What Facebook’s Latest News Feed Update Means for Marketers

Last week (29th June 2016 to be exact), Facebook announced a significant new update to their News Feed algorithm that is likely to have a fairly hefty impact on a marketer’s ability to organically reach their audience. 

What exactly have they changed?

Well, to quote the blog post about the update:

“We previously made an update that tries to ensure that stories posted directly by the friends you care about, such as photos, videos, status updates or links, will be higher up in News Feed so you are less likely to miss them.

We’ve heard from our community that people are still worried about missing important updates from the friends they care about. For people with many connections this is particularly important, as there are a lot of stories for them to see each day. So we are updating News Feed over the coming weeks so that the things posted by the friends you care about are higher up in your News Feed.”

How will this impact marketers?

Whilst Facebook is generally very good at being open and honest about these kinds of changes, they are predictably vague with the details, and therefore we are limited to what we actually “know”. This means there is some guesswork required for us to be able to understand in detail how the algorithm is changing.

So, reading between the lines, what this seems to suggest, is that Facebook will now actively distinguish between Pages (i.e. business accounts) and personal accounts, with posts by the latter automatically receiving some kind of ‘bonus’ score to help them naturally rank higher than posts by Pages. Previously, it would appear that both account types were deemed equal and it was primarily the relationship (i.e. engagement history) between you and a user that would dictate where your post ranked in that user’s News Feed.

In short, expect to see your reach drop significantly once the update takes hold.

Should we be annoyed?

Maybe. I mean, it’s a bit annoying that reach is constantly dropping and we’re required to spend to reach people, but then we need to remember that we’ve been riding a wave, for free, for far too long - a wave that we hi-jacked in the first place and that was never really intended for us.

Now, I hate to say I told you so, but this is something we’ve been talking about at SpotDev for some time and that many marketers have struggled to come to terms with. In fact, I discussed this briefly in a blog post recently. However, to reiterate; fundamentally, social networks are about people connecting with people. They’re not about brands trying to sell to people or even just trying to reach people. This isn’t the purpose of a social network and this isn’t why any of them were built.

In the specific case of Facebook, the platform is all about connecting with friends and relatives, as well as keeping in touch with the key moments in their lives. Therefore, as brands and marketers, whether we like it or not we are simply, and without exception, interrupting users from what they are really there to do.

We elbowed our way in all those years ago by creating personal profiles that had the names of our brands instead. It was only because so many of us did this (and also because shareholders demanded Facebook start making money somehow) that they eventually acknowledged our hijacking and started to build features for us. However, it still remains that we don’t belong there and were not originally intended to be part of the platform.

Of course, some brands are better than others when it comes to what they post and are therefore less interruptive than others, but there isn’t a Facebook user out there that joined because they wanted to be marketed to. They joined to connect with friends. Rightly so, Facebook want to protect their original values and purpose from becoming lost - after all it was those values and that purpose that brought them all of their success. As they put it:

“Facebook was built on the idea of connecting people with their friends and family. As we say in our News Feed values, that is still the driving principle of News Feed today. Our top priority is keeping you connected to the people, places and things you want to be connected to — starting with the people you are friends with on Facebook.”

What does the future hold?

Well, it seems pretty clear - the future holds much of the same. With both Twitter and Instagram following closely in Facebook’s footsteps when it comes to algorithmically ordered news feeds, and particularly as Instagram is owned by Facebook, expect to see a similar pattern of ever declining organic reach. The free ride on social media is very much coming to an end so for any marketer yet to really get to grips with social media advertising, now would be the time to get up to speed!

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