About two weeks ago something big happened at Facebook, and unless you’re a social media manager or a stockholder, you may have missed it. On January 11, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg published a 500-word post outlining major changes to the social platform’s News Feed. In effect, Facebook is changing the way content is prioritized for each of its more than two billion monthly users, and businesses and brands are getting the cold shoulder. On the day following the announcement, Facebook lost 4.5% of its value, a clear indication of the market’s concern over the new direction of the social media juggernaut.
The new direction Zuckerberg described is one in which Facebook prioritizes personal connections over public ones. As a result, posts from friends and family are much more likely to show up in your News Feed, while public posts from brands, businesses and advertisers are far less likely to show up. Not all brands will be affected equally, however, and there are other factors that determine post rank or the likelihood that a post will appear on users’ News Feeds. Understanding how the new Facebook changes will affect your brand on social media, and adapting to new requirements, starts with exploring the new social media landscape.
The Facebook News Feed Explained
To understand how Facebook has changed, let’s start with a few basics. Facebook defines its News Feed as “the constantly updating list of stories in the middle of your home page. News Feed includes status updates, photos, videos, links, app activity and likes from people, Pages and groups that you follow on Facebook.” Essentially, the News Feed is what you think of when you think of Facebook, and the new algorithm will ensure that content from public Pages (like those belonging to businesses and brands) takes a backseat to content posted from friends and family in an effort that Facebook claims will “bring people closer together.”
Is Pay-to-Play The Only Way?
The big changes to Facebook’s algorithm are already impacting “organic,” or unpaid, posts from public Pages like brands and businesses. “Boosted,” or paid, posts are also taking a hit. The method of choice now for businesses and advertisers is paid ads. Unlike posts, ads do not show up on the timeline of your business Page and so are not archived anywhere for your audience to find. Ad content—whether image, video, Canvas or Carousel ad—only appears in the News Feeds of audiences purposefully targeted with paid ads. In the new context, organic and boosted posts still serve a purpose in retaining an audience, just not in building one.
Everyone Is Getting Engaged
The latest round of Facebook changes represents an even greater emphasis on that gold standard of all social media metrics—engagement. Engaging content gets people talking to each other, and this is what Facebook wants. Baby pictures, pet videos and, yes, wedding announcements, are very engaging because they get the people you know talking to each other. Engaging content from advertisers will only be visible if it’s able to stimulate conversation, especially among your friends. Put another way, boring and generic content just got the pink slip, and the “conversation starters” got a brand new ping-pong table.
Seeking to set the tone for new Page content, Adam Mosseri, Head of News Feed at Facebook, explained in a recent article that “Page posts that generate conversation between people will show higher in News Feed. For example, live videos often lead to discussion among viewers on Facebook—in fact, live videos on average get six times as many interactions as regular videos.” He went on to say that “Page posts will still appear in News Feed, though there may be fewer of them,” a subtle hint that many advertisers and social media specialists are finding to be understated. There is finite space in the News Feed, and suddenly part of it is unavailable.
The Facebook Real Estate Boom
You guessed it. As the demand for space in the News Feed increases, so does competition for that space, and the winners will need more than money (but mostly money). First, you need a bigger ad budget to yield the same results, especially if you were relying on organic content. Second, you need content that is more likely to inspire conversation among families, friends and those who share similar interests. Third, you need to target the right audiences with paid ads. As the new emphasis on paid ads raises the level of difficulty across the board, the new Facebook will require not only higher ad budgets but better concepts and more expertise.
Thou Shalt Not Annoy
For content factories, this most recent change to the Facebook News Feed is more than a shot across the bow. It’s a direct hit. Quality now wins over quantity every time. Facebook is protecting its user experience at the expense of ad revenue, and they are doing so consciously and comprehensively. All users will now see fewer ads and fewer messages from brands, businesses and advertisers. The content they do see will have to be better, more relevant and more engaging, or they probably won’t see it at all. Facebook wants a happier audience, and if you annoy it, they’ll have you removed from the building.
Fitter, Happier, More Receptive
If Mark Zuckerberg’s new direction plays out as intended, Facebook users will likely spend less time on the platform, but the time users do spend will be more “valuable.” Ideally, as audiences see fewer ads and messages from brands, they will become more receptive to the advertisements that do appear in the News Feed, and as relevance is a key indicator as to whether an audience is likely to engage with content, ads are more likely to be on point with products, experiences and information that users actually care about. With audiences already so jaded by branded content, a little resensitizing may be just the thing.
Moving Forward In Digital Advertising
So, where do we go from here? For starters, it’s time to think about social media in a broader sense than Facebook alone. However, other platforms like Instagram are just as volatile, and as users grow accustomed to a less cluttered Facebook, they are likely to demand a similar experience as they move across social platforms. As was the case with Google some years ago, the time when it was possible to game the system is now quickly coming to a close. “Engagement-Bait” and other metric-inflating but otherwise pointless content is going extinct, and higher quality, more engaging content will quickly fill the food chain.
Our advice to clients and content producers is to improve and diversify, and never to hitch your entire digital budget to one star. If Facebook doesn’t deliver the click-throughs you need, try producing less but better content, something that gets people talking to each other, and spread your budget around to other social platforms like Instagram and Snapchat. Engage Facebook audiences through quality livestreaming. Don’t be afraid to move beyond Facebook and find your audience wherever they are, whether that’s on another social platform or in the middle of a Google search. There’s a lot more to digital advertising than Facebook alone.