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How Facebook’s latest algorithm change will impact your business

If you’ve been on Facebook as long as I have then you’ll remember, way way back, when it used to be the best and only place to catch up with the latest news and gossip from your friends. Holiday snaps, music recommendations and genuine insights into the day-to-day goings on of friends and family. Steadily, over a period of years, our feeds have become populated with an avalanche of news/spam from business pages that we don’t ever remember following, burying our friends and family posts under a large pile of noise.

Earlier this month CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, announced some pretty significant changes to the Facebook News Feed algorithm and it’s sending some gnarly waves through the social media marketing sector.

In summary, Facebook posts from friends and family members will be given priority over public posts from businesses, pages and publishers. If your business has pushed Facebook as a way to distribute blog articles, news feeds, images and other ‘stuff’ then things are going to change for you in a big way.

The first big question is, why?

In his announcement, Zuckerberg says that Facebook was built to ‘help people stay connected and bring us closer together with the people that matter to us’. He also explained that recent feedback indicated posts from businesses, brands and media are ‘crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other’. It was only in September last year that Zuckerberg admitted he was wrong to dismiss the impact that fake news shared on Facebook had on the 2016 American election. It’s likely this most recent update is in response to the fake news concern – but, to be clear, not the Trump version of fake news!

As a regular user of Facebook (read, I waste far too much time on it), it’s something I welcome. It’s a ballsy move by Zuckerberg who admits that he expects the time users spend on the platform to decrease but also expects that ‘the time you do spend on Facebook will be more valuable. It’s being framed as a move that will be good for users well being. Facebook wants you to feel good after visiting – after all, that’s going to be what pulls you back.

With younger audiences being drawn towards more personal, friend-focused platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram, Facebook has been rightly concerned about dwindling user growth and the passive engagement involved in simply reading a news article. Facebook never wanted to be in the game of delivering news. It was publishers that managed to twist this and, later on, encourage Facebook down this path. 

There are some, perhaps more sceptical observers, that say Facebook’s journalistic approach is preventing them from overturning the 2009 ban in China following the Urumqi riots. That’s a potential audience of 730 million online users. Zuckerberg has made his and Facebooks China ambitions well known and this could be a move that gets a foot in the door but they’ll be playing a big game of catch up. Plus, I do believe that Zuckerberg’s intentions are good. In an interview with the New York Times last week he discussed the importance of the company legacy and that he wanted his children to grow up ‘feeling like what their father built was good for the world’.

How businesses will be affected by the Facebook algorithm updates

The second big question is, what does this mean for businesses, publishers and producers of media?

It’s no secret that Facebook has been an incredibly successful way for businesses to reach a new audience and the changes will have a significant impact. Facebook themselves have acknowledged that ‘there will be some anxiety’ from those businesses that put a strong emphasis on Facebook posts and although we’re not likely to understand the full impact for several months businesses will need to rethink the way in which they use the platform.

So, given that we understand the change but haven’t seen it in full action what’s the best way for businesses to manage the latest Facebook algorithm? At Start Digital we believe there are a few ways to continue maximising your business’s reach.

  1. The latest updates don’t appear to be impacting advertising. That is, sponsored posts are still a viable way of getting your content in front of a targeted audience. Some agencies are advising their clients to expect an increase in advertising costs, which has the potential to upset even more businesses. Sponsored posts on Facebook have historically been a relatively cheap way to reach a large online audience and, right now, this is still the case. However, the writing is on the wall and it’s likely that, as Facebook re-adjust their focus, it’ll look to cash in on business needs to connect with its audience.
  2. High quality content. We’ve been talking about quality over quantity for a while now. Just as Google has adjusted their search algorithm to focus on authentic, meaningful content, so has Facebook made it more important for businesses and publishers to create content that will engage an audience and encourage conversations. Companies need to consider the needs of their audience demographic in order to create and share content that people will react to and engage with. The days of clickbait memes and low value engagement are quickly becoming a thing of the past. We’re advising our clients to create content that sparks conversation. The algorithm changes indicate that posts with a high level of engagement are more likely to appear in users timelines. The theory is that if your friends and connections are talking about something then you’re more likely to be interested in it. Just as with your web pages, content is king.
  3. Don’t put all your eggs in the Facebook basket. It’s important that businesses maximise their online reach by looking at how they can create content for each specific social platform. Images for Instagram, articles for Facebook, punchy anecdotes for Twitter and professional insights for LinkedIn. If the intention is for your business to reach a large audience we recommend having your website as the centre point feeding content in and out of other online channels. Spreading the love will spread the word.

The changes have already started rolling out to some users and all evidence indicates the differences are quite noticeable. Whilst there has been some grumbling among the online marketing community we believe that by encouraging businesses and content creators to create high-quality content we, as users, will have a more positive experience in the longer term.

Time will tell and we’ll keep you posted – but probably not on Facebook!