Do you like to dance?
Dancing is both a science and an art. The waltz is a beautiful and romantic flowing dance, the foxtrot involves intricate alternating fast and slow steps, and the tango is rigid with its pace starting slow and increasing in intensity. Each of these is recognized by their steps and a set pace, and partners must step in sync or the dance results in absolute chaos.
A brand’s presence on Facebook is much like the tango: Your content must follow intricately timed steps that the famous Facebook algorithm uses to decide the fate of your post. This algorithm has the final say in the reach of your content, thus impacting engagement.
The Famous Facebook Algorithm
The Facebook algorithm is nothing new to brands that use Facebook to drive traffic. This algorithm is complex (and a closely-guarded secret formula), and prioritizes posts based on the meaningful interaction and discussion they inspire (or not).
The Social Network was born in 2003 and evolved into TheFacebook.com. TheFacebook was initially only available to students at Harvard but was wildly successful, and the rest is history. Considering that Mark Zuckerberg was a computer science student at Harvard when planning TheFacebook, it makes sense that even 15 years later its algorithmic secrets are enigmatic. More than a student directory, TheFacebook project was an edgy and innovative way to take socialization to new levels, paving the way for person-to-person interactions beyond the walls of a classroom or dormitory hall.
Fast-forward to 2018, and Facebook is still testing boundaries and pushing limits. From its humble beginnings as a student-to-student connection channel to today’s content-filled environment where brands compete with bodies for attention in a user’s Feed, Facebook is still focused on social interactions, but is embracing innovation and changing things up on us – again!
Evolution of the Feed
Facebook users were recently sent a survey, with no incentive to complete other than Facebook’s request to understand how users “feel” about the product. Why is this important? Facebook is a business like any other, right? Wrong. Facebook is a for-profit entity with the idea to facilitate interactions between people and to bring them together. The fundamental foundation of Facebook is people.
Facebook Feeds are increasingly becoming more populated with posts from brands and businesses; even the media deliver news via Facebook. Less personal interactions are taking place, and the overall “feeling” from people about Facebook is becoming largely negative. This is not the perception Facebook wants users to have for long-term success.
The last presidential election is a great example of overwhelming Feeds with more news and branded content than actual social posts from friends and family. Facebook has also been blamed for the demise of friendships and destruction of relationships and marriages, with social profiles being checked for “dirt” by attorneys to use in legal proceedings. Social media has been accused of facilitating cyber-bullying and linked to lowering self-esteem. Efforts to combat negativity have been largely unsuccessful given the very public nature of the channel.
Where did the “bad” begin? Even the algorithm can’t pinpoint the precise moment that Facebook started to take a turn. Around 2013, Facebook eliminated the ability for users to have their privacy settings remain invisible to the public and not appear in searches. The notion was that having a private profile on a social network was counterintuitive – and users couldn’t argue since Facebook is a public website. The change came as an unwelcome shock for many users “flying under the radar,” but as in any situation, users adapted to this latest change from the platform known for shaking things up once or twice a year.
What we know for sure
One thing we know is that change is afoot at Facebook: Zuckerberg & Co. want to get back to basics. That’s not to say much will change for users posting content, but brands are going to feel the difference where it hurts. Facebook is responsible for a vast amount of referral traffic from brands’ organic posts on their individual Facebook Pages.
The algorithm will focus on the quality of content, and prioritize people over public posts, pushing for more person-to-person interaction with a focus on community over profit in post content. Facebook is listening to feedback where users are tired of click-baiting, a practice where teaser headlines get users to click to consume content and are sometimes tricked by misleading headlines.
What does this mean for brands?
The bottom line for brands is to evolve or die. Facebook is envisioning a few key outcomes:
- Users – people – will spend less time on Facebook
- A decrease in user engagement overall
- An increase in sharing of personal posts
- More lively discussion among users
None of these are making brands do cartwheels with excitement. Engagement is what drives users – again, people – to be on-platform longer. If people spend less time on Facebook, this means less attention is given to brand content and fewer clicks. This translates into a major impact on referral traffic. It’s also going to force brands to re-think their definition of engagement. How can brands still reach users and connect with them? Brands are going to be forced to adapt and change their social media strategies.
The fascinating part of all of this is that Facebook wants an increase in the sharing of personal posts and more discussion among users. These posts are what drive their ad targeting system—Targeted paid advertisements are the way Facebook wants brands to reach their audience.
The bad news for brands is that ad costs have significantly increased in the last few years, a trend that is likely to continue for a few reasons. Facebook is a wildly popular platform and well aware of its position. Even with user churn, Facebook’s user base continues to grow – there are more new users than those who become inactive or choose to leave – thus establishing solid logic for advertising prices, as well as continually increasing the potential reach for a paid targeted ad.
When a brand uses its Facebook Page to post content, the goal is to be in the Feed of every user. This is, in fact, something Facebook has been scaling back since before 2012. Dancing to the tune of the algorithm has long been a challenge brands must overcome to survive and maintain a Facebook presence. Adversely, Facebook has an eventual goal of Page posts reaching no user Feeds at all. This is rumored to be labeled “Facebook Zero” – where only paid ads and “sponsored content” (paid posts) will target user Feeds.
- Did you know that brands can use Facebook Messenger for promotions? They can message their customers directly within the Messenger platform and sidestep the Feed rules. Like email marketing, when deployed strategically, engaging with Facebook users via Messenger can yield impressive results. Brands can also use systems to automate updates sent to subscribers and responses to inquiries – at least for now.
The Exception to the Rules
Over half of Facebook users are members of at least one Facebook Group. The numbers speak for themselves: The number of Facebook users hovers around 2 billion, and Facebook Groups have a user base of more than 1 billion active users every month. There are more than 100 million users in Groups considered “meaningful,” in that the discussions are deemed informative, insightful, and intellectual – and users find them very helpful.
- Did you know that the total count of users who are members of Facebook Groups outnumber Instagram and Snapchat total subscribers combined?
Zuckerberg & Co. believe Groups are underestimated and underappreciated. There is value hidden within Facebook Groups. In 2017 Facebook hosted a Communities Summit that was free for U.S.-based Group members, with Facebook covering the hotel and food tab for attendees.
What is the benefit for brands? To be heard through the noise on Facebook, a brand is going to need to get (even more) creative. A brand can create a Group through their Page, and follow a few tips and best practices to successfully incorporate Groups into their overall strategy:
- Don’t confuse brand “sales” with Facebook’s “Buy and Sell” when choosing a Group Goal; “Buy and Sell” is widely used for garage sale-type Groups.
- Choosing a “Closed” Group setting as a privacy option helps create the feeling of exclusivity for users.
- Be careful not to be too detached in choosing your cover photo; a cold photo expressly aimed at generating a profit isn’t going to send the right message.
- Invite members through Messenger with a personalized message. This is still an element you can automate, but remember to convey the value a member can find within the Group
Active Group discussions are key drivers of “free” post visibility. Above, we learned Facebook wants to focus on lively discussions among users. Carefully crafted posts in Groups for targeted, engaged members will yield incredible reach, all while playing Facebook’s game!
Time to Tango
For users, in a perfect world, they would see funny memes and videos of cats and updates from friends and family. Facebook maintains that memes and videos don’t offer the satisfaction and fulfillment that user interaction holds —And since they control the algorithm, they’re leading this tango. Brands that choose to dance need to stay in step, or they’ll be forced to sit the next one out.