Mark Zuckerberg posted an update last night which has major implications for anyone who runs a Facebook page. In particular, anyone who relies on organic posts rather than paid adverts is likely to see their audience fall significantly because Facebook will actively deprioritise them in favour of personal updates over the next few months.
Unsurprisingly, many page owners such as small businesses and bloggers are up in arms. So why is Facebook doing this? Here are my thoughts from the perspective of both a blogger and a social media manager.
Putting friends and family first
Zuckerberg talks about generating “meaningful social interactions” and “putting friends and family at the core of the experience”. This recognises that Facebook has drifted away from its origins as a friend-based social network. It’s also an admission that, for many users, much of the content we see in our News Feed isn’t relevant.
Ask yourself this. When you open up Facebook, how many posts do you scroll straight past? The vast majority, I’d bet. If you’re on a mobile, the average time a piece of content is visible on-screen is 1.7 seconds. We are wading through oceans of white noise to find the occasional good stuff.
As user experiences go, that’s pretty awful for a network that wants to encourage meaningful interactions. This is a step that Facebook hopes will go some way to fix that.
Too much content, not relevant enough
So the problem is twofold. Firstly, a lot of the content we see – despite Facebook’s algorithm – is of low relevance and quality. And secondly, there is just too much content. Facebook estimates the average user could be served 1,500 posts every day – more than any sane person could ever manage.
Herein lies the problem. Broadly speaking, there are three types of content that can appear in our feeds:
- Personal status updates from our friends.
- Paid adverts from Facebook pages.
- Organic (unpaid) posts from Facebook pages.
Research indicates that users want to see more personal status updates. Zuckerberg openly said the new changes will drive this. So far, so good.
We may not like them but paid adverts are crucial to Facebook. In the third quarter of 2017 alone, their ad revenue passed $10 billion. Magazines carry adverts to help keep their prices down. Similarly, ads are a necessary evil to pay the bills that allow Facebook to operate without charging users.
It is the third category – organic posts – that Facebook is targeting to deprioritise. This will be great for some users, less so for others.
If you use Facebook primarily to keep up to date with friends and family, then removing lots of meaningless content will help. However, if you interact with a lot of brand pages, their content is relevant but you will be less likely to see it.
Don’t get me wrong. There is some amazing organic content out there. But it is not always well targeted. Just because I’ve liked a page doesn’t mean I want to see everything they produce. And, because it is ‘free’ to publish, it’s easy for a publisher to post too much content.
This is particularly the case because page owners know organic reach is already declining. The solution? Compensate by posting even more content. This creates a vicious cycle of content saturation. Lower reach drives more content which in turn reduces reach again because there is now even more content competing for our limited attention.
The stats bear this out. Where organic reach averaged 16% in 2012, now it is closer to 1-3%. Organic reach is already dying, even before these new changes.
What will happen now?
The key question now is not so much what will happen as how Facebook will implement it.
There are two obvious options. The first is to adjust the way Facebook’s algorithm prioritises posts from pages (i.e. businesses/bloggers) versus those from personal profiles (i.e. friends and family).
This is not new. Facebook already alter their algorithm multiple times per week. Essentially, this would make organic posts from pages less visible in people’s News Feeds, to the benefit of personal updates. People will still see organic content – just not as many.
The second option – which Facebook has been quietly trialling – is to move all organic page posts to the ‘Explore’ feed, which is separate to the main News Feed. Will many users bother to check a second feed? Probably not, in which case the Explore feed will become the place organic posts go to die. (Or get seen by three people, anyway.)
Which route will Facebook pursue? Either way we can expect to see organic reach take a major hit. As someone who does interact with pages (such as fellow bloggers) a lot, I would prefer the algorithmic route. But we will have to see.
Note that paid adverts should be unaffected in either case. As mentioned above, ads are Facebook’s life-blood, so don’t expect them to reduce the number of ads in your feed any time soon. (For which read ‘never’.)
What does this mean for bloggers?
The implication for bloggers is straightforward. If you run a Facebook page, at some point over the next few months – it may come in one big go or in stages – expect a big fall in organic reach.
That leaves bloggers with three options: do nothing and accept the hit, start advertising or find another way of promoting yourself.
Should you advertise? It depends. Yes, it’s an additional cost. But paid ads are a good way of reaching a specific niche. If you have a post about Disneyland Paris, you can target only people interested in Disney who have kids aged 3-8. This enables you to reach people who are most likely to be receptive to your content, and also put you in front of new audiences who might otherwise never read your post. They don’t have to cost the world – you can run ads for as little as £1 per day. Don’t expect miracles but good, well-targeted advertising can provide a significant boost.
If you don’t want to advertise, what are your options? Here are a few:
- Build your presence on a different social network. But bear in mind that Facebook has two billion active users. Instagram has 800 million; Twitter less than half that number.
- Post from your personal profile instead. But you may alienate friends who don’t want to read your blog and people will only be able to see content if you accept them as a friend. And you have no advertising options and virtually no analytics, so you cannot tell how many people are seeing your content.
- Build a Facebook group. You can share content and encourage interaction. There is also some analytics capability – for instance, you can see how many people have viewed each post. But group content is often only visible to members. You have no advertising options. And many groups become places where people constantly drop links to their content too.
- Really, really focus on making your content as engaging as it can possibly be. Stand out from the crowd. Yeah, I know – easier said than done.
We can also probably expect the way brands and PRs interact with influencers to change. A large following will be less of a guarantee of reach and engagement. So as brands wake up to the new reality, they will care more about your reach and engagement. After all, a marketer wants to demonstrate a return on their investment. How many people saw your post – and how many liked it? How many clicked through to our e-shop? These are the metrics that any competent marketer really cares about.
If you haven’t yet done so, familiarise yourself with Facebook’s branded content tool. It gives brands the ability to promote your post directly from their ad account. This will be an increasingly attractive way to ensure that blog or social media posts achieve a good reach and justify a marketer’s investment. It should form part of any clever marketer’s armoury.
The world is a-changing. For years, Facebook has given us a free marketing platform, enabling us to reach thousands of people with our content without having to pay for it. But those days are coming to an end. We would not expect a magazine to give us a full-page ad for free and Facebook is heading the same way.
New media is converging with ‘old’ media. And, as bloggers, we can either adapt or suffer the consequences. It is no longer an option to continue on as if everything will stay the same – because the one thing I can guarantee is that nothing will ever be the same again.
So what will you do?