On January 11th 2018, Mark Zuckerberg shook up the world when he announced Facebook will change its algorithm to promote more personal content rather than news. Soon after twitter news feeds flooded with headlines like:
“Facebook Shares Fall”, “Facebook Is Changing”
“Zuckerburg’s Net Worth Has Just Taken A 2.9 Billion Dollar Hit.”
Over the next few weeks, Facebook’s news feed will start showing fewer news articles, and less marketing content and ads, Zuckerberg wrote . Instead, users should start seeing more vacation videos from their friends, photos of family living abroad, and other more family-friendly posts about the people they know. It’s a major change for Facebook, which over the years has shifted from being a social networking service connecting friends and family to one of the world’s largest distributors of news and online ads.
So Why is Facebook changing its news feed?
To hear Zuckerberg explain it, the increase in news articles and marketing has created an imbalance that “is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other.” Based on Facebook’s internal research and outside studies, he said that people are generally happier and have a better “well-being” when they use social media to connect “with people we care about.” What “may not be as good,” however, is merely “reading articles or watching videos,” even if they’re informative or entertaining.
Zuckerberg says Facebook has studied academic research and concluded that social media is only good for users’ wellbeing if they use it to “connect with people we care about”. In November, the company published a post that claimed “passive” social media use could be harmful, arguing instead for a more active and communal approach to the site.
As a result, Zuckerberg says, Facebook wants to promote the sorts of posts that encourage those interactions, while demoting those its data shows encourage only surface interactions – likes and shares but little else.
Some of The controversies Facebook has faced in recent years over its relationship with the news industry. For example, critics slammed Facebook (FB, +3.17%) for failing to prevent the spread of misinformation, dubbed fake news, on the news feed during the run up to the U.S. 2016 presidential election.
The change will bring Facebook other benefits. By diminishing the influence of news media, it may be able to avoid a repeat of the bad press it received during the 2016 US election when it became a breeding ground for “fake news”, helping spread stories that misled millions.
And the company has long displayed concern over the decline in “organic sharing” – users posting content about their own lives, rather than simply sharing links to the wider web or professionally produced videos and photos. Users are more likely to share details about their own lives if they see others doing the same, and so promoting organic content begets more organic content.
Did Facebook do something like this before?
In December 2013, Facebook changed its algorithm to promote “high-quality articles” over “a meme photo hosted somewhere other than Facebook”. In the process, it also took aim at publishers who produced content that was too appealing. The social news site Upworthy saw its traffic halve in the month after the algorithm change, a decline it has never quite recovered from.
Similar changes have happened over the years as Facebook decided to focus on promoting “instant articles”, a type of Facebook native content; to pivot to promoting video; to pivot from video to live video; and to pivot from live video to Facebook groups, the company’s most recent attempt to build a stronger sense of community.
How will Facebook’s News Feed change affect your business?
Zuckerberg explains. “As we roll this out, you’ll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media. And the public content you see more will be held to the same standard — it should encourage meaningful interactions between people.”
Although this news may be surprising to some people, in reality, organic reach from Facebook Pages has been steadily declining for years. Some sources estimate the current organic reach for Facebook Pages to be as low as 2% (Hubspot).
To put this in context, if you publish a post on a Facebook Page that has 100,000 fans, only 2,000 of those fans are likely to see it.
There are two main reasons for this:
- As Zuckerberg explained, Facebook users generally don’t log in to Facebook to see content from businesses, brands, and media. They want to see posts from their friends and family.
- Facebook’s main source of revenue comes from advertisers. If you’re a business with a Facebook Page, and you want more Facebook users to see your content, you have to pay for that privilege.
It’s also possible that the number of hours people have been using Facebook is declining, and the company is trying to adjust the news feed to get people to stay online for longer than they have been, according to Pivotal Research Group analyst Brian Wieser. He analysed Nielsen data about Facebook’s online audience over a 14-month period ending Sept. 2017, and found a small, but general decline in people’s use of Facebook. The report said that “Facebook (including Messenger but excluding Instagram) saw a decline in total person-hours (number of users multiplied by hours of consumption per person) during September of -0.1% year-over-year following a -0.9% decline in August.”
