Facebook has announced some big changes for 2018. Spurred by the concern that the platform was becoming less rewarding for users, and even creating a breeding ground for "toxic" content and "fake news", the corporation is now revamping the way the news feed works.
The idea is to encourage, in the words of Mark Zuckerberg, "more meaningful social interactions", while nudging users away from "passively reading articles or watching videos". Essentially, Facebook wants people to see more content from their friends and family, and less content from brands, publishers and other third parties – and the News Feed algorithm is being tweaked accordingly.
But what does this mean for those organisations that rely on Facebook as a key marketing channel?
More social, less media?
These changes will be keenly felt by publishers that rely on organic, free placement in the news feed – an automated process driven by users liking, sharing and interacting with their content. Some publishers have already reported a significant drop in the reach of their Facebook posts.
While Facebook is deprioritising the "public content" of brands in favour of real people, content from pages "liked" by a user will still appear in their news feed by default. Users can also select the "See First in News Feed" option to ensure that content from these pages appears at the top of their feed. Even so, the new default view still means a greatly reduced presence for brands.
For publishers aiming to weather the storm, there are options. Looking at Facebook’s end-goals, it’s all about creating high-quality content that encourages genuine interaction and discussion. By offering the audience worthwhile content, brands can position themselves as more in-line with Facebook’s vision.
This doesn’t mean more "engagement bait" posts ("tag a mate", "share if you agree", etc.) – it means content that’s genuinely useful, interesting or insightful. As Adam Mosseri, Facebook’s Head of News Feed, put it, the best posts should "spark conversations and meaningful interactions between people".
The impact on Facebook ads
For now at least, Facebook has confirmed that the News Feed changes will not affect ads and sponsored posts. Of course, the corporation makes most of its money from advertising, so is unlikely to make any moves which could scare off the big spenders. Even so, could there be some long-term knock-on effects yet to emerge?
Industry experts are already predicting that the new News Feed will result in costlier Facebook ads. To put it in simple terms of supply and demand, less space for unpaid brand content means more demand for ad space, and higher costs as a result.
And it’s not just about physical space, it’s about time. Mark Zuckerberg has the stated aim of making the user’s experience on Facebook more enriching, even if they spend less time on the site overall. But for brands, users spending less time on Facebook means fewer opportunities to draw them in with ads, and more of a premium on the ads that do appear.
This is all speculation for now, but don’t be surprised to see many organisations revaluate their content strategy when it comes to Facebook, as well as their marketing budgets in general. It’s far from an apocalyptic event, and brands that have diffused their marketing efforts across all the major platforms probably don’t need to panic. Still, as the world’s number one social network, it’s always wise to keep close tabs on Facebook’s latest schemes.