Does the change of Facebook algorithm result from the concern about the users, or is it running away from problems which FB is unable to solve?
Everyone has their own theory. In the United States Facebook has been widely criticised. People believe it had a very negative impact on social relations, that it destroys them more than improves. So at a very general level it is said FB wants to get back to its roots, to its main goal, to be primarily a social network. On the other hand, there is the presidential election in the US in two years and Zuckerberg, who is managing such an influential tool, had been put into the role of a candidate and people say his thinking can head towards a political career. Another theory is that Facebook is testing patience, especially of large brands, because it can do so as one of the companies forming a duopoly (next to Youtube). There are a lot of suppositions. Of course, the official version will always be that Facebook is doing it for the good of its users, but it would be very naive to think that it’s all about making us, average users, feel better on FB. It is a huge money making and influencing machine, too huge to follow solely the interest of its users. It must have something as a paramount goal, but otherwise it’s about drawing more money from advertisers or expanding the zone of influence. Mark Zuckerberg’s mission to “bring people closer together” is an umbrella for all these changes.
What are these changes?
On the one hand, there are the changes in so called scoring, a classification of what goes to our news feed or wall. The most important result here is that on FB we should first of all see posts from our friends, families, physical people who really form a community, and not from brands. FB announced that it is able to project, if a given piece of content is going to be popular among readers or not based on historical data. So if, for instance, we run a yoghurt fan page, this ranking is going to work partly against us, because based on how we previously engaged users Facebook is going to decide about our place in the news feed. This way some brands could get into a vicious circle – they won’t be seen in the news feed because they’re not engaging enough, but they won’t have a chance to become more engaging because they’re not seen by users. This rank is one change and it has already been introduced.
Facebook has also introduced e.g. the possibility to snooze a fan page. If you’re a fan for 30 days and do not unlike it, you continue to be a fan, but you won’t see its content for another 30 days.
Another change particularly important for publishers is that their profiles reported by users as fake media won’t be able to advertise.
There are also minor changes, like launching a new advertising format, so called pre-roll. This means you will see an ad in the beginning of a video that you want to view on Facebook and you won’t be able to skip it. In a way FB will force us to view an ad before watching the video.
It’s worth noticing that Facebook is not making those changes instantly as if with a magic wand, but has been introducing them gradually for the past several months. The main result of the changes is that the life of brands on Facebook is going to be more difficult.
Brands have a serious problem to solve. They need to decide what to do to stay on Facebook so that it doesn’t become a money-consuming form of presence, which gets gradually more expensive.
Does it still make sense to run a brand fan page?
There’s no reason to panic and to decide right now that we no longer need Facebook. It is still the cheapest way of winning potential customers, and at the same time the cheapest form of reaching large target groups with your news. But we can say the times of easy presence on Facebook are over. In order to get through the rank to its user, a brand will have to make much more effort, when it comes to content, the quality of images, but also from the point of view of the entire strategy, so… it’s going to be interesting.
…and more expensive? Is increasing budgets on advertising inevitable?
Unfortunately, it is. Increased budgets on Facebook is already a fact – because organic reach is very small, almost microscopic, you can say Facebook has become an unsatiated hydra, which demands more and more financial input on visibility. It is one of those elements where you can assume budgets should be higher. Although I would add here that it’s not about increasing a budget, because we could increase it on end, but to spend the money with more awareness and with more precision on ad optimisation, instead of large reach campaigns. But you do have to come to terms with higher budgets.
Until recently some of fan pages based its activity solely on organic reach. Since the reach is so little now, can a fan page survive on Facebook without investing in paid advertising? Even assuming it will be scored better because it will have good engagement results.
I think you can no longer exist on Facebook without any financial input. In the case of fan pages which were or are effective in engaging, it can be slightly easier, because if they have good content the financial input will not have to be that high, but looking at it pessimistically, I don’t think any fan page could see good reach and good results of its posts for a longer run without financial support. Unfortunately, these are going to be such moments when you need to decide to what level you’re going to invest, why this amount of money and not that, what result you expect etc.
