White Paper on Facebook Owned & Earned Media

Section 1: Definitions of Facebook Owned & Earned Reach:

  • Owned Reach: The number of unique people who see your brand post in News Feed or on your Page. This includes views directly from the brand posting, not achieved through friends’ interactions, or paid promotion of Page Posts.  The number of unique people is limited to those that are connected to your Page.
  • Earned Reach: The number of unique people who saw your post from a story published by a friend. These stories can include liking, commenting or sharing your post, answering a question or responding to an event.  This is achieved through friends’ interactions with your branded content that has not been amplified via paid promotion.  The number of unique people is limited to people connected to your Page and their friends.
  • Organic Reach: Owned Reach + Earned Reach
  • Paid Reach: The number of unique people who see your brand post in the News Feed achieved through paid promotion. The number of unique people is not limited to those connected to your Page or their friends; it can include anyone on Facebook to whom you target your Page post.


Section 2: Increasing Competition in Digital Newsfeed:

More content is being shared by more people and brands each year on Facebook.  The increase in people, connections and content production is the reason why there has been a natural decrease in owned and earned reach, from both people and Pages, across categories and verticals.


We see primarily 4 contributing factors:

  1. More Sharing Overall

People and brands are sharing more content each year in the Newsfeed, meaning that it is harder for all entities (friends and Pages) to reach people, even as Facebook users increase time spent and engagement. In addition to sharing more, brands are also spending more on Facebook advertising in order to reach the right target consumers. Facebook ad impressions were up 39% compared to last year. This trend in increased sharing is not Facebook specific and applies to all digital media channels. In fact, global digital information created and shared grew 9X in the past five years to almost 2 zeta bytes. This is a natural occurrence and not due to Facebook algorithms.

  1. More “friendly” and “active” User Base

As Facebook’s user base matures, each year the average user adds more friends. For our most active user demographic (U.S. ages 15-35), the average # of friends has increased from 230 in 2011 to 260 in 2013. In addition, active users fan/like more Pages on Facebook.  According to SocialBakers, the average Facebook user in 2009 liked 4.5 Pages.  That figure has risen to 40 in 2013.  Lastly, users share more content from photos to editorials to wall posts.  Each social engagement competes for share of space in the Newsfeed.  Today’s users are hyper active, uploading 10.19BN photos, making 3.37BN wall posts, sharing 42.3MN videos, and checking in at 107MN locations in only thirty days.  Thus, holding constant the amount of time the average person spends on the platform, each person will on average see fewer posts from the average friend or Page in their network.  

According to Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg (Zuck’s Law): “the amount of things each user shares on Facebook has roughly doubled every year”. As users become more comfortable with the platform and create stronger social networks on Facebook they share more. This effect increases with our most active users. These users are more likely to engage with brands, share content, and serve as “influencers”.

While it is true that users spend more time on Facebook on average per day overtime, the increased usage rate is significantly lower than the rapid rate of content sharing growth. The average # of minutes per day spent on Facebook increases by ~20% for users that have been active on Facebook for 2+ years.

  1. Move Advertising on Facebook

Brands and local business are spending more on Facebook ads, especially on ads in the highly effective Newsfeed.  Total advertising revenue grew 43% year over year as of Q4 2012 and 65% of advertisers are now using ads in Newsfeed.  In addition, the number of local businesses advertising on Facebook has nearly doubled since January 2012.  More advertising spend equates to more content and thus more competition in users’ Newsfeed.

  1. More Reliance on Mobile

Mobile devices have changed the way people consume media, especially social media. Globally mobile ranks first in media consumption, comprising 1.8 hours of the 7 hours spent consuming media on average, outpacing TV (1.5 hours), PCs (1.6 hours) and any other channel (Inmobi mobile study from 2013). The increase in mobile usage has attracted advertising dollars. According to Gartner, Global mobile ad expenditure is forecast to be US$11.4BN in 2013, up from $9.8BN in 2012. It’s forecasted to rise to $24.6BN in 2016, accounting for 15.2% of global online ad spend.

While Facebook user engagement rates on mobile are higher compared to PCs, it’s very difficult for brands to achieve organic placement in the Newsfeed without promoting the content. The screen is smaller compared to a PC, users are using mobile more to share content, and more companies and brands are advertising on mobile. With these increases in shared content and advertising, it becomes very difficult for brands to reach consumers without paying for reach and frequency.  From Q4’12 to Q1’13 alone, mobile was approximately 30% of Facebook’s ad revenue.


Section 3: Benefits of Planning Owned, Earned & Paid Reach:

Due to an increase in the number of stories that can potentially be seen in a person’s Newsfeed organically, brands must plan accordingly to maximize both organic and paid reach.

Additionally, with a proper reach strategy, paid media can have a multiplier effect on both earned and owned reach.  Using all three reach mechanisms holistically, Brands can maximise reach, optimise Word-of-Mouth generation and drive greater efficiency on Facebook.

Here’s an example of how Paid, Owned and Earned work together for a typical CPG brand over the past 30 days (June 2013):


Observation 1 – Paid Reach Drives a Disproportionate Higher Average of Organic Reach (the Multiplier Effect):

  • 1,326,755 Paid Reach (daily average last period) drove 184,464 Organic Likes (7.1X)
  • 2,162,847 Paid Reach (daily average this period) drove 232,136 Organic Likes (9.3X)

Observation 2 – Spikes in Paid Reach Drives Spikes in Organic Reach:




Observation 3 – When It Comes to User Interactions with the Brand, Organic Likes Track Closely with Paid Likes:


Section 4: Ways to Maximize Owned & Earned Reach:

There are two ways for a brand to maximise Owned & Earned Reach: 1) by improving brand creative and 2) by leveraging Paid media, which is the #1 driver of organic distribution.

  1. Improving Brand Creative

Brands have to ensure high quality content that is authentic, engaging, relevant, uses the appropriate brand voice, and ladders up to the its larger brand building efforts.  According to statistics from the Facebook Publishing Garage team (a team that hosts 2-day bootcamps to up-level brands’ creative and develop world-class publishing strategy on Facebook), good brand creative can drive 150% - 300% more owned and earned reach. 

Observation 1 – after improving brand creative, a CPG brand increased its reach significantly:



  1. Leveraging Paid media as the #1 driver of organic distribution


The most consistent and predictable way for brands to maximize their owned and earned reach is through paid media, which not only gets your brand messaging in front of your target audience, but drives efficiency of the effective CPM cost.

Observation 2 – with Paid media, top brands, over the last quarter, reached 5X their organic audience.  For example, a major Telecom brand reached 3.4mm people through organic only, 17mm through both Paid and Organic, and 82mm through Paid alone.


Ultimately, the Success Equation for Brands on Facebook is:


Section 5: Conclusion:

Engagement on Facebook is increasing: more people are connected to more people and Pages and produce more content than ever before. This phenomenon has resulted in people seeing fewer stories from friends and Pages relative to the number of stories produced.

Reduction in Owned and Earned Reach is a natural phenomenon and it holds true for all digital platforms with a fast expanding user base (Facebook, Twitter and other newsfeed platforms).  This happens due to primarily 4 reasons:

1) More Sharing Overall

2) More Active and Engaged User Base

3) More Advertising Spend and

4) More Mobile

A brand’s organic reach is limited.  A holistic Paid, Owned and Earned strategy will help Brands to maximise reach.  In addition, Paid has a multiplier effect on Earned and Owned. 

Overall, the way to achieve success on Facebook is through 2 things: 1) quality content and 2) sufficient reach.