Myth buster: Do Facebook promoted posts cannibalize your organic reach?

Benjamin Rey
Co-founder & Chief Scientist at Wisemetrics : with a background in mathematics & statistics, Benjamin has been crunching data and developing statistical algorithms for 15 years, mostly for e-marketing optimization (Principal Research engineer at Yahoo! labs, and now Wisemetrics)

On the relationship between Facebook organic posts and promoted posts


Promoted posts, it started with a suspicion

Since May 2012, Facebook lets users promote posts. At the time there was a lot of suspicion about Facebook reducing brands’ reach to force them into promoting their posts. A few studies, including ours pointed out that even if some brands had indeed been penalized, it was in most cases for the greater good. Users see less spammy posts. Now that things have settled down on the organic front, there are debates about what happens when a post is promoted:

Do promoted posts cannibalize organic results? Just like you would fear on Google. In other words, if you pay for search ads, will you still get as many clicks on you organic (free) results? Google says you will
How does a promoted post impact future posts? Some suspect, for instance, that all the extra negative feedback has a really bad impact on the page.


From our data’s perspective

Since we optimize brands’ social performance through both organic and paid, we had to look into these questions in detail. Just like in our previous post on Facebook posts’ lifetime, we thought we would look at this from a data perspective. We randomly selected 5K promoted posts from 1.5K pages. It is a sample, as possibly random as we can deliver. It will be missing some special cases, but it does give a good general idea of Facebook pages behavior regarding to promoted posts.

No it won’t cannibalize your organic reach

Facebook provides us with detailed statistics for promoted posts, differentiating paid impressions from organic ones: if you pay for 10,000 impressions, your post might get 11,327 impressions, 1,327 of them being organic. Are these 1,327 in line with the usual impressions you get for an un-promoted post? This is what we looked at. From our 5K sample, for each promoted post, we compared the organic part of its reach to the organic reach from the 10 un-promoted previous posts. On the graph below, we present organic impressions for promoted vs organic impressions for usual un-promoted posts, with an area covering 90% of the 5K data points (posts).

No promoting doesn t cannibilize organic

The result is clear: promoting a post does not cannibalize organic reach at all.

No, Facebook promoted posts won’t cannibalize your organic reach tweet

Indeed, median relationship between promoted and un-promoted is really close to the y=x line, meaning that for 1,000 organic impressions when not paying, we get 1,000 organic impressions when paying. If anything, small promoted posts (a few hundred impressions) are getting a better share of organic impressions than they would, would they not have been promoted.

And it has no impact your Edgerank either

EdgeRank is dead, long live EdgeRank! Even if it’s not named EdgeRank anymore, the 100K knobs model has still been built by Facebook engineers, and at some point, they did decide to filter out effects from promoted posts… or not.

Neither for the best

This time for each promoted post, we compared impressions from posts immediately before to those immediately after. And here again impressions before and after promoted posts are at the same level. All the extra buzz one gets from a promoted post doesn’t translate into improved visibility for future posts.

Nor for the worst

We also looked at the impact of negative feedback from a too wide promotion: does  accumulated negative feedback impacts future posts?
Here is the plot of impressions before and after the 5% spammiest promoted posts (posts with the highest negative feedback ratio).

promoted negative feedback doesn't impact edgerank

It looks like the negative feedback from promoted posts doesn’t impair future unpromoted posts.

Negative feedback from a too wide promotion won’t penalize your EdgeRank tweet

Ok, maybe it’s not so great for your brand to be spammy, and it is more than advisable to closely look at negative feedback metric (check out our tool Wiselytics for this). But at least it doesn’t directly impact your Edgerank.

It turns out Facebook does filter out all the extra (promoted) impressions, clicks, engagement and negative feedback from “Edgerank” modeling.

 Promoting a post on Facebook has no impact on your EdgeRank tweet


Brands shouldn’t be afraid of promoting posts, and apparently, there’s no need to wait for a post to wear down. Promoting it early won’t cannibalize organic results. If promoting a post won’t help you increase your future audience, at least it doesn’t hurt.

Facebook is fair and does dissociate promoted posts from organic reach tweet

What’s your feeling about these findings?
If you have any questions or suggestions for things we should dig into, drop us a line, we’ll be happy to take a look and share the results.

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  22. chris -

    If you pay to promote a post, you will never receive the same reach as prior to spending the money. So if you have a lifetime budget go for it!

  23. Benjamin Rey -

    Hi Crhis,
    It’s true that Facebook reach is getting worse everyday, but we don’t believe that it’s by design within Facebook “edgerank” algorithm, and our study showed that you have has much reach after as before a paid post.
    The decreasing reach is for everyone, even those who never paid any post, and it’s mostly due to the increase in number of brands liked by fans: too much content for the same user.
    It could be also due to things like the new link post format which takes twice more space than before, hence decreasing the total number of posts one can see.
    Anyways, if you feel helpless with your decreasing reach, you could sign up for our tool which improves the reach of your posts. Please take a look:
    Thanks for your feedback!

  24. Bob -

    Sorry but your study misses the obvious comparison, that between one company using promoted posts and one which doesn’t. People believe, once you have proved that you are willing to pay for promotion then your organic reach decreased both in promoted and non promoted posts compared with a company who has never paid from promotion.

    By comparing the difference between individual companies promoted and non promoted posts I think you have missed the issue.

  25. Benjamin Rey -

    Thank you Bob for your post.
    To test what you suggest, we should limit the comparison to before/after the 1st promoted post of a page. We will look at this when we run the analysis again.
    However given how fair Facebook look overall in our study (not even a slight negative signal), I would be inclined to think that if one observes on his page a decline in reach after promoting a post, it might be more about “natural” decline which is happening anyways for everyone.