Facebook recently announced huge changes to their news feed algorithm. Where do publishers and marketers go from here?
Don’t panic, it’s actually a good thing that will help you stand out. Edgy Labs takes a look at how.
The Internet is being optimized for user intent, and 2018 is the year where content creators must come to terms with this truth and change the way content is created and marketed.
For example, Google’s ever-changing search algorithms now dig deeper in sussing out the quality of page content while indexing sites. Since these changes have taken place in recent years, content marketers and news media alike have had to create more thoughtful content in order to rank on Google SERP.
Five years ago you could create a successful blog post with poorly written, irrelevant content. You simply plug in a few easy-to-rank-for keywords, a catchy title, and watch a high ranking bring in the traffic. However, today you must ensure that your content has:
- Relevancy to keywords/keyphrases
- High quality, original research
- Well-written, well-edited text
- Relevant images, video, and other media
Regurgitating information already available on sites indexed by Google flags your content as unoriginal. As a result, it’s hard for these pages to rank well. Putting all of this together, Google has found a good way to understand user intent with regard to particular keywords.
By ensuring originality and relevant, useful information, Google is able to present users with the most helpful search results.User engagement is the #1 way to measure social marketing ROI and it's now the only way to appear in Facebook news feeds.Click To Tweet
For another example, Netflix began as a rent-by-mail DVD service in 1997. The idea caught on reasonably well, but the company set a tradition of responding to customer preferences when, two years later, you could subscribe monthly to rent unlimited movies. Then, in 2007, the company broke into streaming. However, what did users want specifically?
In short, users wanted accessibility and choice.
Users did not want to wait for pre-specified airing times for shows and movies. They did not want commercials. They did not want to fiddle with a DVR to catch all of their favorite content. Netflix gave users truly on-demand content and the ability to choose and personalize their content feed.
While Facebook has also experienced exponential growth since the early 2000s, and surely surpassed Netflix’s level of success, in the last two years Facebook has dwindled in both influence and user perception.
In fact, the last few years have been tough for Facebook. From April to the end of September 2017, Facebook lost more than 10 billion sessions per month.
To put that in perspective, in that time, Facebook lost:
- 12 times the whole traffic of Pinterest or Whatsapp
- 10 times the traffic of Instagram
- more than 30 times the traffic of Snapchat
You probably heard the allegations that Facebook enabled and even exacerbated “Fake News” during the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. Going deeper, critics assert that Facebook has become an echo chamber–a place where people only confront the things they like and the ideas they agree with.
At one point, Facebook might have been a digital forum for people to engage in worthwhile argument. Now, it has become a place replete with content that users aren’t actually looking to engage.
What’s more, the ads are all too prevalent.
They don’t engage the user. They actually have the opposite effect. Like pop-ups a decade ago, Facebook ads are mostly ignored because they are irrelevant.
This fact is reflected in Facebook’s ad costs. There’s very little compelling content left, and even Mark Zuckerberg has admitted to these and more criticisms recently.
One of our big focus areas for 2018 is making sure the time we all spend on Facebook is time well spent.We built…
In a previous interview, Zuckerberg said, “We need to refocus the system.” As you can see from his Facebook post, they have begun that change. Which posts appear on your news feed will be prioritized differently than before, having a dramatic effect on publishers and marketers.
The Facebook CEO mentions this move will likely reduce the time users spend on the platform. Following suit, Facebook’s stock price immediately fell almost 5%.
But what Zuckerberg doesn’t really address is that this move also seems to be a way to actually raise ad value overall.
Since 2014-2015, when price-per-ad growth for Facebook was over 335%, both price and volume-per-ad growth haven’t budged.
This is the result of our passive consumption of passive content. Ensuring that posts are more actively engaging will also ensure ads that do appear will get more enthusiastic interactions.
More enthusiastic reactions to Facebook ads mean Facebook can charge more per ad. To create a valuable resource for advertisers, Facebook has to drive clicks to external websites, app store downloads, or actual product purchases.
These activities are much more likely to happen when users are actively engaged and consuming. This is illustrated well by Buffer Social’s observation that user engagement is the number one way that social media advertisers measure ROI.
