If you follow digital marketing at all, you will have heard about the Facebook ads algorithm update.

Cue: Screaming

But what does this update actually mean for your business?

(And you can stop screaming right now)

The algorithm change is something that (not surprisingly) came up in a talk I did on Sunday at Olympia and I’ve done my best to break down how I see these playing out for businesses who are using Facebook to build their brand.

With the caveat being that not even people who work at Facebook and run ads for huge brands truly understand how the algorithm works.

So first, what Zuckerberg said – a reminder of the key point and his words

(You can read the full post here – but to paraphrase)

The news feed is full…….

But 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.

We’re providing a ton of reach for many brands and publishers (especially media publishers) and everyone is jumping in on the game.

Video and other public content have exploded on Facebook in the past couple of years. Since there’s more public content than posts from your friends and family, the balance of what’s in News Feed has shifted away from the most important thing Facebook can do — help us connect with each other.

Facebook should be good for you….. So the focus isn’t just on relevance any more….To be seen, businesses need to generate meaningful interactions.

Based on this, we’re making a major change to how we build Facebook. I’m changing the goal I give our product teams from focusing on helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful social interactions.

The first changes you’ll see will be in News Feed, where you can expect to see more from your friends, family and groups.

(Note to everyone: If a group will work for your business, then create one and use it)

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.

Because there won’t be so much passive browsing of videos, the time we spend on Facebook will go down – but Facebook will be better for it.

Now, I want to be clear: by making these changes, I expect the time people spend on Facebook and some measures of engagement will go down.

At its best, Facebook has always been about personal connections. By focusing on bringing people closer together — whether it’s with family and friends, or around important moments in the world — we can help make sure that Facebook is time well spent.

Now there is loads of stuff I am not about to cover here and that includes

  • The political and PR reasons that this announcement may be about.
  • The fact that I love discovering news and watching videos on Facebook and don’t actually want to see more from friends and less from public sources (just my personal view but hey!). I like seeing my friends updates but they aren’t always that interesting whereas I’ve seen a TON of interesting and amazing stuff from news outlets.
  • The growing customer service burden for businesses who do start groups or who have busy pages and enter into one to one dialogue with every user (we manage some of these pages and it’s hard…..)

Instead I’m just going to focus purely on two things, what is likely to actually change, and what this means for pages and ads (and this is based on my own personal view and that of some of the biggest Facebook marketers and agencies in the world who I’m lucky enough to have as friends and peers).

Key changes and what it means for pages 

  • Person to person, and friend content is prioritised.

Although it may not seem that way, Facebook has always had to prioritise ‘friend’ content over business content, so in this instance, nothing has changed (although the dial may have been turned towards the friend end of the spectrum, not business end).

  • Video content

Recorded videos won’t get as much reach as they once did – live video will do better (as has been the case recently anyway). Personally, I’m looking forward to next year’s announcement that feeds are too crowded out by people’s nan’s going live whilst cooking dinner and as a result live content will be deprioritized. 

  • Comments

Page posts that result in back and forth conversation will be prioritised. This is an extension of the engagement algorithm that already exists. It’s not that you won’t see page posts at all. Just that any you will see must encourage conversation. 

BUT – page content has been declining for years. Unfortunately I never operated in the Facebook space in the day when you had 1 million page likes and could reach – guaranteed – 1 million followers. Instead, the ratios I’ve operated around are more like reaching 10% of followers. That said, we still have pages that easily reach many multiples of followers because the content gets engagement and comments. But how this content fares now on will have to be seen.

  • Pay to play

More than ever Facebook is moving towards paying to access their audience. This is another step in that direction. By continuing to reduce organic reach people who want to reach Facebook’s audience have to pay, which brings me on to advertising.

Key changes and what this means for advertising

This update is about organic page post and not really an advertising thang. If you’re running ads, keep running them but bear in mind that ads too can get organic reach that come from engagement and with this additional meaningful conversational element this now means getting and responding to all ad comments.

One of our clients does this brilliantly, you can see the comment threads in her ads below and already has daily conversations going on with potential buyers. These help her ads to spread for free (well done Maxine!)

But will prices go up?

Well, it needs to all come out in the wash BUT firstly prices are going up anyway because of the race into Facebook ads and the shortage of space in the newsfeed.

There are a number of options that could affect the level of competition including

  1. If brands see such a drop in organic reach that everyone does just ‘pay to play’ (competition increases)
  2. Brands get pissed off and leave Facebook (competition decreases and this won’t happen but just put this here as an illustration)
  3. Users genuinely spend less time on Facebook which means less scrolling which means less ad space (competition increases).

Basically, the more ads Facebook needs to distribute and the less time people spend on Facebook, the more competition there is and prices will go up.

Really though it’s way too early to know on this front and stop fretting as competition was increasing anyway which is why prices are going up anyway!

Better get in early and get Facebook trained on your conversions while its still low priced!

So what actions should you take?

I will say very strongly here first of all that the idea you can build your business through just organic content using a Facebook page is dead. If you are already up and running and getting great engagement, if you’re a celebrity or something else that is astonishingly engaging and just naturally starts a ton of conversation, then you may well be fine,  BUT if you are a brand new start up and thinking you can reach a ton of people through a Facebook page, that’s not going to fly.

You’re going to have to pay to reach people.

The actions you should take will depend on where you’re at and what you do, but to give you some ideas, here are the actions we are taking as an agency (and there’s nothing that dramatic coming up in fact, really this is a continuation of what you need to do anyway if someone is entrusting the public facing side of their brand and their ad budget to you).

  • Evaluate page post content – is it generating enough comments, how much is page reach as a proportion of page likes and how does this change over the next six months, what can we do to get more meaningful conversation without creating a customer service nightmare, and should some pages post less but put budget behind the posts that start to generate meaningful conversation?
  • Groups – do we have clients who are relying on pages when in fact a group would work well for them? Being honest, not every brand lends itself well to a group no matter what Zuckerberg says. For some though, groups are an opportunity and social content can be spread between a page (which will still need to have updates on it) and a group.
  • In general – keep removing our personal views, looking at the campaign and page stats, testing, optimising and learning. I put this in bold as this is the most important action of them all.
  • Ad comments – we get comments on our client campaigns anyway, BUT there’s always room for more ‘meaning’ in any conversation (I guess!).
  • Chatbots – we are having amazing success with chatbot campaigns and this is a focus for 2018. Facebook wants conversation, we’ll give them conversation!

I hope you found that helpful! My main advice is don’t panic. Monitor and let time unravel what will happen. 

And remember, Facebook doesn’t work in isolation and you should never be dependent on just one platform. What works best in any marketing campaign is a combination of fresh traffic (available from many sources whether that’s social platforms, Google, the mainstream media, attending trade shows, or even standing on the side of the road waving a placard) and retargeting AND email marketing.