For many brands and businesses, Facebook advertising has been a relative goldmine in the past several years. It was everything you want your advertising to be: targeted, cheap, and effective. However, that’s all changing.
Facebook announced major changes this month that will drastically alter what kind of content people see on their News Feed. As Zuckerberg said in his post, “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…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.”
That will be very welcome news for many people. Facebook itself recently acknowledged that passive consumption of information can be bad for your disposition – a finding backed up by research. In 2015, the Journal of Experimental Psychology published a report showing that passive usage of Facebook, even for just 10 minutes a day, had a negative effect on students’ sense of well-being. So, based on the research, it stands to reason that these changes will be better for people (which is great!) but business content will get the boot (not so great for brands).
2017 changes to Facebook’s algorithms already reduced the organic reach of business pages by decreasing the number of page followers who see a page’s post. That means that if a person “likes” the Beet Juice Recipes page (yes, this is a real page and 1.8k people like it), there is only a small chance you’ll see the tasty beet juice recipes on your news feed when the page posts them.
Many companies have made huge efforts to comply with Facebook's past encouragement for entertaining video ad content, and now, the 2018 changes mean that even paid video advertising from a business may not reach a significant audience either. Facebook doesn't just want their users watching funny videos in a silo anymore - they want real, genuine human interaction.
As Zuckerberg says, it’s not hard to see how we got here. “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.” Many Facebook feeds have become tedious to scroll through to find the genuine content that’s important to people. Facebook is now looking to slow your scroll.
To understand the problem, it’s important to understand Facebook brand interaction when at its best. When we pair a product or service with a person who actually wants or need it, and have a real message that resonates with that person, it’s a win-win. The individual finds what they’re interested in, and the brand has the opportunity to gain a valuable customer.
But that kind of symbiotic relationship relies on many factors that often don’t play out. First, the advertiser must have a high-value product or service, and an authentic message. Second, the ad itself must be attention catching and memorable, but not obnoxious, with just the right amount of quality messaging. Third, those ads must be targeted at the people who actually care. The problem is, making this trifecta happen is a lot of work and knowledge, and many brands just don’t do it. In addition, there’s a ton of click-bait posts that do nothing but tease information that’s not there, and frustrate the user.
As understandable as the issue is, it leaves a giant question for businesses and brands – how do they reach the people they need to reach?
Since the limited business and brand spots in the News Feed will be given to content that sparks meaningful engagement of people, it makes sense to start there. That means quality content that people want to see AND they care enough about to comment and interact with others on the topic. Whether that’s live videos (live videos get six times the interactions that normal videos get), recurring series, personal stories, or interactive news – advertisers have to figure out how to engage their audience and create conversation both through organic and paid reach. It’s not an easy task, but is an important one. As Zuckerberg himself says, “I expect the time people spend on Facebook and some measures of engagement will go down,” he said in his post about the changes. “But I also expect the time you do spend on Facebook will be more valuable.”
The head of Facebook News Feed, Adam Mosseri suggests, "local businesses connect with their communities by posting relevant updates and creating events. And news can help start conversations on important issues. Using ‘engagement-bait’ to goad people into commenting on posts is not a meaningful interaction, and we will continue to demote these posts in News Feed."
If a brand can adapt and still have an interesting story to tell through Facebook, Facebook advertising may even be more valuable than before, since there’s so much less garbage in a user’s feed to compete for their attention. Only time will tell how this fully plays out for paid advertising, but we’re not counting Facebook advertising out yet (after all, they are themselves a business that rely on ad revenue). What this news should be is a powerful wake-up call to brands that have too many eggs in their Facebook basket to get a little more creative about where and how their advertising dollars are spent.
When it comes down to it, there are always other fish in the sea - digital, print, video, radio, out-of-home, sponsorships, influencers, brand partnerships, other social media platforms that now may be a better fit to reach the people you want to reach (and who want to be reached). And maybe Facebook’s stance against bad content will cause brands to examine their messaging to see if it’s honest, quality, and targeting the people who actually want to hear it.
At least we can dream, right?