Facebook is about to get more costly
With Facebook clamping down on media within the news feed, these executives have legitimate concerns that it could impact how much money publishers can make from custom and sponsored videos. For instance, the cost models for branded content will likely change. It will cost more to run paid campaigns to seed videos in front of users in the news feed, which will cut into profit margins of every business.
Here are 6 tips to help you become accustomed to this change and continue to build a blossoming business in 2018:
1.Build your audience on multiple platforms.
If you’re building your audience online, make sure you that you’re diversifying that audience across multiple platforms. Our audience on social media, for example, is spread across multiple platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. If any of these platforms decided to restrict our reach (or shut down entirely), it wouldn’t be detrimental to us because we’re not relying on any single one of them to reach our audience.
2. Encourage engagement on your posts.
Facebook favours posts that are getting lots of engagement (likes, shares, reactions, comments). So if you encourage your audience to engage with your post, Facebook will show that post to more people.
Here are a few ways to boost engagement on Facebook:
- Use Facebook Live
- Ask questions to stir discussion
- Respond to comments quickly
- Hire a community manager (Depending on the size of your audience and the amount of engagement you get on Facebook, you may want to hire a community manager to respond to questions, participate in discussions, and moderate comments when necessary.)
- Direct people to your Facebook posts from other platforms
3. Use Facebook ads the Correct Way.
If you’re posting content on your Facebook Page often, wait at least 24-48 hours to see which of your posts get good engagement. Use Facebook’s boost post option to help a post that is already getting engagement get even more engagement.
If you boost a post that no one is engaging with, you will be penalized with high ad costs. Boosted posts and ads that add value to your target audience and get engagement will outperform ads that don’t. Going straight for the sale on Facebook rarely works. Instead, direct your audience to free content, downloadable resources, webinars, etc. Get them off of Facebook and on to a platform that you control (like your website or email list) before you try to sell to them.
4. Create a Facebook Group for your audience.
Instead of trying to get more fans for your Facebook Page, create a private Facebook Group for your audience and/or customers and start directing people to your group instead. Groups are much better environments than pages for engaging with others and building community anyway.
5. Build an asset that you can control.
Despite how much of a presence you establish for your business on social media, it’s important to remember that you do not own or control these platforms. Therefore, changes are beyond your control (like the one that just happened!) can affect your ability to reach your audience using these platforms.
As you build your audience on social media, make sure you are simultaneously building an asset that you can control: your database. Whether by collecting email addresses, phone numbers, or even physical mailing addresses, always be building a database of prospects and customers that you can contact directly.
6. Focus on customer success.
Lastly, never lose sight of what should be your uttermost important priority: helping your customers succeed.
Successful customers are happy customers, and happy customers tell other people about your business. They become your biggest advocates. Word-of-mouth marketing is alive and strong, especially on social media.
Instead of asking: how can you reach more people using Facebook? Ask: what can you do to make your existing customers more successful? How can you make sure they’re getting the result you promised them when they purchased your product or service? How can you make them feel support and a part of a community of like-minded people that share the same interests and want the same results?
As for me, I believe this announcement means that the need to build a true community on Facebook will be more beneficial than ever.
Although this change is going to affect marketing strategies everywhere, the industry as a whole should embrace and mirror the efforts Facebook is making to continually satisfy their customers. Content marketers and people who can create engaging video and content for social media just went up in stock value BIG TIME.
This is also great news for chatbots… They allow brands to create that individualised experience that Facebook is looking to provide.
So, if you’re an advertiser, here’s what you need to do capitalize on these changes:
- Don’t panic or get annoyed. Remember that this change is happening to everyone at the same time, so be appreciative for the opportunity it creates.
- Optimize for Likes and Shares, again, not clicks. (The “sale” can come later with custom audience retargeting.)
- Invest in communities (i.e. Facebook Groups). Like all channels that are originally built on the back of early direct response pioneers, Facebook is making the pivot toward branding.
This is not the first time that Facebook (or any other platform that people use and rely on) has made a momentous change, and it won’t be the final. As the Greek Philosopher Heraclitus famously said: “The only thing that is constant is change.”