As I have made a bold statement, I have to start with an explanation that backs it up. I am sure you are familiar with the so-called Facebook algorithm. For those who are not: FB profiles and FB Pages alike are connected into a complex network of entities, and within this network, their importance – “weight” – is ranked. According to the rank, posts from entities compete in between each other for space in user’s newsfeed. Let’s assume I am a friend with Mark, Janice, Somchai, and fan of Manchester United and Emirates. I like Mark, as we are close friends, I like Somchai as he posts beautiful photos, I am a huge Reds fan, I kind of like Emirates, and in reality, I truly dislike Janice; yet for some reason, I keep her as a Facebook friend. As previously stated, all these entities (profiles/Pages) compete in between each other for my awareness and engagement. My awareness is expressed by Likes (and now couple emoticons), comments and shares, plus the negative actions (hide, unLike, unfollow, mark as spam) on Facebook. By these repetitive actions, Facebook will (secretly) rank the entities, let’s say in this order on the scale 1-10:
- Mark: 10
- Manchester United Page: 9
- Somchai: 7
- Emirates: 5
- Janice: 2
On a standard day, I will see posts from Mark, from Utd, from Somchai, from Emirates. Janice will become invisible. You can make a test for yourself – go to your profile, check your friend list and find the one from whom you haven’t seen a single posts for months. Found such profiles?
The ranking is dynamic, and related to not only individual yet network actions. Let’s say that Janice gives a birth to a lovely baby and is being congratulated by a major part of your social network on Facebook – her baby will most probably surface on your newsfeed and you will see the photos with cheerful comments by friends you share with of Janice. In similar way, when United announce the transfer of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, their ranking might increase to 10, shifting Mark to lower importance mark in your newsfeed score. As result of this mechanism, for years, Social Media managers have developed and used numerous tactics to get user engagement under their posts, even in cases it resulted in a bit of an awkward way of communication.
Well, until now.
Facebook have announced that from July onwards, United will not have ranking 10 nor 9. Their ranking will be artificially lowered to maybe 2, maybe 1, maybe 0. Yes, zero.
Manchester United Page, Emirates Page, your local bakery Page, your friend’s small business Page, Verizon, IBM, National Geographic, Coca Cola, Starbucks, Michael Jackson brand Pages… Zero.
As always, Facebook have gave a reasoning that is claiming "user experience protection" as the reason to cut off Pages from our newsfeeds: “Our top priority is keeping you connected to the people, places and things you want to be connected to — starting with the people you are friends with on Facebook. That’s why today, we’re announcing an upcoming change to News Feed ranking to help make sure you don’t miss stories from your friends.”
“Miss stories from your friends”. So Facebook has first created a mechanism – the ranking system – to keep our friends' posts we find uninteresting, just as the baby of Janice from the example above - out of our newsfeed, and as of now Facebook wants to put Janice back into our virtual life. To do so, they need to remove something from newsfeeds to make space. And what will it be? Page posts. Why would they want to do so? Because of greed. No user experience – greed.
Facebook sharing on personal level is nothing but dropping. Is especially dropping in the core of its user base – whereas South East Asia is still full of happy and engaged users, for American teenagers Facebook becomes just a standard part of their lives, as the excitement has gone away the day their mother joined it. Posting of original content dropped by nearly 25 % since last summer, and that’s 2 big problems in one package:
A weakness in the fight with Google, with Snapchat, (technically with Instagram, despite the fact that Zuckerberg bought it) with new categories such as semi-Social Media, semi-chat apps such as LINE or highly developed Chinese apps that are expected to expand to Western markets soon;
- Less personal posts = less personal data shared, less personal data shared = less targeting options for advertising systems = less precise targeting = smart advertisers looking for other options.
So the brains in Facebook HQ in Palo Alto got together and decided to tackle both problems with one move. They will artificially label content of Pages as less relevant, remove it from users’ newsfeeds, and will throw more personal content (personal data to engage with, thus giving away own personal data while doing so) to the game. As Facebook stated:
“The specific impact on your Page’s distribution and other metrics may vary depending on the composition of your audience. For example, if a lot of your referral traffic is the result of people sharing your content and their friends liking and commenting on it, there will be less of an impact than if the majority of your traffic comes directly through Page posts. We encourage Pages to post things that their audience are likely to share with their friends.”
and I can tell you right now that these nice PR words are nothing but a well-put lie. Facebook always explain the matter as if users are not engaging with your posts its your fault, as your are being boring. Zuckerberg's team always claim that a good content will make it through their rankings but it’s simply NOT TRUE. Whatever you will share on your or your client’s Page will be killed at its cradle by Facebook’s algorithms and THE ONLY WAY for your to deliver your post to at least reasonable part of your already acquired fan base will be Facebook ADVERTISING. Let me mention a brand name that I expect to ring a bell: FarmVille – I am sure you remember a huge success of this highly engaging game that used to be a showcase of stunning amounts of users converted into players, of virtual tractors bought for real money, and of viral and publishing mechanisms that worked seamlessly with Facebook – until Facebook didn’t need FarmVille anymore, and literally killed it by changing algorithms.
This bothers me for two reasons.
First reason – numerous new, unexperienced and desperate managers of Pages will start clicking on that button “BOOST” in order to get at least fraction of their previous reach (a study says it has recently dropped by 42 %) and engagement back, using only the most basic Facebook advertising options and increasing the price of Facebook ads for everyone. Beneficial solely for Facebook.
Second, more importantly: for my whole career and especially while being in command of the creatives and profile managers at Bamboo Labs, my team has always strived to create a content that was interesting, relevant, nice to read, view, watch. However, in the vast majority of cases, the sales message was in the background – it was more a content brought to you by a brand that branded content. It was content meant to create a personal bond, a reason to Like the Page, opportunity for the user to discover something new, something interesting about hotels, destinations, craft beer, bartending, legal & tax, bike riding, cosmetics… we kept the hardcore sales messages in the advertising system or wrapped once in a while into relevant and interesting packaging. Our rule for putting advertising money behind Facebook posts is:
- Does it have a chance to directly make money – link to website, invitation to a paid event, other types of sales & promotion?
- Does it link to a conversion point: subscription to newsletter, downloading virtual content/goods such as apps, brochures…?
- All others
Majority of standard branded Facebook posts are in the category no. 3. Promoting posts just to deliver them to their audience. Question now is: would we use client’s money to PAY THREE TIMES to be able to deliver such posts? Why three times?
- Paying for the fan base – Page Likes campaign. There is no other way how to build a fan base of reasonable size and relevance in 2016.
- Paying us for our work – for creating the content.
- Paying for overriding the Facebook algorithm that will take our well crafted content right when it’s posted – because they have decided to do so.
And because the answer is no: I wouldn’t pay, than the whole effort in creating the well prepared, interesting content goes to hell and we are left with hardcore advertising messages. In other words: if it doesn’t sell, do not support it with advertising – here is my concern number two: our Facebook newsfeeds will no longer will be a mix or friend’s posts and interesting posts from Pages, because advertisers will not be willing to pay to deliver this “soft”, interesting content to our newsfeed. Our newsfeed will become a mix of friend’s posts and sales messages. My future recommendation to business, if I am supposed to keep my personal integrity, would be “think of Facebook as about an advertising platform with outstanding targeting options that allows tracking and CPA model” and "development platform for apps that offer outstanding amount of personal data". Forget about “social connection” that Facebook praised several years ago, forget about “engaged audience”. Sure, creating a good content is still a very relevant thing to do – but in purely advertising terms. And to be honest, I am very, very sad about it.