Facebook Page Engagement in Crisis: What the Data Reveals and How Marketers Must Adapt

Marketers who have been relying on organic Facebook Page posting to reach their audience may need to rethink their approach. A landmark 2018 study by social media management platform Buffer, in partnership with content analytics tool BuzzSumo, found that engagement with Facebook Page posts had fallen off a cliff.

The researchers analyzed over 43 million posts from the top 20,000 Facebook Pages and found that the average engagement per post had declined by more than 50% over the course of 18 months.

And spoiler alert: Page engagement is still down in 2023. Way down.

But just how bad is it? What‘s causing this historic drop in performance? And most importantly, what do marketers need to do about it? Let‘s dive in.

Engagement in Freefall: A Closer Look at the Data

The Buffer/BuzzSumo study, published in August 2018, was one of the first to quantify just how drastically Facebook Page engagement had fallen. Among the top-line findings:

  • Average engagement per post fell from 4,490 in Q1 2017 to 1,582 in Q2 2018 – a whopping 65% decline
  • Median engagement per post dropped from 178 to 27 over the same period
  • Images saw the largest decline of any post type, plunging 63% from 9,370 average engagements to 3,454
  • Videos held up better, but still saw a 38% decline from 5,486 to 3,362 average engagements

Here‘s a chart showing the across-the-board dip in engagements by post type:

Facebook engagement decline by post type

Source: Buffer

The researchers also broke down the data by Page category. While every category saw significant dips, some were hit harder than others:

  • Artist Pages saw the steepest decline at 70.6%
  • Media/News Pages fell 64.4%
  • Retail Pages weathered the storm best, but still dropped 49.4%

Facebook engagement declines by Page category

Source: Buffer

Facebook Engagement in 2023: Have Things Improved?

Fast forward to 2023 and organic reach and engagement on Facebook is still paltry compared to the heydays of the mid-2010s.

A 2022 study by social media analytics firm Rival IQ found that the median engagement rate per post for all industries was down to just 0.07%. That means roughly 1 in every 1,500 followers is engaging with each new post.

For comparison, Instagram‘s median engagement rate per post was over 5X higher at 0.47% in the same study. No wonder more and more brands are prioritizing other platforms over Facebook.

But it‘s not just organic reach that‘s suffered. A 2022 report from social media adtech company Adalytics found that Facebook ad engagement is dropping too. Their data shows a 15-20% year-over-year decrease in ad clicks and click-through rate from 2020 to 2022.

So why can‘t Facebook quit the engagement slump? There are a few key factors at play.

What‘s Behind the Decline? 4 Factors Killing Facebook Engagement

Several compounding forces have led Facebook engagement to hit historic lows in recent years. Here are the four biggest drivers behind the downturn:

1. The Algorithm Apocalypse

It‘s impossible to overstate the impact of Facebook‘s 2018 News Feed algorithm update that was designed to drastically reduce the reach of public posts from Pages. Overnight, organic reach plummeted.

Mark Zuckerberg made the goals of the change crystal clear in a January 2018 post:

"We‘re making a major change to how we build Facebook…I‘m changing the goal I give our product teams from focusing on helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful social interactions."

A series of additional News Feed tweaks in the following months and years continued to chip away at organic Page post distribution.

2. The Firehose of Content

As organic reach dwindled, many Pages panic-posted, flooding the feed with more and more content to try to claw back lost engagement. The Buffer/BuzzSumo study found a 24% YoY increase in per-Page posting frequency in 2018.

But with more Posts fighting for less News Feed space, this volume approach backfired. It‘s a simple matter of supply and demand. A 2021 study published in Nature found that the amount of content created on Facebook grows exponentially, far outpacing growth in users‘ ability to consume it.

3. The Rise of the Competition

While Facebook remains the largest social network by far with 2.9 billion MAU as of Q4 2022, younger generations are flocking to the shinier objects of Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat.

In an October 2022 Piper Sandler survey, 38% of U.S. teens cited TikTok as their favorite social platform, followed by Snapchat at 30%. Instagram came in third at 20%, while Facebook barely registered at 2%.

As more eyeballs and engagement shift to other apps, it‘s no wonder Facebook engagement is falling behind. Many marketers are focusing their organic efforts on the higher-growth, higher-engagement channels.

4. The Almighty Algorithm

Finally, it‘s important to recognize that Facebook‘s News Feed algorithm is designed to show users the content they are most likely to engage with. Posts that drive more comments, reactions, and re-shares get a visibility boost.

