While most businesses are slowing down and easing into the end of year period, Facebook continues to roll out updates – and significant ones at that. This week, The Social Network has announced yet another News Feed algorithm tweak, this time taking aim at Pages which push for engagement in order to boost their reach.
As explained by Facebook:
“People have told us that they dislike spammy posts on Facebook that goad them into interacting with likes, shares, comments, and other actions. For example, “LIKE this if you’re an Aries!” This tactic, known as “engagement bait,” seeks to take advantage of our News Feed algorithm by boosting engagement in order to get greater reach. So, starting this week, we will begin demoting individual posts from people and Pages that use engagement bait.”
This one has significant implications for the social media marketing strategies of many businesses. No doubt you’ve seen a range of examples of this type – ‘Tag a mate’ posts, in particular, have been flooding the platform in recent times.
In fact, there are whole Pages dedicated to ‘Tag a mate’ posts, and they generally see a heap of engagement. It’s a simple way to link up with friends – but then again, it’s not exactly inspiring conversation, which is what Facebook’s would prefer users do.
The complete listing of post types that Facebook’s targeting here are:
- Vote baiting – Using Reactions as a voting mechanism
- React baiting – Similar to vote baiting, using Reactions to signify specific responses to a post
- Share baiting – ‘Share with friends to win’
- Tag baiting – As noted, the ‘Tag a mate’ and similar posts which push you to link to friends
- Comment baiting – e.g. ‘Comment ‘YES’ if you love rock as much as I do’
Some of these Facebook’s been cracking down on for quite a while – vote and react baiting came up as an issue as Facebook Live gained momentum, with a heap of publishers using the format to create live polls, capitalizing on the reach benefits of both Facebook Live and Reactions engagement.
In response, Facebook changed the rules on how Reactions should be used, but such videos are still fairly common practice – which makes sense, as more Reactions equals more reach.
Facebook’s also long had similar regulations in place for competitions and contests, with their official rules stating that:
“Personal Timelines and friend connections must not be used to administer promotions”
This would include using tactics like “share on your Timeline to enter” or "tag your friends in this post to enter".
As such, these new changes are not a huge shift away from existing Facebook regulations – but then again, as noted, given the prevalence of those ‘tag a mate’ style posts, it is a major change, and will be harshly felt by those in the firing line, particularly considering the major reductions in Page reach we’ve seen of late.
But more than that, Facebook’s actually giving the new change a double kick. Not only will each individual post detected to be violating the rules see a reduction in reach, but the Pages themselves will be penalized also.
“…over the coming weeks, we will begin implementing stricter demotions for Pages that systematically and repeatedly use engagement bait to artificially gain reach in News Feed. We will roll out this Page-level demotion over the course of several weeks to give publishers time to adapt and avoid inadvertently using engagement bait in their posts.”
Recognizing that this has become a key tactic for some Pages, Facebook’s giving them a chance to change their ways - but even then, that'll be quite difficult for some Pages, as these tactics are what they do.
No doubt some of these Pages are in for a Christmas headache. In terms of detection, Facebook says they’ve trained a machine learning model which will be able to identify different types of engagement bait, ensuring they catch as many such abuses as possible. Certainly, for some Page managers, it’s not going to bring them much joy this season.
As Facebook notes, they’re rolling out this change in response to user feedback – but it’s interesting to put this into the wider context of Facebook’s more recent moves.
Back in October, Facebook announced a new News Feed test which splits posts from personal connections into one feed, and Page posts into another - essentially putting more focus on getting users to talk to each other, as opposed to consuming content from Pages. Last week, Facebook announced a new initiative to get more people engaging on Facebook, because academic research has shown that:
“…when people spend a lot of time passively consuming information [on Facebook] - reading but not interacting with people - they report feeling worse afterward”
This is not necessarily a new finding – various studies have found similar over the years – but it’s the first time Facebook has acknowledged such, and openly discussed it. The Social Network’s view on this is not that social networks, as a whole, are bad for mental health, but how you use them can be.
“We’re working to make Facebook more about social interaction and less about spending time.”
The crackdown on engagement bait aligns with that approach, with Facebook working to ‘provide more opportunities for meaningful interactions and reduce passive consumption of low-quality content’. It's hard to argue that these type of baiting posts don’t fall into the latter category – but still, once again Facebook has allowed Pages to build a reliance on their systems, and find acceptable workarounds within the algorithm, only to eliminate them at a later stage.
It’s another reminder that Facebook can change the rules at any moment – and in this case, the impacts will most definitely be felt.
As explained by Facebook:
“Publishers and other businesses that use engagement bait tactics in their posts should expect their reach on these posts to decrease. Meanwhile, Pages that repeatedly share engagement bait posts will see more significant drops in reach.”
Facebook does, however, clarify that posts which ask people for help, advice, or recommendations, ‘such as circulating a missing child report, raising money for a cause, or asking for travel tips’, will not be adversely impacted by this update.
But still, for those looking for ways to maintain their Facebook reach, it’s another ‘tactic’ out the window – and you shouldn't expect it to end there. As Facebook continues to look for ways to keep users engaged, they’ll also keep investigating options to reduce ‘passive engagement’ – i.e. shares of Page posts will be downgraded in favor of personal interactions.
The full impacts of this are hard to predict, but I’m tipping it's not going be great news for Pages moving forward.