Brands have been feeling the sting of deflated organic reach for their Facebook Pages all year, and late on Friday, Facebook announced another blow to those posting promotional content. Long story short, if you post the type of content that Facebook's algorithm thinks is too promotional, you're going to take a hit.
Can Facebook's algorithm get this right? Let us know what you think.
Facebook says it asked hundreds of thousands of people how they feel about the content in their News Feeds, and that people told them they wanted to see more stories from friends and Pages they care about, and less promotional content. I doubt that the results would have been a lot different, but I can't help but wonder why they didn't ask more than "hundreds of thousands," considering they have over a billion users. We're talking a pretty small percentage here.
"We dug further into the data to better understand this feedback," the company said. "What we discovered is that a lot of the content people see as too promotional is posts from Pages they like, rather than ads. This may seem counterintuitive but it actually makes sense: News Feed has controls for the number of ads a person sees and for the quality of those ads (based on engagement, hiding ads, etc.), but those same controls haven’t been as closely monitored for promotional Page posts. Now we’re bringing new volume and content controls for promotional posts, so people see more of what they want from Pages."
See what they did there? They said "so people see more of what they want from Pages". That almost sounds like a good thing for Pages. Of course that's unlikely to be the case.
Examples of things Facebook says make content feel too promotional include posts that "solely push people to buy a product or install an app," "push people to enter promotions and sweepstakes with no real context," and "reuse the exact same content from ads."
These are the examples of posts Facebook uses to illustrate the type of stuff it's talking about:
The changes will take affect in January, when Facebook says people will start seeing less of this type of content in their News Feeds.
"As we’ve said before, News Feed is already a competitive place – as more people and Pages are posting content, competition to appear in News Feed has increased," Facebook said. "All of this means that Pages that post promotional creative should expect their organic distribution to fall significantly over time."
The company also noted that the changes won't affect the number of actual ads people see in their News Feeds. It says the majority of Pages won't be impacted by the change.
Facebook wrote a blog post (separate from the main announcement) about what the changes mean for businesses. Businesses, it says, should still refer to Facebook's Page publishing tips and best practices, and go the ad route for "targeting specific audiences with predictable reach".
"We know this change might raise questions about Pages and their role," Facebook wrote. "Pages still matter — a lot. They offer a free, easy-to-maintain online presence for people to discover and learn about a business. They work across desktop, mobile and tablets without requiring any extra configuration, and contain complete information about a business. They also offer tools to create videos, photos and events that bring a business’ story to life."
"What many businesses may not realize is that Pages are an important destination for their current and potential customers," it added. "In October, for instance, nearly a billion people visited Facebook Pages. Of those visits, more than 750 million happened on mobile devices. Many businesses also use Pages as a customer service channel. Businesses should think about their Page as a cornerstone of their online identity, not simply as a publishing service. The businesses that are doing this well understand the discovery and communication that happens when people come to their Page."
The company also said it's increasing its investment in Pages, and is exploring ways to build more features into them. This includes ways to customize them based on industry, similar to how it already rolled out menu sections for restaurant Pages.
Facebook's algorithm changes bring up questions about just how well the algorithm will be able to determine the quality of a post in terms of how promotional or spammy it is. The company revealed how unsophisticated its algorithm was in terms of determining quality back when it made other quality-based changes. Hopefully it's improved significantly since then.
John McDermott at DigiDay brings up another pretty good point. Facebook has long "blurred the lines between ads and content, choosing euphemisms for its ad products like 'sponsored stories.'"
Some Pages look at how posts perform before deciding whether or not to promote them in the first place, so holding back reach of promotional posts will obviously have a direct impact on that.
In other Facebook for business news, the company is reportedly working on a Facebook at Work product.
Do you think Facebook is making the right move? Will this have a significant impact on brands? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Image via Facebook