At first it seemed like some odd kind of experiment. Stung by accusations that its algorithm had been manipulated by political groups and countries to influence elections Facebook began to make plans. In late 2017 it chose to alter people’s news feeds so that they favoured family and friends’ stories over everything else. Though bizarrely it only chose to implement this in a seemingly random list of six countries.
Nevertheless on January 11th in a post on Facebook’s blog Mark Zuckerberg wrote “I’m changing the goal I give our product teams from focusing on helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful social interactions. The first changes you’ll see will be in News Feed, where you can expect to see more from your friends, family and groups As we roll this out, you’ll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media.”
The driver for this change is to get people to spend more time on Facebook engaging with the posts they see. There is an argument that as the news feed has become a parade of messages from brands, publishers and more, so users spend more time passively browsing. The key word for the new Facebook news feed then is engagement and it sounds as if the platform is doing its utmost to ensure that users comment and like the posts they see.
Options for brands
So where does this leave brands and publishers who may have ploughed significant amounts of money, time and human resources in Facebook over the years? There are a number of options. The first is to simply deprioritise the platform. This has been going on organically for a while as Facebook has for many years become a pay to play platform. In other words the money invested in it yields better paid for and organic results. The net result is that brands have looked elsewhere to reach audiences – through their own sites and platforms and other social media too. Instagram, which boasts very high levels of engagement per post, (though there are issues here about how deep that engagement is) is a very popular option.
If this isn’t an option as a brand has invested heavily and wants to maintain a vibrant community then the answer is clearly to keep investing. Spending money on ads will at least ensure outreach on the platform for the foreseeable future, although some pundits are already warning that the price of those adverts is set to rise.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be either or though. One option is to optimise the output to reflect the changes that Facebook is making to the algorithm. This means focusing on creating content that receives likes and comments. As Mark Zuckerberg said “Pages making posts that people generally don’t react to or comment on could see the biggest decreases in distribution. Pages whose posts prompt conversations between friends will see less of an effect.”
So this would entail asking questions, being provocative and more. However it is worth adding that being too clickbaity might see brands penalised too – there is a fine balance to be struck.
Videos and groups
Focusing on video is another option. Facebook is still hugely keen on increasing the amount of video content. Video generally gets higher engagement than words and images and it benefits from autoplay which Facebook introduced last year. In fact there is a very strong argument that brands should focus on live video content as this generally gets the highest amount of engamengemt.
Ultimately what the changes will bring is a new emphasis on engagement. In some ways it could be good news for brands. They may end up posting less and focusing more on higher quality, better thought out posts. Facebook isn’t going anywhere and it is likely to be an important platform for brands for many years to come. If you haven’t looked at your Facebook strategy recently now would seem to be a very good time to do it.