15th Jan 2018 by Kalli Soteriou

Facebook Feeds Us Some Unnerving News: What Does This Mean For Social Media Marketing?

We all know that Facebook just loves to keep us on our toes; constantly challenging our creativity, strategic capabilities, and, if you work in social media you’ll totally be on my page with this, our patience. Its latest algorithm update is no different, with Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement of Facebook demoting business, brand and media posts in News Feeds sending shockwaves through the social media marketing industry.

Worried much? Well, if you work in social media, you should be! While this is likely a much-welcomed development for consumers and regular daily users of the channel, this shake up will have major implications for agencies, individuals and brands that rely on the channel to help promote their business and drive sales.

Over the past year, Facebook has been making a number of changes to its platform to demonstrate its efforts to make the channel a place for more meaningful, real conversations. Firstly, it embarked on its journey to rid its pages of ‘fake news’ and help users identify false or misleading stories by introducing its ‘Disputed Flags’.

This appeared next to articles that third-party fact checking websites deemed as click bait in a bit to provide more transparency for consumers. However, this was swiftly replaced by its Related Articles tool to help combat misinformation in the News Feed, giving users more context about the story, while reducing the frequency in which a hoax article is shared or reported.

This wasn’t deemed enough for consumers, with users of the channel publicly bashing Facebook for allowing brands to take advantage of their good nature with spammy or goading posts that boost engagement to gain greater reach. This tactic, known as ‘engagement bait’, became the talk of the town towards the latter part of 2017, with brands being named and shamed for using content such as ‘It’s National Megan Day, tag a fellow Megan’ in order to take advantage of its News Feed algorithm, and sometimes even generate sales. To foster more authentic engagement, Facebook has ‘reviewed and categorised hundreds of thousands of posts to inform a machine learning model that can detect different types of engagement bait’. The consequence? Posts that are found to use this tactic will be displayed less in News Feeds, with Facebook implementing stricter demotions for Pages that ‘systematically and repeatedly’ use engagement bait to artificially gain reach. As a result, Publishers and Pages should expect to see a decrease in reach, and if engagement bait type content is repeatedly shared, a more significant drop in both reach and engagement is on the cards.

Facebook has advised Page Admins to focus on ‘posting relevant and meaningful stories’, to avoid the issue all together – but what does this translate to in practice? Working with a number of global brands like Superdry, Confused.com and Lee Kum Kee, we’ve found that the key is understanding what exactly your audience likes and tailoring content that resonates with them on a deeper level than just ‘Tag a friend that likes cheese’.

First of all, what insight are you going to garner from the engagement on that post? That Donna’s mate in London has a serious cheese fetish? What value does this bring to the brand? Not a lot to be honest, even if your brand sells cheese! However, if you look to generate more meaningful conversations that enable your brand to uncover new insight then this would be more valuable to businesses and also help to build a better-engaged community.

Visibility and discoverability is also hot on the agenda, with Facebook launching a new tab – Explore – aimed at streamlining users’ news feeds so they only see posts from friends and family. Explore will show posts from Pages, including those that users don’t necessarily follow but may suit their interests (based on insight gathered by the channel).

The new tab has been heavily criticized by the social media marketing industry as it will strip branded content from the main News Feed making way for promoted content and posts from friends/family. It will actually provide a way for Facebook to display new content and Pages to users – so discoverability can be both enhanced and diminished at the same time.

Facebook, through Explore, curates content into a complementary stream of popular articles, photos and videos, automatically customised for each user based on content that they may find interesting, supporting its bid to provide a more genuine and meaningful experience. Sounds cool, right? As a user, yes. As a marketer? Maybe not so much…If you’re as cynical as I am, when you initially read about this the first thing that probably popped to mind was – it’s Facebook’s way to make more money.

To be totally honest, Facebook has always been moving towards a more ‘pay to play’ model so the news shouldn’t come as a shock, and while I do still believe this as only promoted brand/Page content will be displayed in News Feeds, I also believe that this will make Facebook a more enjoyable place for consumers and in the long run, protect those brands who do create outstanding content and really earn the engagement.

Ultimately, anything Facebook does, it does for the greater good. The shift will see Facebook going back to its roots and what it was originally created for – connecting with family and friends. We’ll see a more personable service, with content and conversations from your close circle trumping brand or publisher posts. Isn’t that what social networking is really about anyway?

Want to know what Head Yeti, Andy Barr, has to say? Here are his thoughts on a piece he wrote for My Customer.

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