Can we say that the better the content the less financial input needed?
Yes, of course, the better the content the easier it’s going to be to reach the users and the lower financial input, but this way of thinking presumes something that is very hard to execute. It is extremely difficult to keep that same level of content, which is very good and equally engaging each time, keeping it constant, even for fan pages focused around a bigger idea and not just product advantages. It would be naive to think that whenever you have good content it’s going to defend itself just by itself. Anyone working with content and content marketing knows that one day you come up with a gem, but then you create content which isn’t doing so great. So you’re right in theory, but practically speaking, I think that keeping such a level of publications is very hard, and it would be even harder for commercial brands, because when you have a bigger idea around which you gather people, you can try to do this, but if you take, for instance, the yoghurt we mentioned before and each time you have to try engage people with elements connected to the product. I’m afraid this tactic is undoable in everyday reality.
Considering it will be more difficult to get to viewers, the matter of right targeting is going to be more important, reaching the group you want.
Can we say then that large brands are in fact going to benefit on the FB algorithm change? If it’s going to be hard for fan pages to survive on Facebook without money, and smaller companies won’t be able to afford the budgets large concerns can afford…
I think we shouldn’t look at it through the perspective of competition and that if others are not doing well then there’s potentially more space on Facebook, but we should ask ourselves instead: “What do I do with my FB profile?” “What content should I post?” “How often?”
What are the potential advantages – if any – for average users?
Users may have already noticed that content on their news feed is primarily content from the friends they interact with most often, so it’s again becoming a social networking platform, there’s less “spam” from brands. For users this can be interesting and positive, but it can also be difficult because they got used to learning about brands, promotions and interesting stuff on Facebook, so in a moment they might miss brands on FB.
To be frank, I used to learn much news far easier and faster on Facebook. I didn’t have to search for it on various websites because I would know about them earlier from Facebook.
Exactly. The world has already become Facebook-centric. We don’t open ten different news websites to find out about what’s happening, but we open Facebook and see what our friends comment, like, what our favorite portals are posting on FB and this way we learn the news. It is exactly as you said. This way of thinking may change, but the biggest loser can be brands, because a publisher can still do well on Facebook after a small strategy adjustment, but brands have a serious problem to solve. They need to decide what to do to stay on Facebook so that it doesn’t become a money-consuming form of presence, which gets gradually more expensive.
Can this whole situation lead to a point where brand profiles are only a business card or a place to post complaints?
It could. Some of the brands are going to ask: “Why do we need Facebook if we can generate the same reach, or maybe even bigger, being e.g. on YouTube, which is also a high-reach social medium?” There appears the question of priorities change. Facebook is going to serve completely different purposes, e.g. building relations as part of customer service, and we will create engaging content which also has wide reach on YT. I think all brands now have to ask themselves which channel is going to play which role, because Facebook is not necessarily the answer to all the problems. On the other hand, intuitively I think that Facebook, seeing the first withdrawals of brands and slightly smaller advertising budgets, can quickly change the direction. But they need to understand that constantly changing principles or a different way of thinking can be tiring for marketers, because it means adjusting to new changes. Of course, FB has a strong market position, but so does Google, and at the same time it seems less whimsical and ephemeral when it comes to new suggestions and ideas.
Since organic reach is diminishing, should users expect a flood of paid advertising on Facebook?
I think there will be fewer such ads, simply because some brands will decide that investing in FB is not going to solve all the problems. For users it can even be positive, because they will see fewer ads, but also better selected. Considering it will be more difficult to get to viewers, the matter of right targeting is going to be more important, reaching the group you want. We are now in the process of guessing what functioning on Facebook is going to be like. There’s much noise, much anxiety, but still too little data to see the scale of changes or potential problems. Remembering that “hope dies last” we should just wait, and it may turn out that it’s not going to be that bad.