It began in January 2018, and it hasn’t stopped. It will never stop. It will only get worse.
Just like Google is making changes to its algorithms every day, affecting the efforts of SEO specialists, Facebook has started to tweak its algorithms and rules massively since the fake news crisis in 2017.
The recent (summer 2018) Facebook news feed changes could completely destroy your marketing strategy, but only if your marketing strategy was misguided in the first place. However, there are a few reasons why the new ranking method is actually a step in the right direction for companies looking to improve the quality of organic traffic.
Gone are the days when simply posting a nice picture and product description on your feed actually brought you leads. These days you cannot even be sure that the people who follow your page see your posts.
Every time a change in the way Facebook works takes effect, the Internet explodes with wise tips from serious marketers on how to cope with the new features. Marketers can hardly keep up. There are however a few evergreen truths that will not change over the next few years; a few simple rules marketers can stick to whatever changes Facebook throws our way.
Facebook is about interaction with people you care about
This is the recipe Zuckerberg’s team have chosen to combat a flood of commercial messages, fake news, and clickbait. For years to come, the algorithm will favor posts from people you know and have interacted with. For marketers, this means that more meaningful posts, discussions, and engagement with influencers will be more important than glitzy product pictures on your company page.
Facebook must make money: prepare to pay
For a while, it looked like the Facebook team thought most of the management of posts could be automated and undesirable posts removed by machine learning algorithms. We aren’t there yet. Facebook continues to rely on armies of human operators to monitor and censor the network. This, combined with pressure from investors, means that Facebook must make money. The way to make money is to have commercial participants pay for being seen.
Page following is no longer enough
Because of the focus on interaction, engagement, family, and friends, you will see fewer posts from commercial pages you follow, even if those posts are liked by lots of people. Whereas in the past many marketers focused on getting more people to follow a page, it is now necessary to sponsor individual posts so that page followers and their friends will see them. You must have a budget for post sponsoring, otherwise, your efforts on Facebook will be futile.
U-turn on video
Facebook has made a U-turn on their video strategy, moving it instead to Instagram. Video content is no longer a panacea for Facebook marketing because videos are consumed passively and do not encourage comments, interactions, and engagement. For brands, again, this means that videos will have to be sponsored. In certain industries, you may be better off with Instagram TG (IGTV) as your core channel, rather than Facebook.
Sincerity, honesty, transparency are key
As Facebook continues to train its algorithms to combat misinformation, violence, pornography, fake news and what have you, it will focus on meaningful discussions even for public or commercial posts. Without these qualities, your organic traffic will fall further. Facebook has actually come out and acknowledged “that passively consuming articles or videos that don’t spark engagement or interaction is bad for a person’s mood,” and Facebook certainly doesn’t want the stigma of ruining people’s mood or perhaps even contributing to depression or suicide.
Build an audience on trust
After a decade in the Wild West, we have returned to the basics of marketing on Facebook: How do we build trust with our target audience? How do we make sure we don’t betray that trust? These are not new questions, they are as old as marketing itself. On digital media, building this trust must be based on honest discussion of products, product features, customer experience with the product, and responsiveness to customer questions. No artificial intelligence system can do this; real people need to engage with your customers. Only brands that have learned this lesson will ultimately prevail.
Build a community
Part of building trust, and an easy way to satisfy Facebook’s renewed need for engagement, is building communities of followers, fans, users, and people tangentially involved with the brand. Quality leads are hard to find, but Facebook’s recent changes to the news feed – focused on genuine engagement – changes may actually help to find them. Creating communities, groups, and a page following around topics rather than individual products may benefit brands more than a strict product focus, e.g. focus on “health”, not your nutrition bar; focus on “fitness”, not your running shoes. Successful brands already do that in their marketing. It’s called content marketing, and it works. Now it is obligatory.
Start the conversation
The types of content that will now see more distribution on Facebook are “intimate” posts from friends and family, friend posts seeking recommendations or advice, and public posts or news articles and videos that spark sincere conversation. Brands should aim to start a conversation about a topic rather than “end” the conversation with a definitive statement. Ask questions, seek feedback, and welcome criticism. Influencers are a great way to start conversations; groups, where users can speak freely about your product, will enhance your exposure.
One last warning: encouraging engagement does not mean you should bait people. For the foreseeable time, the Facebook algorithms will punish posts that blatantly ask people to follow or like, especially if such follow or like offers a reward.
Overall, the recent changes in Facebook technology are a positive sign that the platform will stay true to its community-building spirit; perhaps it will even see a renaissance after a generation of teenagers has abandoned it in favor of Instagram. Even though Facebook marketing has become more expensive for brands, it is still worthwhile. After all, it offers access to over a billion users worldwide. No other platforms come close to that level of popularity.