The date was January 11, and the promotional side of the internet lost its marketing mind.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg took to his platform to tell the world that things would be changing. The company was going back to prioritizing a user experience based on connection with friends and family, and the kind of engaging entertainment we all apparently signed up for way back in the first place.
The changes, Zuckerberg noted, are intended to maximize the “meaningful interactions” people experience on the platform, and place a higher emphasis on the content that hits this particular mark. Meaning, reduced reach of what he labels “passive content” – videos, articles and links that ask little more of the viewer than to sit back and watch or read. The whole idea? A commitment to ensuring a users’ time on the site is very well spent, and in effect, they stick around and, well, consume more content, more ads, more Facebook on the whole.
“We want to make sure that our products are not just fun, but are good for people,” Mr. Zuckerberg said. “We need to refocus the system.”
The ultimate goal being to leave people feeling “positive” after visiting, and thus, maintain Facebook’s monstrous share of active social media users – now more than 2 billion globally. Call it a quality control renovation, if you will, for which marketers and advertisers will end up paying the final price.
“When people are engaging with people they’re close to, it’s more meaningful, more fulfilling,” said David Ginsberg, director of research at Facebook. “It’s good for your well-being.”
While the sentiment makes perfect sense from a user experience standpoint, the effect on Business Pages will most definitely be felt. In fact, it already is, with plenty crying foul and claiming ‘Facebook Zero’ has officially arrived. That is, the Facebook in which your branded content will see zero organic (unpaid) reach, and the need to promote or ‘boost’ every one of your posts into the newsfeed of your target audience the new reality.
Facebook’s acknowledgement that it will re-prioritize what users’ friends and family share and comment on in the News Feed – i.e. posts that have generated substantial interactions – while de-emphasizing content from publishers and brands, does indeed mean that posts from brands, publishers and media companies not only need to be top-notch in value, insight and entertainment for their intended audiences going forward, but also fully recognize the pay-to-play environment they’re swimming in.
In a nutshell, Facebook’s product managers are being asked to “facilitate the most meaningful interactions between people,” rather than the previous mandate of helping people find the most meaningful content.
“This big wave of public content has really made us reflect: What are we really here to do?” said Zuckerberg. “If what we’re here to do is help people build relationships, then we need to adjust.”
As for the question of whether the apocalyptic ‘Facebook Zero’ has indeed arrived, where a Business Page can categorically expect zero reach without a paid boost, our feeling is this.
This pending reality has indeed been on the horizon for some time (traditional media isn’t giving out free ad space, so why should Facebook?), as we’ve hovered around an average of 2-3% reach for Business Page posts. However, the premise of Facebook Zero is a bit of a misnomer for a number of reasons. For example, if said Business Page content gets shared personally (personal profile to newsfeed to personal profile and so on), or if that Page has a big reach with a small following (i.e. plenty of ‘human’ interactions are taking place on the posts as they often do for a newer Page with highly active or invested fans [read: owners, employees, family members] with say, a couple hundred fans), then it will indeed see some organic reach.
We’ve seen some newbie Business Pages of our Social School students, for example, have as much as 50% organic reach when they have followings of just 100 people, because those 100 people are engaging, sharing and interacting more than a multi-national, million-person Page on a per fan basis.
Thus, our prediction is that promoted content will continue to be filtered by Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm just as it has been, with it simply costing more going forward since it’s now essentially mandatory for those truly wanting reach (read: everyone). Again, a rising cost trend any seasoned online advertiser is accustomed to. Google AdWords also cost pennies on the dollar at one time, and brands are now regularly paying $100/click for high ranking keywords.
Compared to other mediums (tv, print, radio in particular), Facebook has been comparably affordable with a larger audience and much more targeted, measurable reach for a long time. The ‘disruption,’ it could be argued, is that while Facebook has to date pummelled traditional media on a comparative cost basis, the window between the two may indeed be narrowing slightly.
Regardless, those who know their numbers (insights, reach, budget, ROI), are crystal clear on their Page goals and conversion targets (objectives that go beyond comments, likes and shares and well into click-throughs, subscribes, contact forms, purchases and beyond), will continue to do well in the evolving Facebook environment.
And in the meantime, we sum it all up for you in our Top Tips for Outsmarting the Algorithm and Maximizing your Facebook Efforts:
- The importance of posting relevant, value-adding content has never been more real, and the penalty for not doing so with increasingly lower organic reach of your posts and Page as a whole now very notable)
- Focus on creating the ‘meaningful interactions’ that Zuckerberg refers to, and prioritize the ‘experience’ of your intended audience when crafting strategies and content. As in, what’s going to be the most engaging, shareable, highly compelling pieces that can rival personal content (i.e. live video, unscripted interviews, raw footage, behind the scenes moments, real-life testimonials, feet on the street, staff/customers/suppliers in their element, etc.). DO MORE OF THAT.
- Use Facebook Events and Groups more than before, as these appeal to the independent user more than typical business Page posts, and should see higher reach
- Pay to play, in a very, very smart way (think: custom audiences, pixel traffic boosts, ads based on post engagement, visits to website, video views, etc., as opposed to a blanket boosted posted to women age 25-55 who like wine in Saskatchewan).
- Encourage your staff, sales team, customer service personnel, C-Suite and beyond to share business posts on their personal feeds, as this is what is given newly renewed preference in the newsfeed and served up first.
SIDE NOTE: It seems now, the value of our personal Facebook networks and reach is shining through, if we choose to put them to use. While Facebook’s aim is to prioritize content shared by friends and family, we’re going to start seeing business owners, employees and stakeholders sharing an increase of business-related content. In other words, hello 2013. We’re back .
- Consider diversifying. Perhaps not ideal advice for anyone who’s doubled down on their Facebook efforts of late, where the better advice might be to implement ideas like the ones above, but for others, Instagram Stories, live video (YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook..), targeted and boosted posts are a good place to play. Ditto for experimenting more with LinkedIn! The reach is great, audience hungry for industry-specific and business-related content, daily usage is up, and both ad and post targeting is getting really good, while remaining relatively affordable.
- Do not underestimate the importance of trying new Facebook ad campaign features and post boosting techniques, like retargeting, engagement and pixel traffic audiences, as well as Facebook Messenger ad placements, for example, and other new features that remain highly under-utilized in local markets and among small to medium-sized businesses, which are ripe for the picking and jam-packed with features and opportunity.
- On the whole, view this as a great opportunity for real and serious interaction with your clientele. Quality over quantity, real conversations and engaging community – all things we should all be doing, all the time, regardless of algorithms.