Since Facebook adjusted their News Feed algorithm in early December, there’s been a considerable amount of coverage about the decline in organic reach for brands. As more data emerges, the story becomes more apparent: one study documents a drop in organic reach from 9.5% to 7.7%; another cites a 42% decrease in fan penetration; a third claims declines can range as high as 88%.

organicreach.graph

While these studies generate a lot of clicks and attention, the recent uproar around organic declines misses the bigger opportunity by a large mark. With social, marketers can think of reach in terms of billions of people, not just millions. With organic reach already capped around 16% of fans, many brands were stuck measuring reach in the thousands.

The signal is clear from social platforms about what they offer marketers: massive scale and the data to make good use of it. As targeting capabilities mature, the real-life applications become almost farcical – for example, the ability to message several millions of moms 34-45 in the United States that have purchased frozen pizza in the last six months.

Social platforms – now some of the largest media companies in the world – have structured their businesses on sponsored and targeted content. The shift away from organic shouldn’t come as a surprise to marketers. And despite recent attention, it actually hasn’t – Social@Ogilvy and others began predicting organic declines of 40% as early as 2012.

As the idea of an “organic post” goes away, the job of the marketer is to capture attention and deliver messages that fit the brand. With a focus on paid promotion, brands will create two kinds of content in 2014.

Promoted Brand Content

If brands are no longer able to reach mass audiences without sponsorship, social starts to look a bit like television. And indeed, the language being used by social platforms themselves has leaned towards a TV advertising narrative. On Facebook, any moment can offer primetime reach. On Twitter, second screen activity plays a nice complement to any TV advertisement. The growing focus on visual storytelling in social aligns more closely to the pattern of content TV advertisers are accustomed with.

The News Feed is designed to deliver “the right content to the right people at the right time” – and brands should take full advantage of this. Test multiple pieces of promoted content to small segments, and learn before promoting content to larger audiences. Create specific messages for niche groups, and promote content only to the people that will find that message valuable. Place a lot of small bets, and go big on the content that works.

Organic One-to-One Response

As brands create less and less unsponsored content, the role of organic communications shifts towards consumer response. Twitter in particular has become a critical CRM channel for certain industries like airlines, restaurants, and retail chains. And according to Altimeter, many consumer expect to be responded to within an hour.

However, there’s a gap between consumer perceptions and social reality. 4 out of 5 messages from consumers don’t ever receive a response, and the majority of top brands engage directly in a very limited fashion. Platforms like Twitter and Facebook have redesigned to move consumer responses to side channels separate from the main brand feed.

This isn’t to disparage consumer response or downplay the effect that a one-to-one interaction has from a marketing perspective. Ignoring a customer on social could sour him or her on a brand indefinitely. With some individuals having influence and audiences that rival brands and media companies in size, tracking who is interacting with your brand becomes particularly important for brand management.

Is there overlap?

Customer interactions can also be used as a trigger for original brand content. Often, the same team is responsible for both creating brand content and for managing consumer outreach and response.

For example, Oreo and KitKat used one woman’s tweet as inspiration for original content between the brands. Denny’s regularly riffs with its followership, using comments as inspiration for real-time, often bizarre, content creation. SmartCar used an off-hand joke as inspiration for a light-hearted infographic.

With the above examples, the focus is still on the brand, but with consumers as the context. This not only gets the brand’s name out in a clever, potentially viral manner – it actually furthers the perception of the brand as receptive and responsive to their consumer base. Organic interactions can be complemented by paid promotion and take full advantage of the massive targeted reach social offers.