It‘s that time of the year again: Facebook has announced changes to the newsfeed algorithm and the sky is falling. Sounds familiar? It should because this has happened approximately every six months for the last three years.
But something is different this time: Facebook’s stock value took a hit on Wallstreet, and the announcement was covered in the mainstream media, as opposed to niche marketing and social media blogs. But what do those changes actually mean for social media managers and particularly for those working for NGOs, the UN, the Red Cross or other humanitarian organizations?
What is changing?
Facebook announced that they will emphasize content from friends over content from pages. Here are the relevant parts of the press statement:
“Because space in News Feed is limited, showing more posts from friends and family and updates that spark conversation means we’ll show less public content, including videos and other posts from publishers or businesses.
As we make these updates, Pages may see their reach, video watch time and referral traffic decrease. The impact will vary from Page to Page, driven by factors including the type of content they produce and how people interact with it. Pages making posts that people generally don’t react to or comment on could see the biggest decreases in distribution. Pages whose posts prompt conversations between friends will see less of an effect.”
As you can see, Facebook does not mention promoted posts. These will of course continue to be shown in the newsfeed – because you pay for them.
This is consistent with what Facebook has been saying for years: they want relevant content on their platform that people are actually interested in – and nobody joined Facebook to look at photos of your latest workshop. If you disagree, then you have to pay for those posts to be seen.
Why this is a good thing
The last 10 years have seen some spectacular – and unique – successes on social media: from the first Obama campaign over Invisible Children to the Ice Bucket Challenge. While these successes were unique, they nevertheless raised expectations that they could be easily replicated.
Facebook’s latest announcement makes it very clear that organisations should not expect significant returns on their investments unless they are willing to pay. This is refreshingly honest and I think it is a real chance for social media managers.
- Fight for a budget: Facebook has finally made it clear that the times of free engagement are over. If you are a business, a publisher or an organization, then you will need to pay to reach your audience. Instead of looking at Facebook as earned media, it is now clearly paid This gives social media managers better arguments when negotiating a budget.
- An opportunity for a strategic shift: This is a chance to move internal discussions from “How can we be successful on Facebook” to “How can digital media help our organisation reach its goals”. Social media managers should emphasize the need for an overall digital strategy for fundraising, advocacy and public communication in which Facebook continues to play a part, but is no longer central.
- Rethink what you want to get out of Facebook: Does that mean that Facebook is dead? No, of course not! But this is an opportunity to think about what you want to get out of Facebook. Is it platform through which you want to have a dialogue with your supporters? Is it a personal fundraising tool? Depending on the use case you will need different strategies.
- Take a close look at your other digital platforms: Facebook is not saying that content from your website will be deprioritized. It is just saying that content that is shared by you gets a lower priority than content shared by someone’s Facebook friends. In other words: to be successful on Facebook you need to make it as easy as possible to share your content. Take a look at all your channels: do they facilitate sharing? Is your website optimized for mobile? Does the mobile website have all necessary sharing option? Are those options visible on both phones and tablets? What about your newsletter(s)?
- Invest in better content: Most communications staff believe strongly in the mission of their organization and want to why the work matters. But instead of investing in good content, communications staff are often reduced to posting a link to the latest press releases. Now, more than ever, posting relevant, interesting and well-produced content is essential on social media. However, producing this type of content costs time, money or both. The changes to Facebook’s algorithm show that investing in content is necessary and social media managers now have even stronger arguments at their disposal, to ask their managers for additional resources.
- Be more approachable: Facebook emphasizes that they are particularly interested in content that directly engages the audience, which is another way of saying content that facilitates a dialogue between organizations and their audience. Live videos are a great and cheap way to do that. So instead of posting a link to a press release, host an interview with someone who works on the topic and encourage people to ask questions. That kind of event is also worth promoting through Facebook ads. If you are looking for examples: UNHCR is one of the organisations who do Facebook live events well.
Whom this will hurt
The changes will primarily hurt organizations who:
- Paid money for page followers, since these followers are often not engaged
- Post to Facebook without a strategy or without thinking
- Have a website that does not facilitate sharing
- Are not able to produce interesting content
In summary, I think Facebook’s latest changes are an opportunity for organisations who take social media seriously and who are willing to think about what their audience wants and expects. It can help social media managers have strategic discussions about how they can contribute to the business goals of their organizations.
What other people wrote about the changes:
- Wired: Facebook’s Adam Mosseri on Why You’ll See Less Video, More From Friends
- Vox: Facebook wants to show you more news from your friends — and less news from journalists
- Vice: Facebook Is Deprioritizing Our Stories. Good.
What are your thoughts? Please share them below!