Last week, Facebook announced it was going to show less brand and publisher content on the News Feed; to make content from friends and family more prominent and reduce focus on content from brands and companies.
Why are Facebook killing my brands organic traffic?
This change is the culmination of two core developments.
Firstly, scrutiny into “Fake News” following Trump’s White House win; and the subsequent revelation of Russia-funded propaganda abusing Facebook’s filter bubble algorithm. We'll cover this another time.
Secondly, research as part of Facebook’s “Hard Questions” series – published in December. This looked at how Facebook usage affected user well being. The results of that research were very interesting, and provide an insight into why the changes were made.
Hard questions, hard answers.
The two results were as follows:
1. When people spend a lot of time passively consuming information — reading but not interacting with people — they report feeling worse afterward.” - Simply put, spending hours scrolling through videos from LadBible, “You’ll never guess what happened next” articles, and various posts affirming your political opinions about Trump/Brexit, makes you feel worse.
2. “Actively interacting with people — especially sharing messages, posts and comments with close friends and reminiscing about past interactions — is linked to improvements in well-being.” - In other words, commenting on wedding/new house/new child/graduation/holiday pictures, laughing about “On this day” posts, or simply chatting or debating with friends makes you feel better.
In their coverage of this change, many publishers have been lamenting it as apocalyptic. It has been called “The last nail in the coffin” by the WSJ, has seen Facebook’s Stock fall 4.47% (we’ll come back to that), and generally been met with the usual clamour from marketers (particularly small businesses) who feel every drop in organic reach is a personal slight against them.
For many who have advertised on Facebook for a few years, this situation will feel familiar. Since I first started marketing on Facebook in 2009, there have been numerous changes to the News Feed – almost all of which is detrimental to organic reach. These recent changes continue a trend that has been years in the making; and may mark a more strategic move away from content and towards interaction – which sets it apart from the News Feed updates of the past.
What this means for advertisers
In Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook post announcing the shift (and the subsequent blog post from Facebook), advertising was not mentioned. Facebook referred to brand and publisher posts as a whole. However, the changes will likely impact advertising in a few different ways. These are... less organic = more paid = increased prices.
It is fairly safe to assume that the feited brand exodus won’t happen. I think the more likely scenario is that a majority of brands and publishers will look to increased advertising spend, in an attempt to make up for lost organic reach. With more companies bidding in Facebook’s ad auctions, the price will increase.
Until recently Facebook has relied, at least partially, on increasing ad load. Which was was a key driver of revenue growth. Essentially, facebook kept adding more ads into the News Feed to keep prices down and revenue up as more advertisers joined the platform. As CFO David Wehner warned, as far back as Q2 2016, increasing ad load on the News Feed is no longer a driver of growth. Therefore, Facebook can’t simply put more ads in the News Feed to counteract the lower time spent per user, or the reduction in organic. It is likely then, that the price of advertising in the News Feed will increase.
How will this affect your social strategy?
Something to consider amongst all the uproar: this update only impacts Facebook’s News Feed. There’s nothing about Instagram (which nearly doubled in size last year) or Messenger (which is now open to advertisers with it’s 1.3 billion MAUs – albeit in a limited way).
News Feed might be decluttering, but Instagram Stories is still a huge opportunity for organic reach. If you’re not on Instagram yet, now’s the time.
One thing that this certainly doesn’t mean, is that brands should spend more to boost posts. There are a plethora of different campaign objectives, targeting options, and ad formats you can use to achieve specific goals on Facebook/Instagram/Messenger. 99% of the time there will be a campaign objective/audience/creative combo that is more effective at achieving your goals than post boosting.
With the potential for increased ad cost, it’s time to think strategically with any advertising. This will be easier said than done if advertising on Facebook is relatively new. If it is, consider training, consultancy, or outsourcing.
Groups provide an interesting opportunity in all of this change. With Facebook prioritising (specifically) long-form text responses to posts – a well engaged group could be a great way to actually increase organic penetration. While it may be difficult to compose a group around every business or product, there are many opportunities, particularly for B2B companies. A group requires two-way conversation rather than passive posting so it’s a great way to stay current with your audience.
When people are prioritised over companies, influencers become a very logical purchase. Like with advertising on Facebook, there are many different strategies you could take when it comes to influencer marketing. If you’re completely new to it, it may require training, consultancy, or outsourcing.
Last words: Ignore the claxons
That the share price fell 4.47% (at time of writing) is, unsurprisingly, unduly reactive. Improving the product for the consumer over the publisher is more than likely going to be a positive long term strategy. Facebook is in a bid for user attention, so if the world’s 2+ billion monthly users are happier using the product it will be more sustainable.
Though the News Feed has been an historically important source of revenue, it has been so because it has held user attention. Without user attention it holds no value, so Facebook addressing the issues that worsens the consumer experience is a positive step. It’s also worth remembering that Whatsapp, Instagram and Messenger all continue to grow and present increasing opportunities for brands within the Facebook ecosystem (but outside the News Feed).
As for the shareholders who aren’t sold on the value of a large tech company being customer focussed, there’s always Amazon…