How to make the most of Facebook's news feed update
Facebook is changing once again - but it's the perfect opportunity to renew your approach to social media marketing.
25 January 2018
Changes are coming to Facebook in 2018, and this time it's a big deal for digital marketers in particular. CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently announced that the social media platform will focus on more valuable content from friends and family as opposed to companies and brands.
Explaining the decision on his own Facebook account, he said: "Recently we've gotten feedback from our community that public content - posts from businesses, brands and media - is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other.
"As we roll this out, you'll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media. And the public content you see more will be held to the same standard - it should encourage meaningful interactions between people."
What do these plans mean for the ways companies and brands approach social media? And will there be a knock-on effect for other platforms? Let's dig a bit deeper.
Why the change?
Facebook has been under some increasingly negative spotlights in the past two years, with a lot of fake news stories making their way into news feed, reports that Russian-linked groups tried to influence the 2016 presidential election with ads on the platform, and targeted ads during political campaigns here in the UK coming under scrutiny too.
In this supposedly post-truth era, Facebook is trying to make changes to get people to reengage with the platform and build trust again. Because although it is still dominating the social landscape for millennials, with an average of 15 days accessed monthly by this group, Instagram is catching up with 11 days and Twitter with 7.5 days.
It's not the first time Facebook has made changes to its news feed, and it certainly won't be the last. But does this mean business pages are going to become redundant? Well, we hope not – we just need to adapt to these new changes.
Rather than resist change, look for the opportunity. What can we improve on, what does our audience want to see, and how can we be relevant on Facebook?
More authentic content
These changes are a great opportunity to look at your social media strategy, and consider how you can create more authentic, human content, rather than just sticking in another link to your site.
Companies are made up of people – they're the face that interacts with customers, and including real people who work for the company in marketing is a long-standing tactic that we know to be effective, going all the way back to Halifax and Howard Brown.
The same should be true for social – using real people can have a huge impact. It works for big companies, because it puts a human face on what can sometimes be a bit of an impersonal experience.
For SMEs, it can be even more effective. A smaller audience and a smaller team means that there's a big chance people are going to see someone they know and deal with regularly popping up on their news feed. And that's when people start clicking like.
We'll use our own Facebook posts as an example – we're an SME ourselves, and a lot of the people who like our Facebook page are the clients we work with daily, local businesses supporting the West Yorkshire community, and a few friends and family too.
Let's start with the video we uploaded for our nomination for the Northern Digital Awards. We've included the link in the post content but it's much more interactive, containing a video which automatically plays.
It's a bit silly – a bit of fun for a special occasion, featuring people from the Splitpixel team that our page-likers know well from working on web projects with. And, of course, our friends and family give us a like or two as well – because if we can't get those guys to engage with us, what chance do we have with strangers?
These likes and shares see the post spread more naturally, in a way that we understand will be far more effective in getting us seen once the new algorithms kick in.
Compared to a recent blog on GDPR, you can see the big difference that this kind of content makes, even before the new algorithms come into effect.
It got a few clicks, and did OK in terms of reach – but when you look at the numbers, you see the real difference.
Our social media following is fairly modest, as we spend most of our time managing our clients' feeds, but a small shake-up in content can have relatively large results.
The video had a much healthier 225 post clicks compared to four on the GDPR blog, a huge increase in terms of engagement. Not only that, the video reached almost 12 times as many people – that's 1079% more people reached and 2300% more reactions.
So, it's greatly improved visibility and, interestingly, people who haven't interacted with other posts on our Facebook page had engaged with the video.
The numbers don't lie – it's pretty clear what type of content works better on Facebook. Yes, this means more time spent crafting new content, but ultimately it's more rewarding.
That's not to say linking straight through to a blog on social is wrong – it's just becoming clear that Facebook might not be the best place for it. That's why it's important to compartmentalise your content and think how to approach each social media channel differently.
For example, our blog posts and ebooks perform better on LinkedIn than Facebook, despite having half as many followers. Our GDPR blog reached 164 people on LinkedIn compared to 86 people on Facebook - because it's a more business-orientated platform and the audience is more receptive to that content. So, sharing more fun, behind the scenes, human-focused stuff is going to spread a bit more organically through likes.
As a very visual platform, Instagram can also be a great way to show off the fun and colour of life at your company. While this works for many businesses, we found it was less successful for us. As a creative agency, we've instead learned that the more visual medium has been great for sharing our brand, our work, and our client's work a lot more.
