Facebook algorithms have been playing havoc with the proverbial ‘organic’ reach (unpaid) of brand page posts for quite some time. Until now, a typical Facebook page might enjoy an organic reach of up to 16% of their total fan base, with reports suggesting this to be as low as 2% in some cases. This organic reach is ultimately governed by the quality of posts, according to preordained algorithms at play; like counts, story bumping, etc.
Last year, Facebook announced another substantial change which is being implemented this month (January 2015), one which will see the demise of organic reach almost in its entirety. This latest change will influence the kind of content fans and followers will see from the brands they follow. It is set to have wide reaching impact, especially amongst smaller businesses which have traditionally relied upon organic posts to drive their business. Even Dan Levy, Facebook’s Small Business Vice President, is quoted as having ‘a lot of empathy’ for business owners negatively affected by this change.
What’s behind the change?
In their November 2014 statement, Facebook said they had surveyed thousands of people to find out what they want to see in their News Feeds. Facebook learned that people want to see more stories from friends and pages they care about, and less promotional content.
What qualifies as a post that is ‘too promotional’?
According to Facebook, it’s one of the following three things:
1. Posts that solely push people to buy a product or install an app
2. Posts that push people to enter promotions and sweepstakes with no real context
3. Posts that reuse the exact same content from ads
The new algorithm will determine the posts seen by users based upon trending topics, as well as the time and rate when people like or comment on posts:
Trending Topics – Facebook currently displays a list of topics and hashtags that have recently spiked in popularity on Facebook aka 'trending'. This list is personalised based on a number of factors, including Pages you've liked, your location and what's trending across Facebook.
Timing – Rather than simply relying on the ‘like count’ of a post, Facebook now considers when people ‘liked’ and commented to determine whether to show the post at the top of the news feed.
How will this affect Facebook Advertisers?
This change will not increase the number of ads people see in their news feeds. The idea is to increase the relevance and quality of the overall stories – including page posts – people see in their news feeds.
Businesses with Facebook advertising campaigns in place that enable them to expand reach won’t be greatly affected. However, companies that rely heavily on organic posts to increase their reach may wish to reconsider their advertising strategy, as Return on Investment (ROI) of this approach may become insufficient to justify the time required to succeed in Facebook marketing. This represents a serious issue, especially if Facebook is one of your main sources of online sales.
Surviving the Change
According to Facebook, you should stick to posting strong content that’s relevant to your audience - not try to ‘game’ the news feed algorithm.
- Posts that generate lots of likes and/or comments
- Experiment and evaluate the types of posts your users prefer e.g. photos, videos, or status updates
- Posts that reference a trending topic
- Link posts
- Videos uploaded to Facebook that receive a large number of views or extended viewing duration
- Posts that tag other pages within the text
- Posts that are liked or commented on by one’s friends
- Posts from pages that one interacts with often
- Post types that one interacts with often
- Posts from pages with complete profile information
- Posts from pages where the fan base overlaps with the fan base of other known high-quality pages
- Images and videos that have not previously appeared in the Open Graph
- Links that have not been posted before
- Clickbait – Content which drives attention and draws visitors to a particular web page. A couple of ways Facebook determines clickbait include: If a user clicks through to a link and then comes straight back to Facebook. If a lot of people click on the link, but relatively few people click Like or comment on the story when they return to Facebook
- Frequently circulated content and repeated posts
- Like-baiting - Posts explicitly asking users to take an action on the post like commenting, sharing, or liking. These posts tend to get greater engagement but Facebook users don’t associate these posts with quality.
- Posts that include spammy links
- Text-only status updates from pages
- Posts that are frequently hidden or reported (a sign of low quality)
- Posts that contain the words ‘like’, ‘comment’, or ‘share’
- Posts with unusual engagement patterns (a like-baiting signal)
- Posts that receive negative feedback categorises as ‘meme content’
- Posts that are classified as memes by Facebook’s visual analysis of overlayed text on image
- Passive fans of a particular Facebook page may see that page’s posts bundled together in the News Feed, such that the user would need to click a link to see more from the page.
- Overly promotional content from pages - pushing people to buy an app or service, pushing people to enter a contest or sweepstakes, posts that reuse the same text from ads
Here are some suggestions of alternative marketing tools you can utilise to stay engaged with your Facebook audience.
Email Marketing – Email Marketing remains one of the most successful forms of organic marketing for businesses. Ideally you have been action-gating (campaigns requiring users to share specific information) to collect email addresses from people who have entered your promotions. If you haven’t tried action-gating to build an email list, don’t waste time!
Host promotions, giveaways and other campaigns on your website – Unlike Facebook where you’re effectively borrowing space on their site, your website is your own, an asset unique to your brand. The good news is that it’s pretty simple to host the kinds of campaign that you may have been hosting on Facebook, through your website or blog by using software that lets you embed the campaigns.
Explore other social networks - If your business has been reliant on Facebook and you've been dragging your feet about establishing a presence elsewhere, 2015 is the year to expand your horizons. Social media platforms such as Pinterest & Instagram have experienced rapid growth in popularity, not forgetting Twitter of course. Do your research, and discover where your customers are spending their time. Make sure you have a strategy for each network and you aren’t just spreading the same message around. Your audience will be more likely to follow you in different places, which means you have a better chance of catching their attention, if you provide value everywhere.
Keep on top of traditional PR methods – Media Releases, Blogger Outreach, InBlog Posts, etc.
Advertise - If you've advertising budgets available and consider Facebook a vital part of your marketing strategy, it would be well worth considering assigning a portion of this to advertising through Facebook.
How do you feel about these latest algorithm changes? Do you think Facebook has made the right choice?