But that also means a negative feedback loop for lower-performing Page posts. Fewer initial engagements lead to less reach, which leads to even fewer engagements, and on and on it spirals. With average organic Page post engagement so low, it‘s exceedingly difficult to break through the algorithmic barrier.

Strategies to Combat the Engagement Slump in 2023

So what‘s a marketer to do in this era of basement-level organic reach on Facebook? Here are five must-implement engagement strategies for the current landscape:

1. Create Thumb-Stopping Content

With algorithmic amplification harder to achieve than ever, Pages must focus on posting content that is inherently engaging and share-worthy. Some tips:

  • Use eye-catching visuals, motion graphics, or short vertical videos to grab attention
  • Lean into trending content formats and meme-able moments
  • Tell original, compelling stories that resonate emotionally
  • Ask thought-provoking questions and use interactive features like polls

The bar for earning engagement is higher than ever, so bring your A-game creatively.

2. Activate Your Advocates

Turn your biggest fans into a guerilla engagement army. Some ideas:

  • Run Page-like challenges and giveaways to incentivize follows and re-shares
  • Create a linked Facebook Group where your most ardent supporters can interact more intimately
  • Invite fans to submit user-generated content that you can highlight
  • Engage in conversation in the comments and DMs to foster loyalty

If you can get even a small subset of followers consistently liking, commenting, and re-sharing your posts, it can make a big difference.

3. Test New Tactics and Formats

Just because the tried-and-true content formulas aren‘t working on Facebook anymore doesn‘t mean you should give up. Use your Page as a testing ground for new engagement strategies. Some experiments to try:

  • Posting at different times/days to see if you can catch follower waves
  • Uploading native video and text-based posts vs. linking out
  • Varying length and type of copy, visuals, CTAs, etc.
  • Using Facebook Live for real-time engagement
  • Participating in groups as your Page to make new connections

Keep a close eye on your Page Insights data to see what moves the needle and optimize from there.

4. Diversify Your Organic Playbook

It may be time to put more organic eggs in other social media baskets. Build out an engaged following on the platforms where your audience is most active and your content has the best chance of reaching them, like:

  • Instagram: Static posts, Stories, Reels, Live
  • TikTok: Trending hashtag challenges, sounds, effects
  • Twitter: Real-time commentary and conversation
  • LinkedIn: Professional tips and industry insights

You don‘t need to be everywhere – focus on the 2-3 channels that best fit your brand and target demo. Repurpose content across platforms when it makes sense, but also optimize for each channel‘s unique strengths.

5. Shift to Social Advertising

Lastly, don‘t fight the tide – embrace that Facebook is now primarily a pay-to-play channel for brands. Organic can still play an important role in community-building and engagement, but it will likely take a backseat to paid.

The good news is that Facebook‘s advertising tools are incredibly robust, with unparalleled audience targeting capabilities. You can use your organic posts to test content that resonates, then put paid support behind your winners.

Some paid tactics to test:

  • Boosting top-performing posts to a lookalike audience
  • Running engagement campaigns to page likes or post interactions
  • Retargeting ads to people who have engaged with your page or website
  • Using dynamic product ads for online sales
  • Experimenting with newer ad formats like Stories and in-stream

Don‘t abandon organic altogether, but be ready to flex your paid muscles to achieve your reach and engagement goals.

The Future of Facebook Engagement

So what does the future hold for brands trying to connect with fans on Facebook? I expect the trends of the last few years to continue:

  • Organic Page reach and engagement will remain low as the News Feed prioritizes user-generated content
  • Competition for attention will intensify as more content floods the Feed
  • Younger users will spend less time and engage less on Facebook in favor of other apps
  • Facebook will roll out more monetization tools and ad formats for businesses
  • Marketers will focus more on paid social and diversify their organic efforts across platforms

But I also predict that Facebook Groups and Messenger will become increasingly important engagement channels for brands. More intimate and interactive spaces like Groups, Live broadcasts, and 1:1 messaging are a natural evolution in an ecosystem where public feed posts get lost in the noise.

The key will be finding the right balance of organic community-building and paid amplification that works for your unique brand and audience. Those that stay nimble, test new strategies, and focus on meaningful audience interactions will still find ways to drive business value from Facebook in the years to come. Just don‘t expect a return to the organic reach glory days of old.