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Lights Out for Facebook?

January 18, 2018 - Laura Timson

For months, publishers and brands had feared that whispers of a split Facebook news feed were correct. They were dreading the day when such a thing was to be implemented. This week we saw the inevitable come to fruition and the whispers turned to headlines. With a media frenzy swirling around the most recent announcement from CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook – one of the original and most powerful social networks – is sending brands into meltdown over how to save their already flailing organic reach.

While no one can say how this swift change will impact brands and their content. We have a good idea – based on research and industry insights. All on exactly how this latest bombshell plays out.

Has Facebook developed a sense of corporate social responsibility or a conscience?

The news that social media is affecting our sleep patterns, mental health or frequency of physical activity is not fresh information to the majority of users. There is a plethora of research on the subject of social media and its effects, particularly among its younger audience. It seems unlikely that suddenly Facebook has crumbled under social pressure.

So, when faced with the almost certainty of adverse effects to their profitability, what forced one of the most influential social networks to change their approach ?

Zuckerberg stated that his aim for 2018 was to make sure that: “his service was not just fun to use but also good for people’s wellbeing.” He admitted that the changes would force content from brands and publishers out of news feeds in favour of more ‘personal’ and ‘meaningful’ interactions. He also conceded that his decision to make such a move would mean “the time people spend on Facebook will go down, along with some measures of engagement.” Yet, he expected the value of these engagements and interactions to increase.

He stated that his main driving force was the fact he wanted his daughters to grow up with the “belief that Facebook is good for the world.” He is saying all the right things. Tugging on the heartstrings of the millennial generation. Promising that his multi-billion-dollar corporate machine will now become some active campaigner for mental well-being. If I was his publicist, it is the hook I would tell him to aim for.

What he does not show, or even make reference to, is the media fury that surrounded the company. Recently claims surfaced that Facebook allowed Russian involvement in paid ad campaigns. This was to influence the US presidential election of 2016. Not to mention the ‘fake news’ debate, which threw Facebook’s screening techniques into question. Plus, the overwhelming numbers of studies that showed tangible links between Facebook consumption and depression.

Former Facebook president, Sean Parker, admitted that many of the platform’s features were “specifically engineered to induce a dopamine hit to keep people hooked.” Naturally, it is not about any of that. He merely wants to make the digital world a safer place for his younger generation. It so happens that these ground-breaking moves are predicted to raise paid ad spends. While Zuckerberg provides selfless rhetoric, preaching he is prepared to take such a catastrophic hit to Facebook dwell time, he left out the predicted domino effect on ad inventory. With less space to occupy, there will be less ad inventory to buy. The spend goes up as brands try to be seen in a now far less populated – and a far more ‘return rich’ – timeline.

The end of Facebook?

Despite the predicted Facebook ‘Armageddon’ circulated by publishers and headlines, there are certain steps we can take to work alongside these changes. Not forgetting that in 2017, Facebook already made real changes much like this one. It promised to promote more meaningful content. This did not stop Fox News posting 49,000 times in December alone. We are not suggesting going to those extremes, but it does offer brands with some significant hope.

Last year they also announced a partnership with independent ‘fact-checking’ organisations. This was to combat Facebook’s part in the spread of ‘fake news’. The implementation forced publishers to submit their content for scrutiny. While, Facebook-owned WhatsApp and Instagram adopted no such measure.

It is clear Facebook will not be the same again. But, neither was Instagram after their new algorithm was introduced. While we are all still grumbling about it, no one has seen significant profit dives from likes dropping by 10%.

What does it all mean for organic content?

To understand how we can move forward after the Facebook meltdown, we need to first be clear on what we are dealing with.

Here is how Facebook now regulates what you see on a personal timeline:

They look at three general points to assess the relevance of a post about you as the user.

– Who posted it
– The type of content
– The interactions with the post

These posts are then assigned a ranking and ordered on your timeline. The higher the ranking, the more likely it is to be delivered higher up your timeline. Giving you ample opportunity to interact with it.

What most people do not know is that they can tailor their timeline. Facebook introduced its Newsfeed preferences as a way to give the user back some control over what they see. Through these criteria, you can:

– Prioritise in what order things are delivered to you
– Unfollow people or pages you do not wish to be updated by
– Reconnect with those you have previously unfollowed
– Discover new pages or people to interact with

Facebook also offers a three-pronged feedback service, which endeavours to check how relevant our content is.

