If you’re been following news about Facebook’s changes to its News Feed algorithm, you might be persuaded to believe that this is the worst thing that has EVER happened to marketers.
The headlines paint a bleak picture. “Marketers Say Facebook’s News Feed Update Will Be ‘Nail in the Coffin’ for Organic Posts,” screams a Wall Street Journal article. “With a tweak of code, the company upends an industry,” proclaims an AdWeek piece, calling the news “Facebook’s nuclear bomb.”
The headline of an article on Business2Community sums it up succinctly: “Marketers Are Freaking Out About Facebook.”
But here’s the thing: there’s no real reason to panic. At least not yet.
What Facebook is actually changing
In a nutshell, you’ll probably see more pictures of babies and kittens in your News Feed.
In its announcement on January 11, 2018, Facebook said it will de-prioritize content from companies and publishers in favor of content from friends and family.
Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg explains that the move was informed by users, saying, “We’ve gotten feedback from our community that public content—posts from businesses, brands and media—is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other.”
Adam Mosseri, head of News Feed, adds that posts that “inspire back-and-forth discussion in the comments and posts” will receive higher placement. He’s pretty open about what all these changes mean for brands:
Pages may see their reach, video watch time and referral traffic decrease. The impact will vary from Page to Page, driven by factors including the type of content they produce and how people interact with it. 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.
In his Facebook post, Zuckerberg claims that this move is motivated by a higher purpose—that is, to create a Facebook that’s actually better for people’s well-being.
The research shows that when we use social media to connect with people we care about, it can be good for our well-being. We can feel more connected and less lonely, and that correlates with long term measures of happiness and health. On the other hand, passively reading articles or watching videos—even if they’re entertaining or informative—may not be as good.
Based on this, we’re making a major change to how we build Facebook. 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.
There’s no reason why marketers should be surprised
Facebook has been reducing brands’ organic reach for years. In 2014, a Social@Ogilvy study found that the average organic reach on Facebook was a mere 6%. Just last year, BuzzSumo reported that Facebook engagement fell by 20% for brands.
So Facebook’s decision to further reduce organic reach for brands should not be a surprise to anyone anymore.
But it’s also important to remember that no one really knows at this point how this Facebook change will impact brands. The experts that the Wall Street Journal talked to believe this change will increase the cost of advertising on Facebook. These experts make a compelling case, but everything is speculation for now. I think it’s all a knee-jerk, emotional reaction and not based on something Facebook actually said.
It’s also worth noting that these changes are meant to improve the utility of Facebook in the long-term. Call me an optimist, but I do believe Zuckerberg when he says he’s trying to create a better Facebook. I don’t think Facebook will inflict short-term pain to their shareholders if the company doesn’t really believe that this is the right thing to do.
Facebook, after all, is running a business. If this move hurts its business in the long-term, the company will correct its course. It’s not like Facebook can’t change its mind about this issue someday. Let’s not freak out because this isn’t a final move that can’t be corrected later on.
But what about the publishers?
The changes to Facebook’s News Feed algorithm do impact publishers as well, and I do think that their situation is a bit different from brands.
And, yes, the situation does look pretty bad for media companies.
Unlike retailers, media brands need to get a lot of website traffic to generate revenue. Their whole business model is all about getting eyeballs so they can sell more ads. Since Facebook is one of the biggest websites on the planet, media companies can’t afford not to get a lot of organic traffic here.
And in the past, Facebook has given digital publishers some false hope. It introduced Instant Articles, for instance, to keep users from leaving the site, while promising media companies a fraction of the revenue. Unfortunately that project was not as successful as it needed to be as other Facebook initiatives derailed it.
Also, this round of algorithm changes was meant to combat fake news as Facebook took a lot of hit—perhaps unfairly—about its role in disseminating inaccurate and salacious stories leading up to the 2016 U.S. Presidential Elections. But by punishing all publishers, Facebook has essentially put fake news outlets and real news outlets in one bucket—a move that’s unfair for media companies that actually have journalistic integrity.
And while Facebook promises to prioritize trustworthy publishers, I do agree that the media industry has become somewhat of collateral damage in Facebook’s war against fake news.
So, what should marketers do about Facebook’s News Feed changes?
No one really knows how big of an impact this News Feed change will make. I suspect that from the users’ perspective, it might actually make Facebook a lot more engaging and interesting.
For marketers, the obvious move for now is to put more money towards advertising. But that shouldn’t be a new strategy for your company because Facebook has been a pay-to-play ecosystem for a while now. You might want to bump up your advertising budget though if Facebook has been traditionally a good source of leads or sales for your business.
More importantly, this is the time to diversify your channels. Follow BuzzFeed’s lead and encourage your audience to get your content elsewhere (ideally on a platform that you own). This is the time to build your lists—to convince your Facebook followers to sign up for your newsletters or blogs. Investing in SEO or other networks like LinkedIn (if you’re in the B2B space) isn’t a bad idea either.
(Note: If you’re interested, I’ve also compiled a list of best practices on how to increase Facebook engagement here.)
Here’s something you should NOT do though: abandon Facebook. It’s too early to do that. Facebook is so ubiquitous that exiting this ecosystem would be an irresponsible move. Billions of people are on this platform everyday, and it remains one of the easiest ways to reach your target audience.
So, in conclusion, stay calm and carry on, my fellow marketers. The pragmatic approach is to take the wait-and-see approach for now—at least until Facebook makes its next News Feed announcements and then a new cycle of panic descends upon our industry.
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