Facebook to Downgrade "Overly Promotional" Posts In News Feed

Another day, another Facebook update that has marketers in uproar.

Last Friday (14/11/14) Facebook announced that from January 2015 it would start to penalise “overly promotional posts” in News Feeds, effectively stopping brands from posting content with the sole purpose of driving sales. Whilst this is inevitably a big blow for a lot of marketers with both pros and cons – the uproar is, as per usual, a little melodramatic.


What’s the fuss all about?

In a blog post on their Newsroom, Facebook said:

As part of an on-going survey we asked hundreds of thousands of people how they feel about the content in their News Feeds. People told us they wanted to see more stories from friends and Pages they care about, and less promotional content.”

They then added that this was an issue for users primarily with organic posts and not adverts. As Facebook themselves point out, this does actually make sense. There are stringent processes and regulations on what kind of adverts you can run as a marketer. However, on the whole, these regulations don’t exist for organic posts – you’re largely free to post what you want.

So, what then contributes as being “overly promotional”? Well, according to Facebook there are three common traits that users identified:

  1. Posts that solely push people to buy a product or install an app
  2. Posts that push people to enter promotions and sweepstakes with no real context
  3. Posts that reuse the exact same content from ads


What does this mean?

Let’s start with thinking again about what Facebook have said. I think we can safely deduce from the fact that the crackdown is on “overly promotional posts” that this doesn’t mean you’ll never be able to try and push a product or service on Facebook again. Because of the presence of the word “overly” it suggests that the problem isn’t with the fact that brands want to promote their products and services, but the issue is instead with the way that many marketers choose to do so.


If we take a look at the examples above that Facebook used in their post, both are clear cases of careless attempts to push sales. With the Tiger Therapy example the majority of the post doesn’t appear to be too bad. The copy is reasonably engaging and the image is relevant. However, the problem seems to arise as a result of lazily tagging on a DVD promotion at the end of a post that is otherwise all about the upcoming TV programme.


On the other hand, the Bunny Puzzle Cube example seems to have been cited because of its purely salesy approach. As you can see there are a lot of aggressive call to actions in both the post text and the image itself and very little in the way of useful content.

Within that list of common traits, competitions seem to have once again been targeted by an algorithm update (previously as part of an update to tackle like baiting). It would appear that Facebook doesn’t think particularly highly of them and in my opinion, rightly so. In too many instances competitions are used simply as a way to game News Feed by boosting reach or engagement. In general, if your competition or sweepstake isn’t there to reward fans for their loyalty then don’t bother with it. It looks like this is another hint that they will only land you in trouble.

Last of the trio identified is “posts that reuse the same content as ads”. As adverts are typically more promotional (and now the method for promotional content) this seems to be another way of Facebook saying sales focused posts don’t belong organically in News Feed. Whether it is boosting an organic post or publishing a post originally used as an advert, it’s a no no.

On the whole the message from Facebook seems to be pretty clear and has been for the last year or so. News Feed will not accept poor quality content in any form – be it click baiting, frequently circulated content or aggressive promotion. If your post is there simply to serve your own purposes and not to provide value to your audience then expect it to be penalised. Furthermore, if you continually do this then expect your “organic distribution to fall significantly over time”.


 As marketers, should we be in uproar?

No, not really. The problem and the reason that some marketers are up in arms is either a fundamental misunderstanding, or from having lost track of what Facebook is and where it came from.

However, this quote from Mark Zuckerberg should clear some of the confusion up:

“There’s this inherent conflict in the system though, which is are we trying to optimize News Feed to give each person, all of you guys, the best experience when you’re reading? Or are we trying to help businesses just reach as many people as possible?

And in every decision that we make, we optimize for the first, for making it so that people who we serve, who use Facebook, and who are reading News Feed get the very best experience they can.”

Facebook was and always will be about people. It was originally, and continues to be built for people, not for brands. Brands came second and (as Zuckerberg says) will continue to come second. All of these algorithm changes have been about improving the experience for the user, because, unfortunately, there are too many marketers out there who do a bad job, a job so bad that Facebook have to introduce procedures just to stop them from doing it. If every marketer approaches their strategy from the perspective of ‘the aim of my Facebook page is to add value to its audience with every post’ then a lot of these News Feed changes wouldn’t need to be made.

Of course, that may seem idealistic and unrealistic, but the point is that Facebook is forcing marketers to do better. It’s forcing them to think harder, try harder and provide greater value to users. And that makes everyone a winner. For Facebook, as they’ve said, it means that users get a better experience. A better experience means users continue to use Facebook and that means Facebook remains the powerhouse that it is.

For businesses, it means that they have to produce better content – content that actually engages and adds value to their audience. Adding value inherently breeds affinity and loyalty to your brand, which in turn leads to a better return on investment. There is no point spending resources on your Facebook Page if no one is bothering to read what you post or if what you post is annoying people.

Those marketers and pages that do their best to add value to their audience and post content that is interesting and useful are likely to see little, if any impact, at all.


If Facebook doesn’t care about brands why should we bother?

Facebook does care and “pages still matter – a lot”. In fact, in an extension of their Newsroom post they highlight this. Obviously sensing the backlash that this News Feed algorithm change was likely to generate they made some effort to appease Page owner’s concerns.

“Facebook is increasing its investment in Pages. Given the substantial traffic to Pages, we are exploring ways to build more features into Pages…We’re also exploring ways to better customize Pages based on the industry a business is in”

Although, Facebook value businesses and their pages, unfortunately, but rightly so, the user and their experience just comes first.


Is Facebook just forcing brands to spend money with them?

Inevitably this is the question that most marketers will end up asking and it’s a difficult one to answer. I will offer my two cents, but I think, as it is such an important question to tackle, that it requires careful thought and not just a paragraph or two tagged onto the end of a related blog post. Apologies, then, for leaving this somewhat open-ended, however, in an attempt to provide some form of conclusion; as I’ve mentioned above – if doing what is best for the user is Facebook’s strategy (and Google’s…and Twitter’s…and…) then that should be yours too. Do that and your strategy will be largely future-proof and adjustment free. Ignore it and you’ll be penalised – the choice is yours.

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