On January 11, 2018, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced a major change to the Facebook News Feed, one that has a far-reaching impact on brands and businesses who use the site to interact with and reach new customers.
In this blog post, I'll explain what's going on and how you can adapt to survive and thrive on Facebook in 2018.
What's happening to Facebook?
In a nutshell, Facebook is going to be shifting the focus of what people see in their News Feeds back toward posts from friends and family and away from businesses and media outlets.
Facebook's fundamental goal will change - rather than focusing on helping people find relevant content, it will shift to helping people have more meaningful social interactions.
Acknowledging that Facebook's original goal was to help people stay connected and feel closer together, Zuckerberg wrote in a statement on his Page that "public content -- posts from businesses, brands and media -- is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other."
"Video and other public content have exploded on Facebook in the past couple of years. Since there's more public content than posts from your friends and family, the balance of what's in News Feed has shifted away from the most important thing Facebook can do -- help us connect with each other."
In the words of Shira Ovide of Bloomberg, "the company is reprogramming its computers to prioritize posts on which people feel compelled to interact in a rich way, by writing a long reply to a grieving family member, for example, or by having a back-and-forth with friends about a wacky local TV news story."
As a result of the changes, Zuckerberg expects people to spend less time on Facebook, and "some measures of engagement" (like reach and referral traffic for Pages) to go down.
The changes will take several months to roll out, but Zuckerberg says that people will eventually see less public content like posts from businesses, and more from friends, family, and groups.
How bad is this for businesses and brands?
Not going to sugar coat it, it's not positive news... but not unexpected - and there is a silver lining for those businesses willing to work at it. Facebook has been slowly moving in this direction for years, with several News Feed algorithm updates to help weed out certain types of "poor quality" content from brands, like click-bait and engagement-baiting.
The truth is that Facebook became riddled with poor quality content that was ruining many users' experiences, and it needed to do something to tidy things up.
Here's the good news: I predict that creators of high quality content will continue to do well on Facebook. Reacting to the news, James Whatley, planning partner of Ogilvy UK summed up the situation well, saying, "If you’re a publisher that consistently publishes interesting and stimulating content, then you’re golden."
This latest change to the News Feed algorithm is not the end of the world. For businesses big and small - not for the first time - it means that we have to adapt and adjust to Facebook's new direction if we are to use the social network as a way to reach customers.
So, what do we need to do?
One thing is clear: most brands won't just up and leave Facebook. Its 2 billion users and hyper-targeted ad platform still make it a prime destination online, in spite of this news. In reading Zuckerberg's statement in full and studying the direction that Facebook has been heading for the past couple of years, there are plenty of clues for brands to see where they need to be heading.
Here's what some of the strategies your brand should implement to help you stay on top of your Facebook game:
1. Grow a real community of fans
In another line from Zuckerberg's message, he wrote:
"The public content you see more will be held to the same standard [as that from individuals] -- it should encourage meaningful interactions between people." If we take this as meaning that Facebook will prioritise feel good, personal and local stories, then it seems wise that brands will need to shift their marketing to fit within these confines - the type of stuff that generates conversation amongst groups and peers, rather than simple, throwaway pieces of content.
Some brands will find this easier to do than others, but the rewards for those that do will likely be worth the effort.
2. Provide value-filled content
As businesses, social media has provided the opportunity to reach a large audience like never before, and plenty of us are guilty of chasing numbers rather than providing what people really want - meaningful content, filled with value. As businesses, we need to re-focus on the audience, the customer, the user and deliver what they really want.
If you're caught in the trap of chasing reach, think about switching your metrics to focus on relevance - content that drives some of the values that I mentioned in point 1 above: genuine interactions, community, and a stronger bond between you and your customers.
3. Create more video content (especially live)
The rise of video on Facebook has been astronomic, and it's no secret that Facebook prioritises video content in the News Feed. Whether it's pre-recorded or - even better - live, Pages must make video content a feature in their Facebook marketing strategy. In addition, if this video content is posted regularly and drives community engagement, you'll be doing just what the algorithm wants. Consider this line from Zuckerberg's message:
"We've seen people interact way more around live videos than regular ones. Some news helps start conversations on important issues. But too often today, watching video, reading news or getting a page update is just a passive experience."
In a non-direct way, it's saying "create video, especially live, and get people talking about it."
4. Experiment with Messenger
One of the biggest trends predicted for social media marketing in 2018 is the rise of one-to-one interaction, particularly through chat apps like Messenger.
If Facebook's News Feed algorithms mean you're not going to be able to reach as many potential customers as before, those that you do reach, it's even more important to provide a stellar customer service experience. Messenger is perfect for this, given its immediacy and how personal the interaction is.
Think about the ways you can serve customers through Messenger and how you can drive them to use it. As well as a button at the top of your Page, for example, Facebook introduced click-to-Messenger Facebook ads in November 2016 , and click-to-Messenger ads debuted on Instagram in May 2017.
5. Implement a paid strategy
This is another one that me and every other social media marketing consultant has been shouting about for years. Very rarely can businesses rely on organic reach to reach their desired audience on Facebook, at least not to their full potential. There's plenty of anecdotal evidence out that to prove that Facebook is continuing to throttle organic reach in the News Feed, and this latest announcement probably won't help matters.
No business will have been able to ignore Facebook's prompts to boost a post or promote a Page, and the evidence shows - for those that are savvy, patient, and willing to experiment - Facebook advertising can be extremely lucrative.
Over to you
For brands that rely on Facebook to generate business, life is about to get harder. However, with less noise from other brands finding the key to unlock the interest of those Facebook users just got a lot more valuable.
Andrew Macarthy is a social media consultant and the author of the #1 Amazon Web Marketing Bestseller, 500 Social Media Marketing Tips.