Two weeks ago Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg announced that its news feed content is changing in a way that will transform the rules of engagement for businesses on the social platform.
Until now, many businesses have regarded Facebook as a must-have part of their communications mix, with some organisations choosing to put 100% of their marketing budget into writing and promoting content on the platform.
The changes which Zuckerberg described, and which are currently being implemented, will have a profound effect on those who employ this approach, as well as every other business which has – or intends to have – a presence on Facebook.
Facebook is going to adjust its algorithm to prioritise updates from friends and family. As a result, it predicts that users will spend less time on the platform, but the time they do spend will be ‘more meaningful’.
Non-paid-for content will disappear from the news feed (there is speculation it will be accommodated in a secondary feed, which Facebook has trialled in a few countries). Paid-for spots within the main news feed will become increasingly competitive – read: expensive.
If you are a Facebook Page owner, you will see a substantial drop in your reach and engagement. The only way to drive significant traffic from Facebook to your website will be through paid ads or genuine person-to-person advocacy and engagement with your brand.
If you are a business, brand, charity, or any other type of organisation, you will need set aside budget to promote your content if you are not already doing so. It’s also likely that you will have to pay more to reach fewer people, which will have implications for whether or not Facebook remains cost-effective for you.
It seems the Facebook powers that be are looking for a lively debate, ongoing discussion and tight-knit communities built around common interests. Tribes, if you will. This will have cost implications on top of increased ad spend, because it takes more time and effort to build an online community than to create a series of content marketing posts. It requires one-to-one interaction, often live and online.
Your social media team will need to be well-trained and practiced advocates for your brand, and, crucially, be given the authority to represent your business, preferably live, in day-to-day conversations. Given these fundamental changes, it would be worth considering some social media policy updates and training to stay ahead of the game.
In Facebook’s view, the winners here will be the brands which are already doing good business. Brands or businesses which have lively fan communities around them and which are supporting niche interests with ongoing discussion stand to gain more influence from the new landscape. Active community groups and discussion forums built around local interests will also gain influence if they continue to champion authentic dialogue. This gives organisations which need to engage with these stakeholders even more reason to review the way they approach community engagement.
For businesses without a solid and enthusiastic fan base, it’s time to build one. Your content will need to do more than incite a casual ‘like’. Your content will need to inspire those who see it to share, discuss, and connect with each other through it. Unless you have some value to offer an online community, your brand is unlikely to have much engagement or success in Facebook’s new world order.
Yet, this drive to rework your content towards your audience’s needs is not new. Good communications should always do more than incite a ‘like’. Good communications should inspire people to act, participate, share and get involved. All these changes at Facebook mean is that businesses will be forced to sharpen their communications approach and provide value for their audiences.
The key here is to take a step back, look at your audience, and design your communications strategy to connect with those audiences across the channels which are relevant to them. Whether or not Facebook is part of that should be secondary to what value you have to share. Do this, and your return on investment will improve, regardless of what channel or social media network you use.
Candace Watermeyer is the PR & Social Media Manager at Perceptive Communicators. This article first appeared in a print edition of The Scotsman