The announcement that Facebook is to overhaul its newsfeed algorithm, putting more emphasis on posts from friends and family at the expense of publishers and brands, has sent shockwaves through the social media marketing community.
In a post at the end of last week, Facebook’s head of newsfeed Adam Mosseri, explained that the social network’s decision was designed to “prioritise posts that spark conversations and meaningful interactions between people”.
He added that: “Because space in newsfeed is limited, showing more posts from friends and family and updates that spark conversation means we’ll show less public content, including videos and other posts from publishers or businesses.”
The change will likely be warmly received by Facebook’s 2 billion monthly active users.
Andy Barr, founder of digital agency www.10Yetis.co.uk, says: “The changes mean that we can all get that fuzzy feeling inside from reading even more about the things that our friends and family are doing without being inundated with those dirty, clickbait, news headlines.”
Battenhall founder Drew Benvie, argues we should not be surprised by the development. “Of late, the newsfeed has become congested with random videos, company posts, news headlines, and sometimes less savoury content too,” he notes. “Zuckerberg has made it clear he would like the newsfeed to become front and centre in our personal social media lives once again.”
But for marketers, even if it isn’t a surprising development, it is still a concerning one – if they can’t reach people as often, how are they going to generate ROI?
“Brands, and most media outlets, are now going to have their content shunted into the sidelines and out of our newsfeed,” predicts Barr. “There will be some who earn a place in the newsfeed based on the volume of shares and various other Zuck-based algorithms, and with this will come attempts to “game” the system, but most brands will probably fall foul of the new rules.”
So how should marketers respond?
In his post, Mosseri concedes that the changes will mean that “Pages may see their reach, video watch time and referral traffic decrease.” But he does share some advice about mitigating the impact by focusing on certain types of content.
1. Produce more engaging content
Mosseri explains that while Pages making posts that people generally don’t react to or comment on will see decreases in distribution, Pages whose posts prompt conversations between friends will see less of an effect.
Yuval Ben-Itzhak, CEO at Socialbakers, recommends: “Facebook has stated that the brand and publisher content that will have the broadest reach will be content that encourages meaningful interactions between people, therefore brands and publishers need to better understand the interests of their audience, create content that drives engagement, focus on targeting the posts to the relevant audience and avoid scheduled posting of content to the entire audience.”
Mosseri himself recommends that brands consider targeting their content by location: “In Groups, people often interact around public content. Local businesses connect with their communities by posting relevant updates and creating events. And news can help start conversations on important issues.”
2. Deliver live video
As an example of content that could be successful following the algorithm change, Mosseri specifically flags up live video. “Live videos often lead to discussion among viewers on Facebook – in fact, live videos on average get six times as many interactions as regular videos,” he notes. “Many creators who post videos on Facebook prompt discussion among their followers, as do posts from celebrities.”
Ben-Itzhak agrees that the changes will drive the use of live video: “It’s organic, it’s free and it has a proven record to be much more engaging than any other type of content. While publishers started to usvive video more often, brands are still behind. The barrier to go live is no longer technical. As authenticity and instant drive engagement with millennials, brands should not limit their content creation and go live in 2018.”
3. Avoid ‘engagement-bait’
Mosseri warns that organisations that use ‘engagement-bait’ to goad people into commenting on posts will have their posts demoted, as these will not be viewed as “meaningful interactions”.
“Engagement bait” is defined by Facebook as spammy posts on Facebook that goad them into interacting with likes, shares, comments, and other actions – for instance, posts that say “LIKE this if you’re an Aries!”
4. Be authentic
Facebook will also demote posts that go against another of its key newsfeed values — authenticity. In response to the rise of ‘fake news’ the social network is aiming to reduce the spread of content that is spammy, sensational, or misleading.
5. Work with your advocates
“Advocates are going to be essential,” says Natalie Weaving, director of digital agency The Typeface Group Ltd. “All businesses have advocates, if you step back and look for them. These could be your customers, partners or staff. Whoever they are you need to ask them to start getting involved with your Facebook page.
“This could be sharing your content out to their audience or starting a conversation with people under the update. A lot of small businesses have set up ‘pods’ to help beat the Instagram algorithm, so why not now for Facebook.”
6. Be prepared to spend more on Facebook
The other alternative is to accept that Facebook is now more pay-to-play than organic.
“Brands now realise social media is 'less social, more media' and have to pay for their content to be seen by target audiences,” says Greg Allum, head of social at agency Jellyfish. “Will publishers who have seen large organic reach, increased followers and significant video views fall for the bait and switch? Will they try new platforms? Or will they invest increased media budgets into Facebook?
“I predict publishers will test and learn on other channels to understand the impact of their content but ultimately will fish where the fish are and return to Facebook with increased media budgets in hand. The lure of a captive audience will be too much for them, but they will shift their strategy and concentrate on creating less but bigger and better pieces of content, which in turn will improve the user experience for consumers. Although brands could see an increase in the cost to advertise as the channel becomes more competitive.”
Brands should shift their strategy and concentrate on creating less but bigger and better pieces of content
A final note
While there has been an outcry at the changes from some in the marketing world, the reality is that social networks are just that – social. The presence of brands on social has grown dramatically, and for many users this has been to the detriment of the networks.
Facebook’s change should be welcomed if it can genuinely improve the service for users. And brands will have to raise their game to be more relevant and more vital with their messaging, rather than trying to beat users into submission by sheer volume.
Dayle Hall, SVP marketing at Lithium Technologies, says: "For marketers, it’s an alarm bell. They are going to have no choice but to get better and engage effectively and authentically with consumers, talking with them and not just at them, showing up on the channels their customers frequent, and answering questions their customers have quickly and accurately – not just pushing ads out. Remember, the term “social” implies a two-way interaction, a digital conversation, and that starts with listening and participating with consumers, not shouting your message at them."
Barr adds: “Facebook, and more importantly, consumers, are not going to put up with shoddy content anymore and this move may seem dramatic but positions Facebook well to withstand the challenge of social channels that simply present the content that the user wants to see.”
He concludes: “Brands and news media are going to be the biggest losers with this, both in terms of a loss of traffic and engagement alongside an almost inevitable rise in costs for getting consumers eyes on their content. Is this a bad thing though? Not for consumers and this is what some of us 'evil' social media industry workers sometimes forget; what the end-user wants is key.”
About Neil Davey
Neil Davey is the managing editor of MyCustomer. An experienced business journalist and editor, Neil has worked on a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites over the past 15 years, including Internet Works, CXO magazine and Business Management. He joined Sift Media in 2007.