Brands shouldn’t panic about Facebook’s news feed change (yet)
I don’t know about you, but I stopped using Facebook a long time ago. Every time I pulled up my Facebook app I would be greeted with an endless scroll of mindless videos and sponsored posts from brands.
Facebook is a long way away from the social network it promised to be a decade ago, but last year it faced its biggest problems to date—fake news, hate speech, and Russian election meddling to name a few.
After Brexit and the U.S. election, the company’s mission to “bring the world closer together” was called into question as it became apparent that the platform was actually making us more divided than ever before. Our news feeds became “echo chambers” which ended up reinforcing our biases, not challenging them.
Unsurprisingly, it only took Facebook 12 days in 2018 to announce sweeping changes to the news feed as we know it.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote, "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... 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."
While on face value these changes are a step in the right direction—especially considering the fact that passive consumption of social media is bad for our well-being—some people saw Facebook’s announcement as a shrewd business move disguised as a pseudo-honest attempt to fix the platform.
No longer a level playing field?
In recent years, thanks to advanced targeting and relatively low ad costs, Facebook has been the go-to platform for smaller brands and NGOs looking to reach niche audiences on a budget. Will a revamped news feed with less branded content mean organizations will have to pay more to be seen? And will this put the power back into the hands—and pockets—of multinational brands with huge marketing budgets?
Adam Wagner, founder of human rights media platform, RightsInfo certainly thinks so: “[Our] reach on Facebook tends to be about 300,000-500,000 per week (on average). To buy that would cost a fortune, not to mention that the true cost of buying reach will probably increase now as paid reach won’t generate as much organic reach.”
Publishers have already seen a big decline in organic reach on Facebook in the last year, with some speculating that Facebook is purposely limiting organic reach so that brands have to pay more on the platform to promote their posts.
As John Battelle argued in article on Quartz, “You cannot fix Facebook without completely gutting its advertising-driven business model… [but] Facebook has gotten too big to pivot to a new, more “sustainable” business model.”
Resurgence of organic reach?
So if Zuck isn’t going to really fix Facebook anytime soon, is all hope lost for brands? Some marketers are feeling optimistic about the announcement.
Leila Fataar, former Head of Culture and Entertainment at Diageo and founder of Platform13, wrote in a post on LinkedIn, “Consumer advocacy is now key, now that posts from friends and family that spark meaningful interactions are ranked higher… us marketers MUST step up and create activity that resonates and matters to targeted communities.”
Scott Kleinberg, former Social Media Manager at the Chicago Tribune, wrote: “this [change] should, at least according to Zuck, mean a resurgence of organic reach. Building great conversation around a good story will help with distribution. That said, sponsoring/boosting content and building that same great conversation will do that much more.”
Shift towards private sharing
In the last two years, some brands have been closely following the trend of “dark social” and trying to track communications shared privately in messaging apps. Adidas, for example, experimented with WhatsApp to build hyper local communities in cities across the world.
Facebook has also addressed the shift towards private sharing, spending the last year developing "Groups" to focus on fostering community—the company’s new mission statement. New features such as “Groups for Pages” allow people who run Facebook Pages to create sub-groups within them and build more authentic conversations around stories and topics.
Over time, we'll see if Facebook returns to being a social network rather than a media company (sorry Zuck), but with more emphasis on community building and private sharing, the future doesn’t look so bleak for brands—especially the ones capable of sparking meaningful discussions.
Facebook’s algorithm change is a necessary step to promote social cohesion and make the platform less exploitative. But thinking that a public company will jeopardize its profitable business model for the well-being of its customers may sadly be a bit naive, but I'm sure time will tell.