Facebook is focussing on family – where does that leave your business?

Your Facebook news feed is changing. Users will now see more updates from their friends and family and fewer updates from pages. This is great news for many users of the social network, but potentially terrible news for businesses, particularly in the B2B sector. As online marketing experts, our Portsmouth-based team have already been helping clients react to this news. Here are some of our findings.

What actually happened, exactly?

On 11 January 2018, Facebook announced that they are planning to change the software which decides what appears first in a particular news feed. Typically, users follow enough individuals (friends, family, famous people…) and pages (businesses, charities, personalities, TV show fan clubs…) that Facebook can’t show every new post on one screen. An algorithm sorts through new and active posts (ones with lots of comments and/or reactions) and ranks them. Facebook is planning to prioritize posts which “spark conversations” to encourage people to interact and build strong relationships. More significantly for online marketing teams, Facebook have explicitly stated: “We will also prioritize posts from friends and family over public content”.

Quotes https://about.fb.com/news/2018/01/news-feed-fyi-bringing-people-closer-together/ 

Does that mean my business posts won’t show up any more?

Your followers will almost certainly see fewer posts from you, but they should still see some. In the press release quoted above, Facebook have announced this change as something which will happen “over the next few months”, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg says “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.” This means that while some changes have already taken place we have advance warning of the major shifts which will let us monitor the effectiveness of our clients’ Facebook pages. By analysing the data, we’ll be able to see whether the update actually poses a significant threat to well-managed business pages or not. As Zuckerberg has explicitly said “you’ll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media” we expect that the impact will be severe.

Zuckerberg https://www.facebook.com/zuck/posts/10104413015393571 

What about the B2B sector?

We anticipate the impact being worst for organic B2B posts (free to post content on business pages, for example) as the assumption seems to be that people don’t want to use their Facebook account for anything work related, which we know isn’t true. As well as people who use Facebook to keep in touch with current and former colleagues, there are plenty of people who use the platform to run their own business (either under their own profile or through a page or both) and a large number of people who specifically want to be able to shop and/or generate contacts on Facebook, either for personal or business use.

What is Facebook trying to do?

Facebook seems to be trying to emphasize community and social connections so that in the future it will be more social and less media – more pictures recommendations for great restaurants and fewer posts from local restaurants; more getting advice from friends about buying a new car and fewer articles from car magazines. A cynic might expect to see more paid adverts for those restaurants and cars and fewer free business posts, and argue that this is another money grab. However, it seems reasonable to assume that this is at least in part a reaction to accusations that the platform had, perhaps unwittingly, a major impact on the 2016 presidential election in the USA. Whatever the reason, the social media giant is returning to its roots and trying to be mainly a way to help people connect with each other rather than a way to find funny cat videos and political news.

What can I do to avoid losing ground?

As with any shift in the algorithms that manage search engine result rankings or social media page rankings, the savvy online marketing team can only fight to maintain their ground by complying with the rules the company has set out. As is typical, Facebook hasn’t giving an explicit list of things to do and things to avoid. What they have said is that:

  • they will “prioritize posts that spark conversations and meaningful interactions”
  • and will “show less public content, including videos and other posts from publishers or businesses”
  • “Page posts that generate conversation between people will show higher in News Feed”
  • and warn that “Using “engagement-bait” to goad people into commenting on posts is not a meaningful interaction, and we will continue to demote these posts”

How do I implement these new policies?

As the new rankings will be set by machine, it’s essential to track and analyse your data to make sure that what seems obviously on track to a human is also agreeable to the machine. Here are a few things to try.

  1. Post a live video. Facebook reckons that “live videos on average get six times as many interactions as regular videos”
  2. Start a conversation. Ask your readers for feedback, for their thoughts on a topic that affects you, for input on the colour of a new product, for responses to your new advert… if you can get people to post multiple comments, chat or argue, that seems to count.
  3. Avoid “engagement-bait”. You want people to engage, comment and click, but don’t be too blatant about demanding the appearance of engagement without actual thought behind it. “Share for a chance to win” style competitions may suffer from this update.
  4. Encourage sharing and chatting. It’s no longer enough to get people to share your content – you now need to get their friends to discuss it. Post headlines that are questions may be an easy hack here, although your overall strategy will need to be more sophisticated.

Quotes https://about.fb.com/news/2018/01/news-feed-fyi-bringing-people-closer-together/ 

Engagement bait https://about.fb.com/news/2017/12/news-feed-fyi-fighting-engagement-bait-on-facebook/ 

That sounds really hard. Any quick hacks?

  1.  Ask your followers to put your page in their “see it first” category. Facebook will honour this request and show them more of your posts.
  2.  Buy paid advertising. OK, it’s not free but compared to spending heaps of time actively engaging with your customers (or figuring out ways to look like you’re actively engaging with your customers) PPC ads may be better value.

That’s it?

Online marketing teams from Portmouth to Inverness will be generating plenty of conversation (perhaps we should do it on Facebook!) trying to figure out exactly what does and doesn’t work over the next year. If you’re a boxChilli client, rest assured that you’ll get the full benefit of our research and success.

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