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Facebook algorithm changes: 10 things you need to know in response

You’ve have no doubt heard something of the latest Facebook announcement that will significantly change the algorithms in how content is delivered to your feed. The changes are being made in the face of two threats to their business model.

They need to respond to fake news being spread on their platform with the use of highly sophisticated bots, in addition to just plain sensationalism, misinformation and polarization of views. Facebook knows that social media enables the spread of information as an amplifier. Basically they’re framing it as wanting to do the “right thing” but make no mistake, they’re also moving before federal regulators force a solution on them, which would also come with a financial impact.

They need to keep users engaged on the platform in a meaningful way, in order to provide an environment that has value for advertisers. The editorial environment is a delicate balance. Framed from a more traditional perspective, if a newspaper has thought provoking content, you’ll spend time reading it and responding to ads within it. If the content is trash, you’ll flip and toss it, without giving much time to the ad content either. Unless they were to move to a subscriber-based model, ads are how they make their money. They need engaged eyeballs on their feed.

To put it simply, it’s economics driving change, framed as responding to society concerns. So what is going to happen?

1. Person-to-person will be prioritized. Facebook wants you to interact with friends and family more. They know that content from those you enjoy will encourage meaningful engagement. The news feed will be sorted and customized based on a ranking system. As a result, you will see more posts from people, and fewer posts from pages. However, notice that they also stated “groups” in that announcement. More on that in a moment, since there is strategic opportunity there.

2. Long and thoughtful replies will get a boost. This seems to be a significant shift. They are looking for “meaningful engagement”, not just likes or one-word responses. Recorded videos will not get nearly the weight they once did either. Passive scrolling and low-quality engagement will now be bad. Posts that get long, thoughtful replies will get priority in your feed.

3. Facebook will be ranking publishers based on how trusted they are. Facebook has said they will be surveying readers to determine the credibility of publishers through a poll on how much they trust the given news source, and then use the aggregated data to rank that publishers’ trustworthiness. People not familiar with a news source will not impact the judgment on a given publisher. In theory, this is actually a beneficial change for publishers of genuinely good content. Zuckerberg has said he expects a 20% drop in the amount of news people see. Currently news makes up 5% of content in your feed. It will drop to 4%. What is “trusted” in a world so divided will be hard to measure however – since each side will believe their “truth” formed through previous news sources is authentic and true. Let’s hope they have some smart folks at the controls to aggregate the data based on populations. But by definition the process will be flawed, since it will be a survey sample, with self selected participation. Not all populations are on Facebook either, but the results will dictate how news and opinion is formed and shared – globally, at least by those that get their news only through Facebook, and shockingly, it’s a larger number then it should be.This is no doubt a rabbit hole I could go down, and argue how the roots of democracy, based on freedom of the press is being threatened, but that’s likely too much for many of you only a few sips into your Sunday morning coffee! Back to the topic at hand…

What should you do about it?

1. Create good content. Don’t forget that your audience is human. Create good content, in whatever format is best, that they’ll want to consume. When you share something, have a purpose. Think about your audience. What will they find helpful, educational or entertaining? How can you deliver the content to evoke a response? This might mean sharing a blog post, but taking the time to frame a very brief summary and a thought provoking question. Your goal is to not only evoke a response on Facebook, but to also get them to link to your blog, where you gather their tracking information for further audience targeting, or to entice them to sign up to your newsletter or follow your blog, so you ultimately own them as a target audience member. Facebook is simply a tool to grow an audience through engagement, and to be able to broadcast content. Never forget that at the end of the day, your strategy is to USE the platform to your own goals, not build it exclusively for the landlord who owns it. What will make them look smart, funny or connected to an inner circle in some way?

2. Post LESS often, but when you do make it engaging. Consider how you’ll educate or entertain your target audience, then pick the right tool to do it: blog post, curate content with your take on something, video, live video. Pick the tool that is most apt to pull the viewer in and prompt a response. Topics that they care or are passionate about will get uptake. Let’s face it, sharing is easy, but evoking a response is harder. But if it causes us to think more critically about what we share and its “true value” to our readers (will they care), then that has to be a good thing. The best will shine through brighter, and we’ll see less garbage, in theory. Of course anyone with content can still buy his or her way into our feed, so garbage with budget will still show up.

3. Boost content posts beyond organic reach. Pay to play arrived some time ago on Facebook. For content producers and publishers, this algorithm change announcement just upped the game further. However, paying for reach is actually an investment if you have created good target groups to boost to – through pixel tracking of your website audience, custom audiences based on email lists, or custom audiences through detailed profiling options. Provided you have genuinely earned your “likes” that audience is also a viable boost.

