-goods brand, maybe it’s how-to videos, or product benefits. Or, if you’re a fashion or beauty brand, maybe it’s limiting content to trends people are actively following.

Ultimately, your paid social strategy should focus on what you want target audiences to know, whereas your organic strategy should focus on what you want them to find. (Also remember that your paid posts are likely dark-posted, which means that the content isn’t searchable.) If nothing else, don’t let your social presence go stale, because the likelihood of people finding old, outdated content is now a very real possibility.

And the next time somebody says, “Organic is dead,” remember this: While social platforms will always look for a way to monetize, human behavior will always win. And without a constant barrage of content to link experiences and keep people from going elsewhere, these platforms would die a very quick death. It’s about understanding the “why” and “where” your content needs to live.

Jill Sherman is senior vice president of social strategy at global marketing and technology agency DigitasLBi.

@justjillsherman Jill Sherman is svp of social strategy at DigitasLBi North America.