Businesses and brand marketers could be forgiven for thinking that Facebook really, really doesn’t like them. It likes your money, of course — so much so that it wants to force you to spend much more of it to reach the audiences you’ve spent years acquiring (and that Facebook loudly touts while trying to convince you to spend that money). But there have got to be at least a few brand marketing reps this afternoon doing a Captain Picard.
In case you missed it, Facebook has announced yet another change to its News Feed algorithm that greatly favors friends and family within a user’s network, at the significant expense of brands and publishers that maintain pages. Essentially, the changes mean that content posted by a user’s friends and family will be given higher ranking in their feed while Pages content is de-emphasized; Facebook is operating under the assumption (perhaps justified, if we’re being truthful with ourselves) that people don’t really want to see a brand’s new commercial, someone’s native advertising via a publisher, or the latest self-serving brand post.
(Facebook also published what it calls its News Feed Values, opening the kimono for the first time in any kind of detail about how the News Feed works; this transparency may well be in response to the [manufactured] controversy last month about how its Trending Topics lists are compiled.)
To be fair to Facebook, they’re under a lot of pressure. Personal posts are down by double-digits in the past year or so, whether attributable to the rise of personal sharing tools like Snapchat, disenchantment with the plethora of branded and sponsored content, or some other combination of factors. To stem the tide, Facebook may feel it has to take steps to make its platform more of the friends-and-family network that it began life as. And let’s face it, many users — including many of us when we’re using Facebook personally and not professionally — will probably be happier with the resulting shifts to their News Feed.
This is going to be little comfort, though, to brand marketers and community managers who now more than ever basically have to pay to reach even the audiences that have chosen to follow their brand. It’s true that publishers will see an even more severe impact than brand pages, but even so, the frustration was evident in today’s marketing and digital industry coverage of the news.
So what does this mean for you, if you manage either a brand’s Facebook page itself or the budget that supports its activity?
- You need to publish more video. As many industry observers and digerati have noted (including me), Facebook is really pushing Live and natively uploaded video. We’ve all talked at length about the importance of video to success on any digital platform in the current and emerging environment; this algorithm change makes it even more important to you. Why? Because if Facebook really, really wants video and your brand gives it lots of video, it increases your chances of breaking through the algorithm and the clutter and still finding your content in users’ feeds.
- Keep your eye on the sharable content ball. This sounds silly; of course we all create content hoping it will be shared. But this is where many brands fail at Facebook: we create content that keeps our C-suite happy because it has all our messaging in it, but we don’t really think about what our target audience is truly interested in, will find relevant, or will find either compelling enough or clever enough to share. Given that our own pages will appear less frequently in News Feed, we’re really counting on users choosing to share our content with their family and friends. So it becomes all the more important to be customer-centric with our Facebook content. Have we told a relatable story that our followers can see themselves in? Have we provided information that, instead of providing our latest message or announcement, gives people information that they can actually use or apply in their real life? The more we focus on our consumers’ needs or interests instead of our own, the more likely our content is to be shared. The onus is on us to be creative enough to find ways to work our desired information into this kind of content, rather than continuing to push out brand-centric content that will too easily be ignored.
Even with some changes like this, your brand should still expect to see a decline in both reach and referral traffic in the coming weeks.