2018 got off to an unnerving start for businesses that use Facebook to amplify their reach, and drive traffic to their website. On 11 January 2018, Mark Zuckerberg used Facebook to announce significant changes to the News Feed algorithm:

I’m changing the goal I give our product teams from focusing on helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful social interactions.

We started making changes in this direction last year, but it will take months for this new focus to make its way through all our products. The first changes you’ll see will be in News Feed, where you can expect to see more from your friends, family and groups.

As we roll this out, you’ll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media. And the public content you see more will be held to the same standard — it should encourage meaningful interactions between people.

We expect businesses and brands will start seeing the effect of this change from February onwards. But how exactly will this affect you and your business, and are there any measures you can put in place to minimise the impact?

What is changing in Facebook’s News Feed algorithm?

Up until this change, posts were algorithmically promoted higher up in the News Feed based on a looser engagement measure. The number of reactions, comments, and/or shares a post attracted influenced who else would see the post, and how high up in the News Feed it would appear.

This hasn’t changed, but Facebook now plans on prioritising posts that “spark conversations and meaningful interactions between people”. And comments alone are not considered a conversation, Facebook will be looking for comments that lead to back-and-forth discussions.

Facebook published their News Feed values in 2016, and with this change they also intend prioritising posts made by your family and friends, over that of other public posts – consistent with these values. The stated intent of this is to promote real engagement and interaction, while trying to curtail passive consumption of information.

What does Facebook’s News Feed algorithm change mean for your business?

It doesn’t mean that your public posts are going to disappear from the News Feed completely, but they will be less visible. And their visibility will be further influenced by the amount of meaningful social interaction they attract.

The implication is that businesses and brands whose posts seldom generate discussions in the comments, will see their reach and visibility shrink. And having a large number of followers and likes will not change this. The same applies to businesses and Pages that primarily post video content, with Facebook’s Head of News Feed, Adam Mosseri explaining:

There will be less video. Video is an important part of the ecosystem… But it’s more passive in nature. There’s less conversation on videos, particularly public videos.

Again, this does not mean your video posts will not show up in anybody’s News Feed, but they will be less visible if they don’t generate conversational comments.

What steps can I take to still reach customers on Facebook?

The true impact of this News Feed change will only be known in a few months, but there are a few measures you can put in place to minimise any disruption to your reach.

Focus on engaging content that encourages meaningful engagement

It’s easy to fall into the trap of taking a “spray and pray” approach when publishing content to Facebook: you publish multiple posts each day, and hope that at least one of them will attract some engagement. But the best approach has always been to properly measure the reach and engagement of each post, and then adjusting your publishing schedule to focus on the type of posts that resonate with your audience.

This approach is more important than ever now, and if you normally publish three or more posts a day, we suggest experimenting with cutting back to only one or two a day. By limiting the number of posts you publish, you are forced to pay more attention to choosing those that will attract meaningful engagement: longer comments, and back-and-forth discussions.

But refrain from actively asking your audience to engage with your posts. Facebook spoke out against the use of “engagement bait” in December 2017, warning that they would be rolling out stricter demotions for Pages that engage in this:

Publishers and other businesses that use engagement bait tactics in their posts should expect their reach on these posts to decrease. Meanwhile, Pages that repeatedly share engagement bait posts will see more significant drops in reach. Page Admins should continue to focus on posting relevant and meaningful stories that do not use engagement bait tactics.

Ask your audience to “Follow” your page

If you’ve paid attention to your Facebook audience metrics, you would have noticed that there is some disparity between the number of likes you have, versus the number of people following you. Currently the default behaviour when someone likes your Page on Facebook is for them to automatically also follow you. But it is possible for someone to unfollow your Page, without unliking it. Follows are more valuable to you than likes, since users who only like a page – but don’t follow – will see very few, if any, of your posts.

But even then, some followers will see more of your posts than others, simply for having adjusted the Following settings for your page. The default setting uses the News Feed algorithm to decide what posts appear in a users newsfeed, while changing it to See First will see posts from the specific page being prioritised and shown before any other posts.

Many brands have already started asking their Facebook audience to check that they are Following, and even asking them to select See First. Don’t be shy about doing the same, since it is only a request, not an instruction.

Explore, or invest more time in Live Videos

While Mosseri did state there would be less video following the News Feed algorithm change, Zuckerberg in his original announcement also mentioned:

We’ve seen people interact way more around live videos than regular ones.

This suggests that you should consider investing more time in Live Videos, or begin exploring how your business could use Live Video to reach a larger audience.

Increase your Facebook advertising budget

Mosseri did clarify that this change would not affect ads, so the visibility of any paid advertising campaigns you run on Facebook shouldn’t be a concern. However, you could end up spending more money to boost or promote posts so that your reach and engagement aren’t too negatively affected. Alternatively, a higher demand for ads by other businesses trying to combat the effect of the algorithm change could also drive up the cost of Facebook advertising.

Consider new opportunities offered by chatbots

If you primarily use Facebook to generate leads, or drive traffic to your online store, you may find more value in a chatbot. Chatbots won’t amplify your reach on Facebook, but they do make it easier for your audience to interact with your business in a more meaningful way. From automated responses to frequently asked questions, to making it easier for your customers to browse and shop from a mobile phone. Like Live Video, chatbots aren’t a perfect fit for all businesses, but you won’t know if any opportunities exist if you completely ignore them.

Conclusion

These changes do not signify a souring of the relationship between Facebook, businesses, brands, and publishers. But it is a reminder that no business should commit all their marketing efforts to what is, in effect, “rented space”. Part of Zuckerberg’s announcement included the acknowledgement that:

[…] by making these changes, I expect the time people spend on Facebook and some measures of engagement will go down. But I also expect the time you do spend on Facebook will be more valuable.

And the time people spend on Facebook can still be valuable for you too, if you return to focusing on quality content that sparks conversations.

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