With all this being said, what’s being proposed is almost a separate news feed for brands and publishers. Paid ad campaigns will provide an opportunity for content to be viewed in the same way. With more engagement on offer, brands do need to consider a swift change in their social media strategy.

Our guide to staying alive (as a brand)

1.Newsfeed preferences

Facebook encourages its users to take control of their newsfeed. Using the preferences option. So, let’s help them with that mission. The ‘post notification’ update introduced to Instagram early in 2017 saw brands and influencers beg for users to keep them at the top of the timeline by ‘turning on post notifications’. This sent a push notification to the user every time their favourite celebrity dropped a selfie. We are not suggesting you get on your hands and knees. You should not be afraid to ask those that already interact with you to give you a helping hand. If your content is informative and engaging in the first instance, it should not be such an outlandish request.

2.Facebook Groups

No, we have not travelled back to 2001, and we are not talking a heap of excessive invitations and requests. Hundreds of relevant discussion groups exist across Facebook (yes, they are still a thing.) So, get involved, use it for content, discussion themes or as a great way to provide your content to those who want to see it.

3.Ad Campaigns

Zuckerberg left the notion of skyrocketing ad prices out of his selfless 2018 manifesto. We all know this is the most likely consequence of his plans. Yet, paid social is as much a part of any digital marketing strategy as remarketing or PPC. If our media spend need to take a hike, we should be strategic and plan campaigns around that increase. The perceived benefit of a now less populated timeline is that; should you hit all the right notes in your ad campaign, it is possible that the return in engagement could increase on previous efforts.

Our tips:

  • Give the changes time to bed-in.
  • Restrict those little-boosted posts.
  • Plan ad campaigns in line with more significant events within your calendar.

4.Switch Platforms

We could argue, that this is a total ‘stick it to the man’ attitude. But, the majority of the platforms we would suggest shifting content to, are already in your strategy. This is more likely monopolised by Facebook. We would suggest focusing on your peripheral platforms a little more. The beauty of social media now is that each platform provides a different audience. Which comes with a different strategy and style. If you are a B2B business, beefing up your LinkedIn content is never a bad move. Moreover, Instagram can be far more beneficial as a window into the company culture, than a stream of selfies. As the changes to Facebook take effect, it will give other platforms to capitalise. Especially on the opportunity to capture new, disgruntled former Facebook advocates.

5.Build a future-proof, multi-channel approach

A multi-channel approach is not a ground-breaking strategy. Something that most people understand from choosing which content hits their LinkedIn page over their Twitter feed. It is a simple approach, yet, once we dive into new channels and approaches the complexities appear.

Our advice would be:

  • Target your content to your audience.
  • Understand what they want from you or your industry.
  • Tailor your content to those needs.

Where do we go from here?

Don’t pick blog titles out of a hat, because you need a content refresh. While Facebook is a massive player in the digital game, it is not the only star. When you are writing content, have outreach in mind. Ask yourself if someone outside of your normal, loyal audience would be interested in what you are saying. If you have never considered digital PR before now, now is the time? Or, it is an opportunity to review your media spend. Also, do some severe SEO housekeeping to make sure you are ready to take a potential social hit. Whatever it is, align your teams and make sure brand consistency prevails.

We can theorise over the motivations and consequences of this catastrophic social media bombshell forever, the reality will come thick and fast. It is crucial among all the press fury to stay level-headed. No one is going to cut Facebook in some misguided attempt at protest. We will all still be logging in, like we do on Instagram, despite the fact their current algorithm feeds us four days old ‘popular’ posts.

We should prepare for a social shift, but also the possibility that this could promote a stream of new, more thought-provoking, original content. It could force brands and publishers to explore the opportunity of different media channels. The validity of content is, in the end, the only way to fight through such upheaval. If you are not sure how to create thought-leading content, then outsource the skills. Make sure that now we have been given a chance to see through the cat videos and rumour driven ‘news’, updates we make the new view worth the watch. It could persuade us all to reconsider the pressure we attribute to social media within our daily lives. I am sure that is what Mark was hoping for all along.

Laura Timson

Laura Timson

Digital & PR Executive

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