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Facebook's Latest News Feed Update: Time to Move On?

Earlier this week, Facebook updated their News Feed algorithm again, in what many are seeing as the next move towards ‘Facebook Zero’ – i.e. 0% organic reach for pages. Facebook announced three updates – the first is around users who don’t have a lot of content to see. Previously, the algorithm ensured people were not shown multiple posts from the same source in a row - they’ve opted to relax this measure for people who run out of content to view and are seeking more. Nothing major there, the impacts should be minimal.

The second update has a bit more to it – as noted in Facebook’s announcement, this update:

...tries to ensure that content posted directly by the friends you care about, such as photos, videos, status updates or links, will be higher up in News Feed so you are less likely to miss it. If you like to read news or interact with posts from pages you care about, you will still see that content in News Feed. This update tries to make the balance of content the right one for each individual person.”

So the focus of this one is on friends who you regularly interact with, on showing you more content from those users and ensuring their posts appear more prominently in your feeds. This is based on your interaction history – Facebook will use past behaviour as a guide to add weight to the prominence of friends’ posts and ensure they appear higher in your results. This will impact page posts because it will be adding increased preference metrics to content posted from certain profiles – most probably, the impact of this will be minimal, but if a person is more likely to be shown content from friends, they’re conversely less likely to see posts from pages in their daily News Feed allocation.

The third update relates to posts that friends have liked or commented on:

...many people have told us they don’t enjoy seeing stories about their friends liking or commenting on a post. This update will make these stories appear lower down in News Feed or not at all, so you are more likely to see the stuff you care about directly from friends and the pages you have liked.”

Again, the precise impact of this change is hard to predict, but it underlines the fact that ‘likes’, in themselves, are becoming little more than an aesthetic measure - and worse, that even interactions like comments aren't necessarily going to increase your post reach. This change inadvertently puts more emphasis on shares and on prompting users to take direct action to explicitly promote their support of your page.

So what’s that mean for Facebook marketing? This change further underlines the need for brands to move from a broadcast focus to making themselves part of the conversation. With this update, Facebook is essentially saying that their users want to use the platform to interact with friends and the content they’re individually interested in, and the only way to effectively promote your pages without moving to paid ads is to generate conversation amongst people independent of your properties. That’s obviously easier said than done, but the principle for Facebook marketing remains that you need to create great content, you need to listen to what your audience wants and is responding to, and you need to become part of those conversations in order to attract more direct interactions with individuals and ensure your brand is part of any relevant conversations.

This also underlines the need to work with individual advocates – I’ve already seen it suggested by some that maybe brands should create personal profiles to help get better reach amongst their communities, but that won’t work, as it’s in violation of Facebook’s terms. Having people speak on your brand’s behalf is the best way to ensure you’re maximising Facebook reach – this is why employee advocacy is becoming a big focus, because who better to speak on behalf of your brand than those who live it everyday? Happy, engaged, socially-empowered employees can play a big part in brand awareness, and this update only reinforces the need to consider ways to facilitate authentic conversations across Facebook’s social graph.

This also sets the stage for updates to Facebook’s own search capabilities – Facebook recently announced changes to their API, effective April 30, which will reduce the capabilities for third party apps, particularly in relation to personal profiles, groups and search functionality. These changes seem relatively small, but for Facebook to be restricting them, my guess is that they’re close to releasing improved search functionality within their own walls, hence, these changes are designed to keep people on Facebook, as opposed to managing their Facebook presence via other platforms. This News Feed update somewhat supports this, in that it puts more emphasis on search to find content, as opposed to tangential organic reach.

Whatever the outcome, it’s clear that this update doesn’t help Facebook marketers and further supports the looming dawn of Facebook Zero. So should you just move on and forget about Facebook marketing? Depends on your audience, depends on how this changes your engagement levels - depends on many individual factors that can’t be answered in a generic sense. The fact is that Facebook has 1.44 billion active users, and many of them are likely interested in your products and services. Reaching them might not be as easy as it once was, but it's still possible, and still totally viable when done in a considered way.     

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