What Facebook’s News Feed Changes Mean For Brands

By Emily Baillie of CMA's Digital Marketing Council

Businesses are going to have to work harder than ever to gain their customers’ attention on Facebook, thanks to big changes announced on Jan. 11.

By now, you’ve likely heard that Facebook is overhauling its news feed algorithm to prioritize content from “friends, family and groups.” According to Mark Zuckerberg it will shift focus away from “helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful social interactions.”

Generally, users will see fewer posts from businesses, brands and media and more from family, friends and groups. Some experts predict as much as 5x more, but that remains to be seen. What we do know is Facebook is dramatically changing the ranking algorithm that determines what posts are visible in users news feed, and in what order. Real engagement on posts will be weighted much heavier, resulting in a better user experience. Zuckerberg predicts that these latest changes will reduce the overall amount of time that users spent on the platform.

In an industry where change is the only constant, brands and publishers must once again pivot their social and content strategies to capture their customers’ attention and stay relevant online. Over the coming months, what’s left of organic reach on Facebook Pages will continue to drop, putting brands who rely on organic reach in danger of getting next to nothing in the way of exposure.

At this stage, we don’t know exactly what the full impact of the news feed changes will be. But the brands and publishers that will be hurt most by these changes will likely be publishers, nonprofits and small businesses.

So what can you do to protect your brand’s presence on Facebook?  Here are a few things to get you started:

Inspire Comments

In Zuckerberg’s Jan. 11 announcement, he wrote that “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 other words, Facebook’s new algorithm will favour content that inspires users to share or post a comment, not just give a passive view or ‘like’.

Brands will adjust their posting strategies to include more content that encourages community interaction. What exactly does this mean? Basically, simple updates and clickbait content just won’t cut it any more. Brands should focus on creating content that authentically sparks a conversation or a share, without trying to bait engagement (clickbait tactics will result in demotion of post rank). The bottom line? Businesses should invest in killer creative that drives discussions honestly.

Increase Your Ads Budget

Facebook’s advertising algorithm will continue to display content that is unique, relevant and of high quality. However, less organic post reach will likely increase demand for Facebook advertising. And because Facebook ads work on an auction system, less available ad space will  raise the cost of Facebook ads. The upshot of all this? The days of free Facebook exposure are pretty much gone. If you want to stay on Facebook you’ll likely have to learn how to use Facebook ads.

Try Facebook Live

Though video from publishers will generally get downgraded in the new algorithm (Facebook says that’s because it’s mostly a passive interaction), live streaming video from brands may still be a good tactic to engage your audience.

According to Facebook, live streaming videos on average get six times as many interactions as regular videos. If your brand hasn’t yet launched into Facebook Live space, now may be a good time to give it a try. Since the launch of Facebook Live in 2016, brands have been live streaming everything from behind-the-scenes tours and red-carpet events to influencer takeovers and Q&As. Viewers can post comments and ask questions in real time, and page followers can view the recorded version of the video later on. 

Build Facebook Groups

Because Facebook Groups tend to inspire a lot of conversation amongst group members, Facebook’s new algorithm will favour content shared in groups. To complement all the great stuff you’re sharing on your brand page, you may want to engage your audience in a group that’s linked to your page. Facebook groups can be used to encourage discussion, reward superfans and, in some cases, foster customer advocacy. To bring extra value to your group members, consider publishing exclusive content when possible. Remember to avoid publishing content that is sales-oriented. No one wants to join a group and be sold to.

Invest in IG

With the continued growth of Instagram across the globe, there’s not need to put all your eggs in the Facebook basket. With 800 million monthly users and 25 million businesses now using Instagram, the mobile platform is becoming the go-to social network for many brands. Though Facebook owns Instagram and could implement big changes there in future, new features like Instagram Stories, hashtag follows and more are making it easier than ever for brands to connect with their Instagram followers.

If your business doesn’t have a solid audience on Instagram, or other platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter or Snapchat, now may be a good time to focus on those channels. Investing more in various social ad platforms, as well as influencer and/or advocacy strategies may be worthwhile as well.

Survival of the Fittest

Facebook, like other social platforms, is constantly changing its features and algorithms, which can cause frustration among some brand marketers. As Facebook continues to innovate and build new ways to reach audiences, marketers are under pressure to prove that their existing strategies warrant continued investment.

This isn’t the first change to the platform and it won’t be the last. But this latest shift is not the end of Facebook for business. The site still has more users than any other social network. The trick for brands, more than ever before, is to evolve strategically in order to survive and thrive.

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Emily Baillie is a Social Media Marketing Consultant & Digital Marketing Professor at Humber College & McMaster University. She can be reached at emily@compasscontent.ca

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Tags: facebook, instagram, social media, news feed, mark zuckerberg