Facebook is an important part of the marketing strategy for most small businesses. For many, it forms the most timely and costly digital aspect aside from the business website. In recent times it’s become the primary social media channel for reach and engagement, however, fresh changes to the News Feed feature has left many businesses no choice but to change their tactics.
In terms of marketing, changes to the Facebook News Feed algorithm rank up there with Google algorithm changes in terms of affecting the reach and engagement of content produced by businesses, as well as publishers.
The News Feed is important because it’s the prime location for content to be seen by Facebook users. For your content to get any traction, it has to show up in users’ feeds. Disappear from feeds, and you basically disappear from Facebook. This is why there’s a minor panic every time Facebook announces it is changing the algorithm controlling what people see in their News Feed.
Each time the feed is tweaked, Facebook will emphasise a specific aspect it feels needs improving. For example, “timeliness” was the keyword for the change made in September 2014: “Our goal with News Feed is to show everyone the right content at the right time so they don’t miss the stories that are important to them.”
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Facebook takes into account all sorts of factors in thinking about what posts, and in what order, users will see on their individual feeds. Some of these factors include time spent reading or viewing posts, the type of content people are engaging with (video, pics, shared articles, etc), and how people interact with that content in regard to hitting the like button or any of the other reactions, or leaving comments.
For the latest News Feed update, Facebook has cited ‘friends and family’ as being the main driver: “Facebook was built on the idea of connecting people with their friends and family. As we say in our News Feed values, that is still the driving principle of News Feed today.”
This is Facebook tending to its roots, so to speak. Facebook is in a strong enough position to say to publishers and brands, “we know you need us and you’re not going anywhere, so we’re looking after our users first”.
It’s a move that possibly comes off the back of criticism from some users that their feeds had become irrelevant and overrun by content they didn’t care about. It’s an outgrowth of the idea that people are no longer posting as many original and authentic posts as they once did, and the vacuum has been filled by shared content such as news stories, memes and advertiser’s posts.
As Adam Mosseri, Facebook’s vice president of product management for News Feed, puts it in his outline of the most recent changes, “the strength of our community depends on authentic communication”.
“Our success is built on getting people the stories that matter to them most. If you could look through thousands of stories every day and choose the 10 that were most important to you, which would they be? The answer should be your News Feed. It is subjective, personal, and unique — and defines the spirit of what we hope to achieve,” he said.
Where does this leave business pages on Facebook?
Facebook’s engineering director Lars Backstromgives some idea about Facebook’s priorities when it comes to marketing content in a post also talking about the recent changes:
“Overall, we anticipate that this update may cause reach and referral traffic to decline for some Pages. The specific impact on your Page’s distribution and other metrics may vary depending on the composition of your audience. For example, if a lot of your referral traffic is the result of people sharing your content and their friends liking and commenting on it, there will be less of an impact than if the majority of your traffic comes directly through Page posts. We encourage Pages to post things that their audience are likely to share with their friends. As always, Pages should refer to our publishing best practices.”
Rather than trying to game the system, the real challenge for brands and publishers is to produce content that matters to the people who follow them on Facebook. It’s that simple and that hard.
Another aspect of the change to the News Feed is it reinforces the need for businesses to refine and target their Facebook posts rather than casting the net wide in the hope of snaring more people: content should hit deep and engage with your base.
If your content clicks with your followers they are far more likely to like and share, in the process boosting your reach, than if you put out hopeful content that has been designed to appeal to a wider audience. Find your brand advocates and give them reason to share your message.
On top of the organic reach of your posts, businesses should be looking at their spend on promoted content. There is only so far you can go on Facebook with organic reach and promoted content is a reliable way to get your message out to a broader audience. It’s through promoted content that you can go for a more general, even clickbait-style approach, because you’re trying to draw people in and attract new followers.
Your trusted followers might not necessarily react as well to this sort of content because what they want is content they find consistently relevant and informative. Think about your promoted posts as talking to potential new friends, while the type of conversation you have with your base is like talking to long-time friends. Look at promoted posts as an opportunity to target segments that might overlap but are not necessarily core elements of your Page’s user breakdown.
Facebook’s Adam Mosseri brings it back to easy to understand, but not always easy to do, fundamentals when it comes to which posts and content will have a better chance of showing up in news feeds: inform and entertain.
You can’t control what Facebook does with its algorithm, but you can control what you do with your content. Make it count.
Fi Bendall is CEO of The Bendalls Group, a business that leads STRATEGY : ADVOCACY : MOBILE delivering the business acumen to drive effective positive results in a disruptive economy for the C-suite. Fi has recently won a Westpac/AFR 2015 100 Women of Influence award.