Facebook Unveils a New Era for the News Feed
We’ve already had a ‘snowmageddon’ this year, and a short-lived ‘government shutdownageddon’, but now–with Facebook’s proposed News Feed changes–get ready for the ‘Facebookageddon’.
It is safe to say Facebook had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year in 2017. The company was compelled to testify before Congress about the impact of ads purchased by Russian troll groups intended to sow discord during the 2016 election. It also come under fire over the way they handle ‘fake news’ and what they do about ‘offensive content’. To combat these sticking points Facebook hired thousands of new moderators, and recently rolled out a new system to combat the spread of false news stories from fringe websites. Watching the drama unfold over the last 12 months, it became increasing clear to us that a sea change was in the making over at Facebook. It wasn’t just us: the warning signs were there, and a lot of marketers and paid social advertisers were preparing for the worst.
On January 11th the tides did indeed change at Facebook headquarters as the company unveiled a new era for News Feed. Citing a need to deliver content that “facilitates meaningful social interactions,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that the platform would start scoring content from brands and publishers differently. Originally–as we explained in a previous post–Facebook ranked content based on metrics like clicks, comments, likes, shares, and relevance. While that original algorithm has certainly changed over the years–limiting things like text-heavy posts and images–the new update stands as a major step forward in the way they’ve been treating different kinds of content in the News Feed over the last couple of years.
The social media giant announced it will continue to move away from branded content while putting an ever-greater emphasis on posts from family, friends, and other ‘real people’ you’ve interacted with. Facebook hopes that bringing an end to the age of publisher content will offer a much needed boost to the social networking site, but is keenly aware of the damage it will do in the short term. In a statement released on the site, Zuckerberg admitted that he was aware of the negatives, saying “the time people spend on Facebook and some measures of engagement will go down,” but offering that he expects that time spent on Facebook will be more valuable as a result. Essentially, Facebook is continuing their pivot from quantity to quality, which means much of the content you currently see on your News Feed from outside sources—videos, promotions, and ‘engagement-bait’ posts from publishers—are about to be a much less integral part of your feed.
So what does this mean for businesses, brands, and marketers? Here’s a rundown of what those changes mean to content creators, and how to navigate this digital end times:
The first thing to keep in mind as a publisher or advertiser on Facebook is that no, your career is not over. Things are changing, but keep in mind that Facebook is still the one of the most powerful and influential digital marketing tools out there.
One of the main concerns about Facebook’s new changes is the way it will impact the organic reach of posts created by publishers. Organic reach is how many people naturally see your post in their news feed, and for digital content creators it’s somewhat of the holy grail of content. When someone sees a post organically there is no ‘sponsored’ disclaimer, and the post is integrated into a user’s timeline in the same way posts from friends are. The prospect of organic reach disappearing for published pages is certainly a concern, but if you’ve been in the Facebook marketing game for a while you know organic reach has been in decline for years, as this handy graph explains.
Facebook acknowledged this specifically, saying in their announcement that “Pages may see their reach, video watch time and referral traffic decrease.” This isn’t what you want to hear if you’re a publisher, but have hope: not all is lost. Just because organic reach is about to hit all-time lows doesn’t mean you have to give up on Facebook, but you will have to pivot to advertising through the platform.
One of the biggest recommendations we can offer going forward is the strategic use of the ‘Boost Post’ option. Since the Facebook changes aim to foster quality discussion between real people, engagement is key to a successful post. So, to utilize the post boosting you’ll first want to push out some content and monitor which pieces and formats of content audiences engage with best. Pick your most successful post—the one with the most amount of likes, comments, and shares—and put some money behind it. Facebook will then serve it to users, but because it already had some engagement Facebook will prioritize it because it’s proven to be quality content already.
If you’ve been on Facebook in the past couple of years you know that video is everywhere. Facebook’s algorithm loves video because audiences respond better to video than any other content medium. Videos also keep users on the site longer because they stop scrolling to watch interesting content, and are more likely to click on related video content. We expect this to change in the new update. Video will still be there, but it won’t be the omnipresent force it has been for the last few years, meaning you can expect drops in views and engagement, even if you’re pushing out awesome videos. One area will probably still be a winner is Facebook Live. Facebook Live drives six times as much engagement as edited video, and users watch live videos three times longer than regular ones. You can use this to your advantage by using Live for things you usually wouldn’t: live stream your podcast, major announcements, everyday office activities (behind-the scenes), answer questions, talk about breaking news, or anything else you feel could be interesting live. Again, boring content probably won’t drive engagement here, but it can be a great way to get some organic reach if you’ve got something good to say.
The new update is about fostering meaningful discussion between real users, and Facebook’s Groups boast a high engagement rate because the whole point of Groups is to get like-minded people talking to each other. If you’re already part of some groups you might notice you see more ‘group posts’ than you do posts from Pages you like, and the more comments and likes the post has, the higher it gets ranked. As engagement plummets on publisher pages it might be worth it to create a group for your company, product, or even just a community group for people interested in whatever subject your page is about. If you already have a robust page with regular interaction you’ll definitely want to consider this route—you can channel people from your page to your group, then use that group to post content similar to that of your page, but with a focus on fostering constructive discussions between real people. Once they start talking your engagement will rise and Facebook will begin to place your group posts organically into feeds.
Just because the News Feed is changing doesn’t mean the ads are. Facebook still has the most robust ad interface in the game, and properly created Facebook ads are still going to be incredibly efficient tools to get yourself or your brand out there. Ad prices are likely to rise with the new algorithm changes, which means it’s more important than ever to use best practices when creating ads. Use short, punchy copy and arresting, low-text graphics. Video ads are always great, but they need to be professionally made. However, even the most beautiful Facebook ad can underperform if it isn’t shown the right people. Audience segments and custom audience lists will become paramount to success. Increased ad prices mean it becomes imperative that you’re serving your content ONLY to segments that are interested in your product. You won’t be selling fidget spinners to nursing home residents, and you won’t get many middle schoolers to sign up for life insurance, so keep in mind exactly who your audience or customers are.
Facebook owns Instagram, but they’re different platforms. Instagram has the potential to be a powerful marketing resource once you clear a few hurdles. First, you need really nice looking pictures—if you’re selling a product some iPhone pictures won’t cut it. Consider videos of the product being made, the product in action, and strategic partnerships with trending pages and Instagram thought leaders. The proper use of hashtags can also be a significant boon and can boost views and engagement—much more so than Facebook.
While this update certainly isn’t designed to help digital marketers or companies hoping to utilize the immensely powerful tech giant to sell products, the term “Facebookageddon” isn’t completely accurate. Yes, publishers will have to adjust, innovate, branch out to other platforms, and compensate for the loss of organic reach—but all is not lost. Do not abandon ship. Remember, Facebook is still by far the largest social networking site ever, and is still home to active discussion groups, two billion monthly active users, and an incredibly robust advertisement infrastructure. Tactics will have to change, but this is by no means the end of Pages, publisher content, or advertising on Facebook. Have questions? Reach out to us and we can help.