The latest changes to the Facebook algorithm are being called a ‘nightmare’, even ‘apocalyptic’ for brands and publishers. Yes, the update will make it more difficult for brands to reach their target audiences. But we’ve been here before. And brands will simply have to adapt their strategy to remain competitive.
Why the changes?
Previous tests by Facebook focused on prioritising content generated by family and friends over that from brand pages. In certain countries, they created the “Explore Feed” as a place to house brand-driven content. The idea was to free up your NewsFeed for more interactions with people you know and engage with most.
This update to the Facebook algorithm is a continuation of that process. In a post, Mark Zuckerberg wrote, “Since there’s more public content than posts from your friends and family, the balance of what’s in News Feed has shifted away from the most important thing Facebook can do — help us connect with each other.”
Facebook faced ‘fake news’ backlash last year after it was discovered some 126 million users saw stories, posts or other content from Russian sources ahead of the 2016 Presidential election. Former executives have also come forward to express concern about the impact of the social platform, with one saying that it was “ripping society apart.” Numerous studies have suggested that social media can have a negative effect on our happiness and wellbeing.
That may be why Zuckerberg wrote that Facebook is looking to increase “meaningful connections” on the platform. A noble effort but let’s also get real. By making it more difficult for brand content to reach audiences, the changes also allow Facebook to make advertising a necessity for brands, while also increasing the cost.
His one post has cost Zuckerberg around $US3.3 billion in recent days, as Facebook tumbled 4.5 per cent on Wall Street. It’s also left brands and publishers asking, “Now what?”
What do brands need to know about the new Facebook algorithm?
With Zuckerberg’s post, a company blog post and previous moves, we can start to understand the changes coming into effect:
Here is a quick summary:
- Brand pages with posts that generally don’t generate reactions or comments already will see the biggest drop in distribution and presence in the News Feed. All brands, however, will see a decrease.
- Facebook will prioritise posts that ‘inspire back-and-forth discussion.’ Facebook suggested things like a ‘posts from a friend seeking advice or a friend asking for recommendations for a trip’ as examples. News articles or videos promoting lots of discussion will also take priority.
- Facebook will still suggest and serve you posts that it thinks you will want to interact with or talk about with friends. This takes reactions, past engagement etc. into account.
- Brands that use like or engagement baiting will be demoted in the News Feed. This includes tactics such as ‘like if you agree’ or posts that ‘goad’ people into interacting.
- Users will be able to adjust their News Feed preferences if they want to see more posts from particular brand pages.
What to do next
With those changes in mind, here are a few suggestions on how brands can best respond and mitigate the impact of the new Facebook algorithm.
1. Focus on quality over quantity
With Facebook reducing the number of brand posts that are seen, it is more important than ever that you make your posts count. Consider spending more time on your content, even if that means posting less frequently. Think about how your brand content can provoke discussion and enable your fans and the wider Facebook community to help one another.
2. Be sure you are posting when your community is online
Use Facebook Insights to learn more about when your specific audience is engaging with your content. Posts will be evaluated not only by overall engagement but by how quickly it is generated. Posts that receive lots of likes and comments quickly will take priority. Draw attention to your content, be active in responding to comments and drive the conversation forward, where possible.
3. Post about trending topics
Timeliness is becoming increasingly important across all platforms. Post about what’s happening now and about what gets your audience talking. Joining an existing conversation is much easier than starting your own. You can still post ‘evergreen’ content, but look for opportunities to add in timely posts that build on the latest trends.
4. Consider your video strategy
Video is still a big engagement driver, especially Live video. Live videos on average get six times as many interactions as regular videos so be proactive in creating opportunities to include it in a way that’s relevant for your brand. If you’re already using video, look for ways to improve engagement. Grab your audience’s attention in the first three seconds and consider using a ‘square’ format, as the videos appear larger in the mobile News Feed. Also try using captions and encouraging viewers to ‘Tap for sound’.
5. Accept that it’s pay to play
Facebook is a business, not a megaphone or a community bulletin board. Brands can no longer expect to be successful on Facebook without advertising. Evaluate your targeting, boost your top posts and again, focus on quality over quantity. You don’t need to spend a fortune to make an impact.
These changes will force some brands to re-think their social strategy completely, specifically if it’s been passive to-date. Both brands and content creators need to push the boundaries and create content that matters to their target audiences. This makes it more important than ever that brands understand exactly who that audience is and what they want and need.