Facebook Reshuffles the Deck for Marketers (Again)

July 4, 2016

Facebook signJune 2016 News Feed update highlights importance of originality and authenticity

Marketers have long viewed Facebook as a tremendous opportunity. We correctly figured the platform gave us the ability to reach more than a billion users at minimal cost while even targeting specific demographics.

In June, 2016, Facebook notified the world of another important change to its News Feed algorithm, reshuffling the deck for marketers.

As a reminder, News Feed is the series of posts you see from others when you open the Facebook site or app. News Feed includes posts from friends and family and pages you follow, and also ads. It’s the mix and order of these that the algorithm controls.

According to Lars Backstrom, Facebook Engineering Director, the essence of this change is that Facebook is making sure the things “…posted by the friends you care about are higher up in your News Feed.”

If this change sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Facebook is constantly tweaking its algorithm, and a major focus has been getting the mix between friends/family and other pages right.

Responding to user feedback in January of 2015, Facebook tweaked News Feed explicitly to display fewer posts that:

  • Solely push people to buy a product or install an app
  • Push people to enter promotions and sweepstakes with no real context
  • Reuse the exact same content from ads

At various points since, Facebook has adjusted News Feed to prioritize posts, articles and links based not only on users’ likes, comments and shares, but also their likelihood to engage with them and time spent on them without actually engaging.

And there have been other updates including prioritization of live video and the launch of “See First”.

PLAYING ISN’T JUST ABOUT PAYING

Many marketers have observed that the net result of all these changes is a decline in the organic reach of their posts. In one sense, Facebook has been telling brands, retailers and publishers they have to pay to play, and many have increased their use of Facebook ads. Fortunately, Facebook ads remain a bargain compared to other social platforms and offer powerful targeting options.

But Facebook seems to be telling us now that even paying to play won’t be enough to get our content featured prominently in News Feed. After all, Facebook has a delicate balance to strike. The company depends on ads for revenue, but an overabundance or over-prioritization of them risks alienating its user community, causing them to spend more time on alternate social platforms like Twitter and Snapchat or abandoning it altogether.

In a June 29 blog post about this latest update, Adam Mosseri, VP Product Management for News Feed, reminds us that page owners can still find a way to get their content featured in user News Feeds if they’re clever enough.

Mosseri writes that after friends and family, Facebook users have two other strong expectations when it comes to News Feed:

  1. “People expect the stories in their feed to be meaningful to them — and we have learned over time that people value stories that they consider informative. Something that one person finds informative or interesting may be different from what another person finds informative or interesting — this could be a post about a current event, a story about your favorite celebrity, a piece of local news, or a recipe.”
  2. “We’ve also found that people enjoy their feeds as a source of entertainment. For some people, that’s following a celebrity or athlete; for others it’s watching Live videos and sharing funny photos with their friends.”

Mosseri is essentially reminding us that with the sheer volume of content out there, marketing is more than ever about originality and authenticity.

OUTSMART NEWS FEED? DON’T BOTHER!

So how do marketers continue to land their content high up in user News Feeds in this brave new Facebook world? According to Backstrom, content shared directly by users will be favored over that posted and promoted by page owners. So in theory, you could recruit a network of Facebook users to share your content every time you post.

But it’s reasonable to assume that Facebook, like Google, Apple and other Silicon Valley behemoths, employs a lot of really smart people who will figure out a way to prevent this approach from working, discounting the value of shares coming consistently from the same people at similar times under similar circumstances.

Instead, as every SEO expert will tell you based on all the changes Google has made to its search algorithm over the years, a strategy built around developing content for humans instead of machines will ultimately produce the most traffic.

If you’re serious about using Facebook to drive awareness, engagement and website traffic, the more original, unique and appealing content you develop, the better your results will be.

If you can, post on Facebook content developed specifically for Facebook — for example, Instant Articles and videos that appear nowhere else. And don’t go through the motions, posting just to post. After all, News Feed already effectively ‘punishes’ publishers who post too much. Make it count! Put your most thoughtful and creative people on the job.

Sure, you can continue to post links, but make sure they lead to content people genuinely want to read or watch. And don’t just post the link without any accompanying content — introduce your links with interesting copy that appears in neither the linked content nor a Facebook ad.

Most importantly, make your Facebook and linked content so good people want to share it organically via Facebook. If Facebook is telling us just one thing, it is that sharing now seems to be to News Feed what inbound links are to Google search. Sharing tells the algorithm what neighborhood you live in, how interesting and respectable you are.

Strong engagement affects not only your current content, but your future content as well. If you establish a record of publishing material that is worth spreading the word about, then your future content will be afforded favorable News Feed treatment before anyone has even engaged with it.

And by all means, continue to use Facebook ads, just understand that merely paying to promote your content won’t guarantee exposure or acceptance. Think of your ads as you would any other form of content — originality is the only form of payment accepted.

Note – this article first appeared on sdama.org.