This means that brands have to do more than just talk about themselves–they have to tell a story. What’s more, that story has to be relevant to the community.
So, while Zuckerberg tells us he’s doing what’s best for us, he’s also doing what’s best for Facebook.
What Exactly has Facebook Changed?
With such goals as improving Facebook’s positive impact on its users and community, we speculate that many of the changes we’ll see have yet to be announced.
Indeed, in Facebook’s January 11th announcement, Zuckerberg writes: “We started making changes in this direction last year, but it will take months for this new focus to make its way through all our products.”
For now, what we do know has to do with changes to the news feed.
Facebook News Feed Algorithm
In an effort to reduce the amount of public content, Zuckerberg and Facebook want to do away with passive content. This means content from publishers, other media, and businesses typically consisting of videos, deal offerings, and articles that are not actively engaging.
These activities rarely prompt worthwhile experiences that stick in your memory. They also promote a more passive consumer, one that also consumes mindlessly.
What’s more, passive content has been shown to have a negative emotional impact on the consumer. It’s a bit like eating a party-sized bag of chips during a rerun of Friends because you don’t feel like changing the channel. This boils down to the fact that the content and the experience with it just isn’t relevant.
Likes and shares will not be as valuable as comments to Facebook’s algorithms. To create public content that will appear in the average user’s news feed, your content needs to start a meaningful conversation between users. Long comments will be valued over short comments.
The average paid advertisement will be deprioritized for posts that a user’s friends and family have engaged. Facebook wants to promote quality, compelling, and genuine conversations.
Live videos, private group posts and other popular post types that see engagement from connected users will rise up the news feed. In other words, content that is relevant to and resonates with real people will be the priority.
Instead of ads related to things you recently viewed on Amazon or searched for on Google, posts from your friends and family will dominate your news feed. Unless, of course, your friends do like to post about popular searches or Amazon products.
Officially, Zuckerberg says that the algorithm will help you “have more meaningful interactions” rather than help you find “relevant content”. It goes without saying that if the interaction is meaningful, then it is relevant.
Certain metrics such as time spent on pages, and even likes and shares, will no longer be prioritized. Instead, aspects such as “meaningful conversation” and genuine engagement will be promoted. What signifies meaningful conversation? Comments. Comments are the new golden metric.
These changes won’t be apparent immediately. Furthermore, they will only subtly alter the balance of a user’s news feed from professionally created content to posts from friends, family, and groups.
Facebook did test out a complete removal of professional and media created content in six countries including Slovakia. These posts and other advertisements were included in a separate news feed called “explore.” There, the effects were seen by media and journalists as devastating–potentially permanently devastating.
But how will marketers be affected?
Only time will tell. Despite the uncertainty, we see a number of key ways that marketers can respond.
What’s more, responding well to these changes will culminate in better ad interactions and better ROI than before.
A quick summary of key changes:
- Content with external links will be deprioritized
- Videos that do not trigger meaningful conversation will be deprioritized
- Public posts (from publishers, media, etc.) will be deprioritized
- Content that explicitly asks users for engagement will be deprioritized
- Content that users actively seek out will be prioritized
- Long comments are the new key metric for well-performing Facebook posts
- Likes and shares alone will not prioritize posts on the news feed
How do Marketers Change Their Facebook Strategy in Order to Succeed?
3 Big Picture Changes Marketers Should Make:
1. Start the Trend
Look at these changes as a way to make advertisements genuinely popular. Instead of catching the eye long enough to warrant a click through, create a real conversation surrounding your product or service.
Focus on the two things that drive the most engagement these days in content marketing. They are:
- Live video, and
- Original research, facts, and statistics.
Example of a good Facebook ad that will survive these changes:
We think this ad will make the cut because it:
- Tells a compelling story
- The copy is concise and easily scannable
- For my news feed, it speaks to my interests
- A face gives the story more emotional depth
Also, consider producing content for Facebook Watch–the social media platform’s own video focused application. If Facebook’s priority for meaningful connection means ads won’t appear on user news feeds, Facebook Watch may be one of the only avenues for getting your content in front of users without it needing to be popular with their friends and family.
