Facebook changes...again!

So, Facebook has done it again and announced major changes to its Newsfeed. The announcement received huge coverage well beyond the Tech and Financial news. After all, how often does a change happen to something more than 2 billion people user every day?

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Update at a glance

In the announcement, Facebook said that it will change how it displays content in users’ Newsfeeds. From now on, personal content and person-to-person interactions will be far more prioritised than content posted by brand pages, public figures and organisations. Brands will have to dig deeper from a media spend standpoint as well as creatively in order to be visible on Facebook and to drive meaningful interactions from their audience.

So, what exactly happened?

  • Facebook conducted major research on the impact of Social Media on people’s psychological well-being. They found that people who spend a lot of time scrolling through their Newsfeed with little or no engagement have had a negative impact on their wellbeing from the way they use the platform. On the other hand, those who spend their time talking to friends, commenting on their posts and having more meaningful interactions have had a positive impact. In fact, according to Facebook, they are the “happier” group of people.
  • The bottom line outcome: A post from a friend is far more important than a post from a brand, and a Comment is far more meaningful than a Like.
  • Facebook announced that major changes will be coming to their Newsfeed algorithm in 2018, which will focus on prioritising content that is more likely to deliver “meaningful interactions”, especially content from friends rather than pages you follow.
  • Facebook admitted for the first time in their history that these changes will result in people spending less time on the platform.
  • The news, which came through an announcement on Mark Zuckerberg’s page, was soon reported widely on the front pages of BBC, CNN, Bloomberg, Forbes and others.
  • Facebook shares have dropped 4.4% by the end of the day.
  • Financial analysts expect the change to have a positive impact in the medium to long term for Facebook, however it will be bumpy in the short term.

What does this mean for brand pages (in New Zealand and Australia)?

  • There’s no sign as to when this change will roll out in our side of the world. Normally we would be a month or two behind the US with most of Facebook updates.
  • Overall paid reach and engagement is expected to take a dip in the first instances.
  • This is the absolute end of the line for organic reach on Facebook.
  • Content inviting conversation is likely to see more light than content that focuses on gaining Likes.
  • Engagement bait content such as “Like if…”, “Tag a mate who…”, “Vote by Reactions” and similar types of posts would be punished by Facebook. The most likely punishment for pages that use such tactics would be to receive a low-ranking score and have less reach on the long run.
  • Don’t panic! Facebook is not going to stop displaying paid content all together. Facebook generates more than $10b in advertising revenue per quarter. It’s their bread and butter.

Other reasons this is happening (at least we think so):

  • People aren’t using Facebook the way they used to anymore. The place where people added friends, shared key moments and interacted with loved ones has turned into a feed of memes, ads, news and all the rest. This breadth of content and expansion of Facebook use was good from Facebook’s perspective at the start, until people started using it less (drastically less) as a social network and more as a news hub.
  • People are spending a lot more time on other platforms. Some of these platforms are Facebook owned such as Messenger, Instagram and Whatsapp, all of which are growing very positively in the right direction. The only platform that is gradually losing value for its users is Facebook itself, hence the focus on improving it.
  • There’s been a lot of chatter about Facebook furthering its involvement in the content world. Some speculate that it may go as far as bidding against Apple to acquire Netflix later this year. They also launched the Facebook TV App and Facebook Watch in the US which is a streaming service with original content like YouTube Red, Hulu etc. All of this may play a part in Facebook’s strategy to bring the original friend-to-friend Facebook back to its roots, while developing (or acquiring) other platforms for all those other purposes.

What should you do about it?

  • Keep a close eye on reach and engagement numbers to see if they drop as the change starts taking place.
  • Shift your content focus to be more on generating conversation rather than Likes/Reactions.
  • Look at opportunities beyond Facebook.

A final thought:

Facebook has made hundreds of changes to its products, algorithms, family of apps and even core business objectives over the years. While the results of such changes haven’t been consistently positive, the only thing they kept consistent is that whenever a change goes south, it goes away. So, we know for sure that whatever Facebook changes, if it doesn’t end up being a better outcome for both its users and its clients, it will change again.

Mike Adly

Social & Content Strategy Partner