Facebook has announced that it will place less content from brands and publishers in its News Feed as it looks to refocus its own brand purpose.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg made the announcement last week and debate is still raging on what the impact may be.
We have taken a look at what we know so far about the changes and how commercial content producers can adapt.
How is Facebook changing?
Facebook wants its users to interact more with posts from family members and friends. This means significantly fewer commercial posts will make their way into the News Feed. Facebook regularly changes the algorithm that determines which content is ranked highest, but this is the most significant adjustment for some time.
Why is this happening?
Facebook says it wants to encourage “more personal interactions”. The firm says people feel better when engaging directly with other people than they do when simply scrolling through the News Feed without interaction. The move is apparently based on user feedback and academic research and signals a return to Facebook’s founding values.
The rise of so-called fake news has been cited as one reason for the strong line on publishers’ content. Yet prioritising updates shared by friends and family, over and above that produced by respected news outlets, could seemingly contribute to the spread of fake news.
People may find they are more likely to share their personal information when Facebook’s emphasis shifts. This increases the personal data available to Facebook, facilitating improved targeting of advertisements and therefore generating extra revenue.
Whatever the motive, a step change in brand activity on Facebook has seemed inevitable for some time. There are few platforms where an audience can be built and maintained so quickly, effectively and at low cost. Facebook’s potency for brands has been proven. Now those brands will need to pay more to make use of its power.
How will this impact on brands and audiences?
Only the top performing content will secure meaningful organic reach. As a rule, companies should expect to pay to promote posts to new and existing audiences. Heightened competition for fewer News Feed slots will drive up the cost of reaching people and engaging with them.
There will be more focus on Facebook groups and live video as these generate greater interaction. Groups need to be built around a shared purpose rather than overt promotion in order to gain traction.
Overall, referral traffic, page reach and interactions are likely to drop, initially at least, while the associated media costs rise.
For Facebook users, the changes may take some adjusting to. The most recent survey of news consumption by Ofcom, carried out in 2016 and published in June 2017, identifies Facebook as the second most popular online source of news, after the BBC. We can only wait and see how people respond to receiving fewer news updates.
It’s also possible users will crave more commercial content. Brands invest heavily in creating content that entertains. Family and friends are unlikely to be quite so inventive.
How should brands adapt their strategies?
First and foremost, stop trying to sell to your audience, other than through an ad. Sales messages will be counter-productive. Using the platform as it is intended is the most likely route to success, so use ads to sell and posts to tell.
Forget volume – quality will win out over quantity. Every piece of content you publish should be worthy of organic engagement, even if it will be backed by paid promotion. Rather than producing five posts per week, invest the time and creative thinking into meaningful creative campaigns. One stellar update will outperform five bland posts. Make your efforts count.
Consider what would make your audience want to share your content with their friends and family. This is the route to organic engagement, but it won’t be easy.
Build a community around your brand. Use Facebook groups to own the conversations that affect your audience most. Crucially, resist the temptation to bring every discussion back to the brand. To maintain an authoritative voice, a degree of impartiality is required.
As the changes are rolled out, monitor the performance of each post, as well as your ads. Over time you will build a picture of what works best and which content hasn’t performed. Review and refine your strategy regularly and enlist the help of a social media specialist if your results need improving.
Compare the results with other media channels. As Facebook begins to take up more of the paid media budget and with costs likely to rise, you may find there are better performing channels to focus your budget on.
What don’t we know yet?
So far, news of the revised approach has created more questions than it has answered. No one – not even Facebook – will understand the impact of the News Feed changes until they have been fully rolled out. Mark Zuckerberg said this will happen over the next few months.
The impact on brands and publishers may have been overstated. Facebook users may switch off if they don’t feel sufficiently engaged with their News Feed. Will Facebook-owned Instagram follow suit?
Whatever happens, Facebook has sent a strong ‘must try harder’ message to brands and publishers. If each of these steps up their game as a result, brands will produce better campaigns and more people will engage with them.
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