In perhaps the most drawn out death since the infamous Bülent Kayabas scene from 1973 movie Karateci Kız, organic reach on Facebook appears to have finally met its inevitable doom.
The announcement at the end of last week that there will be “major changes” to the way the Facebook news feed works comes as a surprise only because it seemed like the day would never actually come. It’s been on the cards for longer than I care to remember, and I for one have spent a large part of the last three years trying to convince brands and organisations that paying for reach on Facebook was not simply an option, it was a requirement.
Indeed, as long as four years ago I wrote an eBook called ‘Addressing Facebook Zero’ that presented thoughts on the best way to combat the day when organic reach died. To think that it’s taken this long for that day to come is astounding.
Either way, however, while Facebook has not stated in definitive terms that organic reach is dead, we can take it pretty much as red that this will become the case over the next few weeks. The warning signs have been there for a couple of months.
When a Facebook news feed experiment in six countries was revealed back in October, Page admins reacted with horror. Then there was December’s announcement that so-called ‘engagement bait’ would be penalised. So if this comes out of the blue for you, you really need to pay closer attention to what’s happening.
What Does the Facebook News Feed Announcement Actually Mean?
In practical terms, the updated Facebook news feed will see the network place more emphasis on conversation in a bid to make users’ news feeds “more meaningful”. Mark Zuckerberg said in a statement that Facebook is changing its goal from “helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful social interactions”.
He also made a move to call out “passively reading articles or watching videos”. Or, in other words, stuff that we don’t actually give a crap about. Mindless content for content’s sake. On a personal level I think we can all agree with that. Passive content consumption on Facebook is something that many people are fed up with. But on a professional level there will be many marketing communications people out there having a cow.
Which could be why Zuckerberg is estimated to have lost $3.3 billion off his personal fortune when Facebook’s shares fell by 4.4% after the announcement. Ouch.
More Conversations, Fewer Videos, Less Paid Reach
It has long been the case that the primary goal of Facebook marketers should have been to elicit an emotional reaction of some kind with their posts so that users commented upon them or shared content. I say ‘should have been’ on purpose, because so much of the mindless drivel posted by brands to Facebook is just that: mindless drivel. If I see another “we’re celebrating Wear Brown Shoes Day” type update written by a PR person with a ‘national days’ calendar and no imagination, I swear…
The updated Facebook news feed will (hopefully) all but kill that type of rubbish dead once and for all. Page administrators will still be able to publish it if they want, of course. But unless they pay Facebook to distribute it, no-one will see it. In an age where organic reach is zero, paid promotion is all but mandatory.
And in fact, even paid promotion will suffer due to a) increased competition for news feed visibility meaning less space being available, and b) heavy throttling of reach for content that gains no kind of social signals. So it’s not simply a case of increasing or implementing an advertising budget.
Similarly, we’ve all seen rather brainless video becoming more and more popular over the last year. This was Facebook’s own fault as it started to prioritise video content and then auto-played it in the news feed, generating a never-ending stream of pointless video that few people responded to but that still ‘worked’ in terms of gaining views and exposure. That’s set to end with this new update too.
While live video will still play an important role in the new Facebook, pre-recorded video clips will no longer have the same impact.
So if you’re still considering that ‘pivot to video’ strategy, er, good luck with that…
Instigating Genuine Discussion
One of the biggest winners in the new algorithm would appear to be Groups. But these by their very nature throw up challenges for brands as no-one in their right mind wants to join the Acme Corp Group and be subjected to endless ‘branded discussions’. Are Groups helpful for brands? Maybe, yes. But the key is to think of them in line with Facebook’s newly-stated ‘meaningful’ social interactions goal.
That word meaningful becomes all important. Being completely honest, it always was, and those who’ve seen the most success with Facebook have concentrated on being relevant to their fans and building community around their brand. But now more than ever, brands have to adapt to being genuinely meaningful; listening to users and adding social value to their fans’ lives by generating relevant and interesting conversation and discussion.
The content that does well on Facebook in future will inspire back and forth discussion and spark a desire to share.
‘Generating conversation’, however, does not mean ‘asking for conversation’. Attempts to encourage people to “comment below if…” will be penalised as engagement bait. So if you’re used to cheap tactics like requesting likes and shares on your crappy content, you’ve got a rough ride ahead.
That said, what this update says to me above anything else is that if you do what you should always have been doing on Facebook, you have nothing to fear.
I’m hosting a one hour video conference to address and discuss all of the implications of the updated Facebook news feed at 1pm GMT on Friday 19th January. It’s an opportunity to talk about your concerns and get answers to all of your questions. The video conference is available for all Digital Download Members to join. You can find full details here.