What is it with marketers? No sooner do Facebook release this little post, talking about what sounds like a fairly simple and logical change to their news feed algorithm, than the marketing press starts making dire predictions like ‘Facebook’s focus on real news a blow for branded content’, and (my personal favourite ‘Now an entire profession is screwed’.
So, what happened?
Well, according to Facebook’s measured post, it has observed an increase in users clicking through to news media websites, has drawn the conclusion that people want to see relevant news content, and has adjusted its news algorithm accordingly. Sounds, well, reasonable, right?
Let’s go a bit further. I’m going to quote this bit whole, because it’s so bloody innocuous:
“Why are we doing this? Our surveys show that on average people prefer links to high quality articles about current events, their favorite sports team or shared interests, to the latest meme. Starting soon, we’ll be doing a better job of distinguishing between a high quality article on a website versus a meme photo hosted somewhere other than Facebook when people click on those stories on mobile. This means that high quality articles you or others read may show up a bit more prominently in your News Feed, and meme photos may show up a bit less prominently.”
Cue industry commentators going mental. According to ‘the marketing press’ this paragraph means that brand content on Facebook will be downgraded, all social media marketers will lose their jobs, and brands will have to start paying bucketloads of money to Facebook or abandon the platform altogether.
Well, maybe. I mean, if brands continue to make crappy pictures of cats with ‘Lol, like or share if you like the weekend’ on them, then maybe they will be penalised a little bit. (But maybe not, either. Facebook may well find that the increase in news posts actually reduces engagement as users get ‘news fatigue’ – you can get too much of a good thing!).
And as for brands having to start paying Facebook, well, we’ve heard that one before, back in 2012, when a Facebook algorithm change had the whole industry running around like headless chooks for a couple of weeks until they worked out a way to carry on.
So what’s a brand to do? Well, let’s remove a bit of the hysteria from the debate and look at some sensible solutions:
1. Measure and evaluate. Monitor your brand pages carefully to see if you are seeing a reduction in reach or engagement. (To be fair, you should be doing this anyway, and constantly tailoring your content to make it work harder).
2. Start thinking like a newsroom. If you are seeing a downturn, consider changing the sort of content you produce. Facebook is seeking to downgrade ‘meme style content’ and increase the quantity of ‘quality news’ – they don’t say how they’re going to do this, so it might be worth experimenting with content that is much more news-y in approach. That means thinking about real-time content that is highly timely, and more blog content than bite-size disposable stuff. Anyone heard of the ‘brand as a newsroom’? You might want to give it some thought.
3. Stop looking for a freebie. The reality is that, for a while now, as a large brand seeking to get any kind of reach on Facebook, it’s been necessary to supplement organic content with some sponsored stories. And here’s the thing: paid posts still perform better if they are created like organic posts! They should still be stories, still be sharable, still be entertaining, or useful (or both!).
Now, I understand the need to fill column inches in order to drive page impressions and therefore deliver advertising revenue, but seriously, talking about the end of an industry is scaremongering of the worst kind. It’s the journalistic equivalent of running around shouting ‘the sky is falling in, we’re doomed’, when there’s a light shower.
Will brands still want to talk to the massive global Facebook audience? Yes. Will they still need to use interesting content to do that? Yes. Will Facebook find a way to reward brand pages who spend money by boosting their organic posts? Yes. Will there still be a market for great branded content? Yes.
As you were then. Carry on.
Richard Parker is head of strategy at content marketing agency Edge, where he works with brands including Woolworths, St George and Foxtel.