In the first part of our “Engaging Members” series, we take a look at the challenges posed by the 800-pound gorilla, Facebook.

Don’t blame your social media posts, their timing or wording.

For several years now, Facebook has been fiddling with its news feed algorithm in a way that decreases organic reach. (Organic reach refers to how many people you can reach for free on Facebook by posting to your page.)

Facebook also points out that there is more content shared every single day and therefore more competition for your member’s attention. “Rather than showing people all possible content, News Feed is designed to show each person on Facebook the content that’s most relevant to them,” Brian Boland, Facebook’s vice president of advertising technology, says in a post about organic reach on the social media platform. “Of the 1,500+ stories a person might see whenever they log onto Facebook, News Feed displays approximately 300.”

Not surprisingly, Boland urges business and organizations to consider buying ads on the social media network’s right column or paying to “boost” a post to a targeted audience.

“Paid media on Facebook allows businesses to reach broader audiences more predictably, and with much greater accuracy than organic content,” Boland writes.

But of course associations are nonprofits, and they lack the budget of big corporate brands to pay for advertising. Plus, these are people who have already “liked” your organization’s page, indicating they do want to hear its news and updates.

Many nonprofits are frustrated by their lack of ability to reach “fans” they spent years cultivating.

“It’s an absolute catastrophe for us and every organization that’s paying attention,” Seth Ginsberg, president of the Global Healthy Living Foundation, an advocacy group for patients living with painful joint conditions told the International Business Times.

Despite the changes to the Facebook algorithm, there are still some strategies you can try to improve organic reach:

  1. Take a look at the data. Facebook Insights does exactly that – provide insight into everything you share. This tool is located at the top of your page, next to tabs for “messages,” “notifications” and more. You can find the reach of individual posts, the types of posts that do well, when your fans are online, external referrers and more. You can export the data to an Excel spreadsheet so it’s easier to digest. This should show a pattern of what’s working for you – and what isn’t – and provide some guidance on when is the best time for you to post on Facebook, what types of posts do best, etc.
  2. Focus on quality, not quantity. Some experts think that posting less often (just two or three times a day) helps organic reach, but again, look at what your specific data tells you.
  3. Mix it up. Don’t post the same kind of update day after day. Instead, a use a mix of photos, videos, graphics, memes, links and text. Similarly, make sure everything you’re posting isn’t strictly related to your association. Make sure to share content from a wide variety of sources – mainstream media, blogs, other nonprofits. And continue to try to directly engage your members with questions, or asking for help or suggestions, even when you might not get a lot of feedback. Eventually one is likely to strike.

That said, no matter what you do, you are going to have an increasingly hard time connecting with your Facebook fans without paying. For instance, Ogilvy & Mather predicts that for corporate brands, organic reach on Facebook will eventually hit zero.

Lacking those big corporate brands’ advertising budgets, what alternatives do associations have for engaging with members? We’ll address that in Part Two of this series!