“If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience.” - George Bernard Shaw
It wasn’t that many years ago that Google was a new kid on the block. If you were a webmaster back then, it was relatively easy to get your website onto the first page of Google search results. If you were thoughtful about what text you had on your website, included logical meta-tags in your site header and perhaps got a few decently trafficked websites to link to your site, Google would serve you up like a delicious dish of pasta at an Italian restaurant.
But even as the volume of websites expanded, those darn engineers at Google kept going to work every single day. And dang it if they weren’t constantly looking for ways to improve the quality of their search results. Within a couple years, they had realized that just because a site had the right text and meta-tags and a few good links, didn’t mean the content on that site was really what the searcher wanted. So, as frustrating as it was for website managers, Google kept tweaking their algorithm. Given their value proposition, this only made sense. Their top goal was to be THE place people went when they have questions they need answers to. And the better the content they can serve up, the more people come back.
But maintaining the quality of search results is a never-ending quest. In some ways, Google’s fight to maintain and improve the quality of search results is akin to an anti-virus software company that’s constantly working to detect new threats. The economic value of showing up high in Google’s search result is just too significant not to attract countless developers outside of Google to work every day looking for ways to manipulate Google’s algorithm. And if you don’t think people have cried fowl from time to time when Google has made changes, keep in mind that entire companies with valuations in the tens of millions of dollars have been driven out of business due to a change Google has rolled out to it’s algorithm.
Today, successful websites still employ search engine optimization experts, but those SEO folks now work closely with content marketers as well. They understand that in order to show up high in search results, they need to provide content that provide real value, and that result in people spending time and interacting with it.
So, what does this have to do with Facebook? Well, to paraphrase Mark Twain, history might not repeat itself, but it does rhyme. Today, we all take Google’s constant quest to improve search results as just a fact of life. Heck, not only do we not hear mass upheavals when Google tweaks it’s algorithm--we appreciate it!
But over at Facebook, we are experiencing the end of the “early days” and entered a new era of increased scrutiny by the company around which page content shows to which Facebook users.
Back in December Facebook posted the following to their Facebook for business blog:
People are connecting and sharing more than ever. On a given day, when someone visits News Feed, there are an average of 1,5001 possible stories we can show.
As a result, competition for each News Feed story is increasing. Because the content in News Feed is always changing, and we’re seeing more people sharing more content, Pages will likely see changes in distribution. For many Pages, this includes a decline in organic reach. We expect this trend to continue as the competition for each story remains strong and we focus on quality.
As the dynamic nature of News Feed continues to follow people’s patterns of sharing, Page owners should continue using the most effective strategy to reach the right people: a combination of engaging Page posts and advertising to promote your message more broadly. Advertising lets Pages reach the fans they already have and find new customers as well. The fans you have matter. In addition to being some of the most loyal customers, fans also make the advertising on Facebook even more effective.
Ultimately, what’s good for people on Facebook is good for the businesses that use Facebook to reach and engage them. One of the ways we maintain a good balance between the two is by making sure News Feed is as interesting and timely as possible. We’ll continue to provide updates about how News Feed works, so stay tuned. https://www.facebook.com/business/news/What-Increased-Content-Sharing-Means-for-Businesses
Facebook is a public company that works every day to maximize the economic value of their primary product; their end users’ eyeballs.
Rest assured that Facebook’s quest to improve it’s filtering and selection of content will only heat up over the coming years. In fact, on April 10th the company announced a number of new tweaks designed to “Clean Up News Feed Spam” that provide more evidence of their increased battle to improve the quality of content appearing in the News Feed. http://newsroom.fb.com/news/2014/04/news-feed-fyi-cleaning-up-news-feed-spam/
And just as website managers have had to find new ways to add real value on their websites in order to show up in Google’s search results, so too must Facebook managers learn to add real value to Facebook users in order to show up in the New Feed.
We have all heard the outcry from page managers complaining that Facebook is no longer delivering their posts to “their fans”. I certainly understand the frustration that organizations that invested in building fans must feel as they see fewer and fewer of their fans receiving their posts.
But here’s the things, Facebook created the whole “like this page” thing as a way to let end users inform Facebook that they cared about certain pages at one point in history. Think about it, if Facebook didn’t give people the ability to like pages, how would they have been able to learn which pages they might want to see content in their newsfeed from? Liking is a pretty simple way for end users to tell Facebook what they care about. But what we like one year becomes garbage the next. If I was a fan of a Facebook page that provides parenting tips for Dads with newborns, when I first signed up for Facebook, I assure you I would have outgrown their content by now.
But unlike liking a page, once a person starts receiving your content in their newsfeed, they have a very powerful way to tell Facebook they really don’t much care for you content any more. They simply ignore it. There is nothing louder than silence on Facebook. And the smart engineers at Facebook have learned that with 1500 other possible stories to choose from at any given moment, they might be wise to select one from another source; one that the user interacts with and that tends to bring them back to the site and keep them hanging around for longer.
I assure you, Facebook views its top job to be finding and serving up content that brings Facebook users back to Facebook and gets them to stay longer. And I am pretty sure that when a user chooses NOT to engage with your content time and again, Facebook hears something like this; ‘hey Facebook, I still like this page, but their content is not really of interest to me and won’t really keep me coming back to check my newsfeed or spend more time in your little walled garden.’
If you think about it, Google’s number one job every day is to improve the user experience of visitors that are coming to them for information so as to ensure they come back again tomorrow. And as fun as it is to blame Facebook for your low reach numbers, the truth of the matter is not every page is surfing. It’s time that Facebook page managers with 2% organic reach accept the fact that the reason their content is failing to land in many peoples New Feed is not because of some big Facebook conspiracy. It’s because they are failing to create content that people want to engage with; content that adds value to their audience’s life; content that they care about.
And even more importantly, it’s time for page managers to learn how to provide real value to people on Facebook. I assure you, Facebook wants you to succeed at creating great content. Their entire platform depends on having good content they can use to fill countless hours of their 1.23 billion users’ time.
And, of course, the company is working harder than anyone to create compelling ways and reasons for page owners to pay to reach more of the people they care most about. The fact of the matter is, Facebook’s paid reach products have become quite good over the past year. Here at ActionSprout, many of our customers measure the ROI of their Facebook efforts in terms of email acquisition costs.
But Facebook has to find ways to maximize the economic value of your Fans news-feeds while not driving them away with too many poor quality promoted posts. If you accept this as fact and focus on creating great content that your Fans engage with, you’ll find Facebook really can be a highly effective channel for reaching, engaging and capturing supporters. Just ask organizations like OurTime.org and DailyKos.org who continue to enjoy remarkable delivery rates even as other folks are crying fowl.
At the same time, though, if what you really want is to be able to reach people directly, on your terms without paying each time you do so then you really need to focus on getting their email addresses.
We built ActionSprout to help nonprofit organizations find and post more engaging content, deepen relationship with people on Facebook and capture email and other information so they can evolve their relations beyond Facebook’s walled garden.