Twitter, on the other hand, prides itself on being the source for breaking news before any of the other platforms - so it's a great way to share news from your company. However, given the instant nature of Twitter, the timeline can clog up very quickly, and it can be difficult to cut through the noise. Focus on creating tweets that use visuals such as bold images, videos and GIFS which are much more likely to grab attention – indeed, Twitter themselves say that people are three times more likely to engage with tweets that have photos or videos.
There will always be an element of trial and error in finding the right approach – testing out different kinds of content, seeing what works, and refining the approach based on the data you get from each platform's analytics. If you're willing to stay flexible rather than remaining stuck in your ways, you'll be able to adapt to any changes networks throw at you!
Encouraging a conversation
Not every social post can be about being nominated for a reward, or a office party group photo that's going to get clicks through that human connection. If the day-to-day is still going to include content more focused on your business activity, you'll need to consider it a bit more carefully in order to see engagement.
Why do people share things? Usually because they have something to say about it themselves. And this is important. The content you share on social – particularly on Facebook – can't just be your voice dictating facts to others.
Content needs to spark a thought or a reaction that people have to share in their own words, rather than by selecting one of five emoji reacts.
How do you do this? The content that you share on social media needs to help other people solve a problem, so they'll pass it on to people with the same one.
Matt Owen, director of Atomise Marketing wrote about this in Econsultancy, discussing the difference between sharing and sharing with someone adding their own voice to it:
"Does someone sharing your cool video really count as major engagement? What if they send it directly to a friend with 'Hey bro, check out this - are you still looking for a new car/vacuum/grocery service? This is ideal' attached. So, it's word-of-mouth marketing. It's genuine discussion and deep interest. It's real relevance. It's also influencer marketing, from the most powerful influencers in people's lives: Friends and family."
Social media advertising
The more pessimistic view is that the push to focus on content posted by family and friends will mean that, for companies and brands to get noticed, they will have to use paid forms of advertising on Facebook for their brands to be seen, ensuring reach through pure brute force.
You can currently boost posts with Facebook Ads, but the new change may make it more commonplace, with brands using it as a quick and easy way to get noticed, rather than rethinking their strategy. This is just speculation of course, but there are downsides to adopting this tactic for your social strategy.
Extensive use of paid advertising can be expensive, and not effective if it's the sole approach to your marketing – you want people to see content because they want to, not because you paid for it to be there.
LinkedIn is an example of how effective paid advertising can be, as it allows you to target your spending on specific areas where you'll reap the most rewards. One incredibly useful feature is that you can target specific job roles where you think your content will appeal most – perhaps it's HR managers, purchasing officers, health and safety professionals... whatever fits your target personas.
Paid social media advertising can be effective as part of a wider strategy. But if someone sees you as a sponsored link on their timeline, you need a page chock-full of great content to help support your case and give them a reason to like your page or continue to interact further.
Currently, it's not clear what role Facebook advertising will play once this news feed change is rolled out – but it is a great income generator for the social network. With eMarketer estimating that Facebook's UK advertising revenues totalled £1.189bn in 2016, it will certainly continue to play a part in the future.
Does Facebook have a shelf life?
Ultimately, most social media platforms do have a shelf life. For your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram there has been Myspace, Bebo and Friends Reunited. That's not to say Facebook is on its way out anytime soon, in fact Facebook has been good at adapting itself to new changes and trying to innovate to keep it going. But, generations consume content differently and that affects the perception of different social media platforms and how we interact with them.
To stand out, you need to create more authentic, human content for Facebook, and divert your blog links to places where they might be more effective, such as LinkedIn. This means taking the time and energy to build up a following and organic reach on a variety of platforms. One secret? Being more active on other pages will earn you the same in return.
Importantly, focus on creating a social strategy that champions or engages your workforce. Think of what your employees would want to see in how their company portrays itself online and encourage (not force!) employees to share content – if they're passionate about the company and are actively sharing, that speaks volumes about your organisation.
It takes time and effort to get results but, it is rewarding to see it pay off. Again, paid advertising can be effective, but while throwing the most money at it might work in the short-term, it won't be as meaningful as building long-term interactions with your company or brand.
This news feed change isn't the end of the world for marketers – it's an opportunity to refine your approach, and have meaningful conversations with your audience on Facebook, building up a presence and a relationship that is more valuable.
If you need support with managing social media, then we're here to help – just get in touch for a chat!