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The Current

Thought Leadership

New Facebook algorithm & new bad press. What's a brand to do?

There’s a lot happening at Facebook. Here’s our take on how to protect your business.

Earlier this year, Mark Zuckerberg announced he was “making a major change to how we build Facebook” and the whole social media community fretted and frenzied over, yet again, a News Feed algorithm change.

This time, content from friends and families would get a boost across Facebook News Feed and publishers and businesses would be de-prioritized by default with the new Facebook update. Immediately dramatic headlines that proclaimed a “Facebook Armageddon” or the “Death of Organic Content” saturated our inboxes and businesses everywhere wondered anxiously how they—and their bottom lines—would be affected.

And just when the algorithm uproar died down, bad press surrounding Facebook’s impact on the 2016 U.S. election cycle in general, and more recent allegations the political data company Cambridge Analytica misused Facebook user data during the election, bubbled up. This prompted more dramatic headlines containing Facebook’s name. While Facebook quickly suspended Cambridge Analytica from its site, the repercussions to the social media company itself are still murky and will partly depend on Facebook’s ability to maintain and rebuild trust with its users going forward.

All this leaves marketers wondering what to do with their brand on the largest social media platform in the world.

Since buzz has abated about the News Feed algorithm change but heated up on other fronts, now is a great to time assess whether any real damage has been done to brands’ ability to utilize the platform effectively. So what should you look for? If you already have great content and engagement, maybe you haven’t seen any changes to your metrics or made changes to your original content plan in recent weeks. But if you have seen an impact? First take a few deep, cleansing breaths and read on—this is not the end for those who stick to these rules. 

Say it with us: quality over quantity

This is the golden rule of content marketing and it hasn’t changed one pixel. As always, always, always—make sure you’re producing engaging, relevant and useful content. If that means you have limited resources and have to exchange fewer posts for higher quality content, do it. If that means you need to narrow your social stream from 5 active channels to 2, yep, do that too.

Inspire engagement

Why should you never (ever!) skimp on quality? Because thoughtfully crafted content resonates with your audience. It inspires conversation, laughter, questions and sharing. It’s so good, so on point, so TRUUU, it moves them to interact with it. This, friends, is real engagement. This is the best, most beautiful part of social media—and the hardest thing to get right.

Caption: Starbucks’ Instagram engagement is ridiculously good. AND, they take time to respond to many of their commenters.

And you know Facebook is prioritizing engagement above all because in his post, Zuckerberg noted, “And the public content you see more will be held to the same standard — it should encourage meaningful interactions between people.”

The Facebook Newsroom also warns, “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.”

But avoid “engagement-bait”

The formula for great engagement is unique and personal to each brand. It’s never one-size-fits-all. And, I’m very sorry to tell you, but there is no such thing as “let’s make something go viral.” Let’s just go ahead and remove that from our marketing vernacular, forever.

Engagement comes from trial, experimenting, listening (this one’s very important), tracking, recrafting, more experimenting, more listening, tracking again—etc., etc., It takes risk, a lot of diligence and even more patience.

And in your quest to find the best content cocktail, make sure you stay far, far away from what Facebook calls “engagement-bait.” These are spammy posts that prompt users to take an action rather than inspiring it.

Facebook has been, and will continue to, “demote these posts in News Feed.”

Examples of engagement-bait:

  • “Like this if…”
  • “Tag a friend if…”
  • “Comment below if…”
  • Vote-baiting with an image that encourages you to “vote” with a reaction (like, love, different smileys), UNLESS the reactions suggested match the emotional content of the image. i.e., if it’s a sad photo vs. a happy photo, the suggested reactions should be a sad emoji and happy emoji, respectively.
  • Encouraging users to share an image to enter a giveaway. Facebook’s rule on this is sharing should happen because the content is interesting or high quality, not a means to an end.

Embrace live videos

It appears the new algorithm will favor videos, which tend to generate more conversation than their static (read: *yawn*) counterparts. The Newsroom specifically cited live videos as especially driving engagement, noting that “live videos on average get six times as many interactions as regular videos.”  

So, how do you do a live video and where do you start? The how is easy (see here.) But the what? Depends on your business and audience.

Think from a fan’s perspective:

  • What would your fans be most interested to see in real-time from your brand?
  • A Q&A with your CEO or industry expert?
  • A demo or sneak peek of a few new products?
  • A behind-the-scenes look at an event?

Be thoughtful and deliberate here—but don’t forget to have fun with it too.

Pro tip: See First

Don’t be afraid to tell your fans they have the option of prioritizing your content in their feed. Just be cool about it. More like, “We’ve got a good thing going. Choose ‘See First’ in your News Feed preferences to make sure you don’t miss our stuff.” And less like, “PLEASE update your settings or we may never see each other again!!!!!”

Pay to play

Zuckerberg’s somewhat risky decision to take a big step towards downplaying publishers and brands on Facebook could be a blow for many, but admittedly it does come from a good place. “At its best, Facebook has always been about personal connections,” he wrote in his announcement. “By focusing on bringing people closer together—whether it’s with family and friends, or around important moments in the world—we can help make sure that Facebook is time well spent.”

This is, after all, what social media is all about. BUT, Facebook is still a for-profit business. And for-profit businesses make money. To make money, they need money. So its reliance on advertisers’ money is as real as ever. In fact, Facebook is assuring companies that paid social will remain unchanged, except maybe an increase in ad rates.

What does that mean for you?

  • If you’re not doing paid promotions on Facebook, you can’t wait any longer.
  • If you’re already paying for ads and boosting posts? Great, keep at it. In fact, consider spending less time and money on day-to-day content and shifting those resources towards creating and maintaining a comprehensive mix of ongoing and short-term campaigns.
  • Here again, craft, experiment, track and recraft often to see which kinds of ads perform best. Change up your copy and creative, maco audiences and micro audiences, duration and spend.

And just like any good marketing initiative, remember this is a long game. Measure your results often, but don’t be quick to judge if something isn’t working. More often that not, you just need to make quick tweak, a small change and release it back into the wild—which takes minutes, not weeks or months and thousands of dollars–to get the ROI that will make your little heart go pitter-patter. That’s the beauty of social.



VOLTAGE is a digital agency specializing in eCommerce, digital brand experiences, and web apps. Get emails and insights from our team:

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