However, Facebook Watch will also become a heavily promoted medium for publishers which will cause a number of issues such as how to attract users to this new section over their newsfeed. No matter what, you’ll have to make sure your content is particularly compelling.
Even before these changes, one of the central issues with advertising on Facebook was its user volume. It’s a loud place. It’s saturated. With that in mind, these changes are a blessing in disguise because they give marketers a golden opportunity to stand out. How do you stand out?
By telling a compelling story.
2. Let People Share Your Success From Other Platforms
Instead of trying to inject your advertisements into the news feeds of consumers outside your business’s own friend and family circle, find other platforms to focus your efforts.
By combining the principles of the first tip (Start the Trend) you will be able to have your content shared to Facebook organically from other social media platforms (Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and even Google +–which could see a boost from the downtick in Facebook activity).
User engagement is the most useful measurement for advertising ROI. True user engagement is what Facebook is prioritizing. So, if you can engage users on other platforms it stands to reason that you will also engage users on Facebook.
For example, as a publisher, Flipboard and Feedly are great places to start. A B2B business should look into creating a Linkedin group. A good thing about having communities on other platforms is that most of them allow sharing to Facebook so you can implement a call to action to get your fans to share on Facebook.
3. Don’t Depend on Facebook
Like we mentioned in The Guardian story about Guatemala and Slovakia’s Facebook cold-turkey episode, the businesses and media outlets that depend the most on Facebook to draw traffic and create leads will be affected most by Facebook’s changes.
The obvious response is to ensure that you do not rely on Facebook for a significant share of your marketing ROI.
Consider using messaging apps to expand your social marketing scope. According to Buffer Social, there are more people using WhatsApp, Messenger, WeChat, and Viber than there are using Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Nevertheless, their survey entitled State of Social 2018 found that only one-fifth of companies have invested in messaging platforms as a part of social marketing.
8 Nuts-and-Bolts Recommendations for Marketers
- Encourage your fans to use the “See First” feature. This feature overrides Facebook’s default algorithm and shows your fans posts from your page first.
Click here for more details about the See First feature.
- Slow down the amount of content you post. If you’re posting several times per day, scale it back to one engaging post per day.
- Don’t ask for comments in ad content. Facebook will demote it.
4. Create a group on Facebook. The new algorithm changes aren’t going to affect groups. Users will still see engaging posts from groups they’ve joined. By building a Facebook group and having your fans join this group in addition to your fan page, the new reach from the group will make up for the lost reach on the fan page.
5. Run contests on your site instead of Facebook and have contestants share to Facebook. It’s the norm for businesses to run contests on Facebook to increase brand awareness but with the new algorithm changes, contests won’t have much reach. Reverse engineer this process to gain more reach by hosting contests on your own platform and have contestants do the Facebook sharing. You’ll gain more reach this way.
6. Invest in live video content. Traditional video content has been classified as passive content by Facebook, but this is still a key medium. Live videos currently have six times the engagement of regular video content, and engagement is Facebook’s new focus. Facebook’s plan is to only share content that two connected people are likely to engage on. You have a better shot at this with live video than any other form of content. Invest in quality live videos that provide value to your target audience. The goal, as we’ve said, is to create content that will start a conversation between two users. Live videos are the only content during which you can explicitly ask for user comments without being penalized by Facebook algorithms.
7. Double down on SEO. If you’re bringing in more people to your business or blog organically, a lot of these people will end up sharing your content with their family and friends on Facebook if they enjoy it.
8. Focus on retention. It’s going to get increasingly difficult for publishers to attract new visitors. This means you must make good use of everyone you attract. Invest in ways to convert visitors into returning users. If you don’t have an email list, start building one. It’s the only medium you have absolute control over and it’s proven to be the best retention medium.
Insights for Marketers After Facebook’s big Change
Here’s what we see as the key takeaways for social marketers:
- Engaging content needs to be a part of your long-term strategy–even if you choose to divest from Facebook.
- Be prepared for a loss of referral traffic from Facebook.
- With Facebook moving to crowd-source the trustworthiness of news results, it stands to reason that user preference will also dictate which ads are shown to more users. Ensure that all of your content is high-quality.
- Shift your focus to groups. If you can be relevant and helpful to a Facebook group, its users will likely organically share your content.