Facebook Algorithm Change: What Update Means for Brands

  • By Stephen M. Zorio

    It has been referred to as 
    Facebook's 'Goodfellas' moment.

    Back in December, the social giant announced it was further adjusting its news feed algorithm. The company's post explained that it was "now paying closer attention to what makes for high quality content." The initial assumption was that the change was an ill omen for BuzzFeed and UpWorthy. And while it had some (disputed) influence on those sites, the real impact was felt elsewhere, chiefly: brand pages. Brands that once saw their posts reach up to 16% of their fans saw that number decline to as little as 3% -- and it's still falling.

    That, somewhat understandably, prompted rounds of panic and headlines like this one:

    So did Facebook really pull the rug out from under unsuspecting brands, businesses and social media pros? Or did it simply hasten an all-too-predictable end?

    The answer, as if often does, lies somewhere in between.

    To figure it out, let's look back at where it all really started and work forward from there.

    Many sources start this story with the December algorithm tweak. But back in August of 2013, a blog post about the social giant's desire to surface quality content was met by the sort of collective yawn befitting a late-summer announcement. Facebook even insisted in the post that, "for most Pages the impact should be relatively small." 

    The real story here is in the tags and categories to the right. The post may have understated the size of the impact crater, but the company made it abundantly clear where this particular asteroid was headed. And there were other signs.
    The 'Goodfellas' comparison stems from the notion that Facebook can (in theory) now demand payment (via paid ads) for access to the traffic that brands and businesses once got for free. The analogy works to a degree, but fails a bit in that it requires you to see things in the role of the nefarious mob and unsuspecting shopkeeper. 

    However, in addition to the August announcement, the company also made a September announcement about serving users with more relevant ads. 

    Nor, as one expert noted, was this unforeseeable. 
    by ashley_jayyyy via Instagram

    In 2012, John Battelle wrote a blog post that elucidated the risks of betting heavily on Facebook. "If you are a brand, publisher, or independent voice, don’t put your taproot into the soils of Facebook. Plant it in the independent web. (A bit more on this can be found here). I think Facebook is an extraordinarily important part of the Internet ecosystem, and having a robust presence there is a critical part of any brand (or company’s) strategy. But Facebook is a for profit, advertising and data-driven company. If you seat mission critical portions of your business inside its walls, you are driving value to Facebook – and you are presuming the trade, in terms of traffic and virality, will come out on balance favoring you. I wouldn’t count on that." 

    Unfortunately, as another expert found, too many people ignored this advice.

    by yaentijerina via Instagram
    In a remarkably frank post, social media expert Jason Falls offered an apology. It's worth reading, but here are some truncated highlights: "We wanted to show you how easy it was to just sit down and write something that people passed around the web. You could become one of our many followers and maybe even pay us a little consulting fee. You got what you wanted. We got what we wanted. Except we were wrong. Or you were gullible. Or both. Unfortunately, it’s taken Facebook’s unweilding [sic] sword of organic reach killing to make this painfully obvious.

    While Falls admission is noble, irrespective of where you place the blame, Facebook likely did brands a favor.
    by sparklesparkleme via Instagram
    People have questioned the actual value of Facebook 'likes' for quite some time. In fact, the screenshot you see above is courtesy of a BBC reporter's experiment to see whether gaming the system via ads would get people to like a business that has no actual value. Derek Muller has made a name for himself with a video focusing on what he calls Facebook Fraud.

    But whether brands reached those likes organically or via paid efforts, the reality is their value was, at best, questionable. Facebook's changes have had the effect of pushing brands away from a metric of negligible value. While that may have caused some short-term headaches, the long-term prognosis is good ... if brands know what to do next,
    The first step for brands to take is to stop building homes on land they don't own. To quote Mr. Battelle again: "You want your own land, your own domain, your own sovereignty. Trouble is, so much of the choice land – the land where all the *people* are – is already owned by someone else: By Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Yahoo, and Apple (in apps, anyway). It’s tempting to build your brand on those lands – but my counsel is simple: Don’t. There’s plenty of land out there on the Rest of The Internet. In fact, there’s as much land as you want, and what you make of it is up to you as a publisher."

    Google has already diluted the power of paid SEO, younger audiences are abandoning Facebook and Twitter's path to profitability remains uncertain. So what's a brand to do? The answer can be found in two words. 
    by mnemonic_nan via Instagram
    It might seem like this drum has been beaten, but the lesson is vital: brands must create original content. There are no simple shortcuts in the new reality and because the changes Facebook made are vital to its future, the bar is only going to be raised going forward. Brands must use original content to turn fans into advocates. Social will remain an essential element, but the days of ceding conversations with fans to social sites and hoping it works are fading quickly. Learning that lesson now will save a lot of headaches in the future. 

    See how ScribbleLive can help your brand bring those conversations to your site -- and turn your fans into advocates.
    by infinite_love_summer via Instagram

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