Organic social media is dead: but was it ever alive?

It appears to have become an article of faith that organic social media reach is dead. The reason for this, so the idea goes, is that the social space has become so cluttered that achieving cut-through is now too difficult. From this it proceeds that the way forward is to look at paid for solutions, or at least to ensure that any organic activity has paid for boosters attached.

My question though is this. Was organic social media reach ever alive? OK there may have been some examples where brands have managed to get themselves in front of a large number of people in the social digital space, but I would contend that these were, and will remain, the exception. I don’t think the social media space has ever delivered reach on a consistent basis and all that has changed is that we are waking up to that fact. For example engagement levels, on average, with brand Facebook pages have always been abysmally low. This is not a recent phenomenon, it is simply that we haven’t wished to believe this.

It has nothing to do with the fact that the space has now filled up, or, as has been suggested, we are arriving at an impending content shock. The trouble with this type of thinking is this leads to the conclusion that we simply have to make our content more engaging / competitive in order to achieve sufficient reach when, in fact, what we should be doing is abandoning the idea of reach altogether.

You can only create value within the social digital space by realising that you will never be talking to an audience-sized group of people: only individuals or small groups (and an individual is not simply just a very small audience). The social digital space is a world of the individual not a world of the audience. It is therefore much more about how you respond when members of your audience wish to reach you, rather than trying to reach out to them as members of an audience.

Social media, unlike traditional media, was never designed to deliver reach. Social media is a medium of connection not a medium of distribution. Social media almost never delivers an audience because, unlike traditional media, it does not have an audience built into it. Trying to add an audience (reach) to your social presence will always be an exercise in swimming against the tide.

So don’t let the supposed death of organic reach lead you to the wrong conclusion. It has not been killed by content shock, it was only ever a fantasy creation conjured-up to give social media agencies something to sell and marketing directors something to buy.


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