4. Potentially use your personal account more. Depending on how you’ve built your Facebook personal audience, and what kind of business you’re in, you may be able to engage MORE through that account. This is not a solution for everyone, and you don’t want to be spamming your Aunt Marion with your work brilliance all the time. Speakers or other professionals in consulting positions might be able to benefit this way. It really depends on the overlap of your friends as business colleagues or clients. You’re also limited by the number of “friends” and there isn’t the degree of sophistication to track results that exists through your page and Ad Manager, to track results. You can however monitor links from Facebook on the back end of your Google analytics, so maybe give it a try if the audience is a good fit, and monitor your reach.

5. Continue to buy ads. All this won’t affect paid ads. If you’ve been advertising on Facebook and it’s working, just continue doing what you’re doing. Facebook still wants to make money, and they have been pay-to-play for some time and moving more so in that direction with each successive update. Ads with a well-targeted audience should continue to do well. If Facebook decides to serve up fewer ads though, in the interest of users being more engaged with friends and family, expect to pay more for those ads. It will be simple supply and demand economics at play. Of course, ads can benefit from organic distribution as well. So if the content in your ads generates meaningful conversation, that engagement will propel your post organically in the news feed. That’s a point that not everyone considers.

6. Live video is good – for now. Facebook has been favouring live video for the last year, and will continue to do so, provided there is engagement generated. But can you see where this is going? Use live video if it makes sense for the particular content you’re sharing and for your audience, but not just because it is currently favoured in the feed. You can bet they have a plan to charge for it in the future, once a significant number of users see it as indispensible. Rather then jumping on the latest tool, go back to the “quality of content” notion, and what your audience will interact with best. Then make your decisions. If that’s live video, go for it. But don’t just jump on board because you see it as a way to cheat the system and be seen by more people. The system will change in the future. You’re just a tenant.

7. Consider creating a Facebook Group. If you’re looking for ways to limit the impact of this change on your brand, you may consider exploring Facebook Groups. Back in July Facebook announced Groups for Pages, allowing brands to link groups to their pages, and even interact in those groups as their page or personal profile. This may ultimately be a way to continue to nurture a community around your brand previously more accessible through your Facebook Page. Rather then paying to boost content to them or hoping to break through the clutter organically with engagement on posts, creating a group where ALL members see the posts show in their feed because they’ve expressed interest in the brand, may be a very viable defense for some of these changes. I’m seeing some industry leaders like Jon Loomer and Amy Porterfield shifting in this direction for courses, but why not as a free and open group for anyone who likes your page? Strategically it makes sense. But please, if you are going to create a group, don’t spam the heck out of them! It will need to be an authentic community. Not all about you. There’s a novel thought to chew on.

8. If you’re a publisher, keep doing what you’re doing. If you create genuinely well-researched content, that is considered credible, you should have little to worry about. But also consider groups, and of course build your OWNED media, your website as your primary site. If you use live video, build in a mechanism to engage as well as funnel them to your owned site. See #9

9. Facebook is a RENTED platform. Expect future changes. At the end of the day, your presence on Facebook is based on a rental agreement with a landlord that can change the rules, charge you more rent, deny you access, or toss you out completely. This is just another algorithm change, but who says Facebook won’t move to a subscriber model in the future? That has been wildly successful in the music industry. How might that impact your views or use? The only real defense is a strategic offense, and that involves building your owned media, your website, blog and enewsletter as your home plate. By all means use social media to broadcast and engage, but always have the goal of strategically building your own audience. You get that through email capture on your site, blog follows, and analytics of site visitors.

10. Have a glass of wine. Just checking if you’ve made it this far! Kidding aside, the impact of these changes is largely unknown. Maybe just chill and monitor things, then adjust as necessary. Potentially there could be positive outcomes such as more engagement, less noise in the feed, and a greater opportunity for great brands to stand out or nurture their communities in a new way.

If the topic of marketing with media interests you, and you’d like my 5 Step Cheat Sheet for growing your audience, using social and earned media as part of that strategy, link HERE. We’ll get it to you ASAP. As always, thanks to those who like, share, post and comment to these posts both on the blog as well as when they’re shared out on social. As you know I’m always looking to build my audience, so please encourage others to “follow” this blog, or subscribe to my 5-Minute Marketing enewsletter Sunday morning updates. You can subscribe directly on this website, or simply HIT THIS LINK and we’ll get you on the list.

What do you think of the changes? Do you have additional strategies you are considering? Have you seen an impact on your Facebook Page? (if you’re reading this after some of the changes have been implemented)

Mary Charleson

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