In November, Facebook warned businesses that more change was coming to its News Feed algorithm in January. This followed about a year of steady organic Page post reach decline for many of them.
The new changes demote posts Facebook deems too promotional. A lot of businesses feel a bit screwed by this as people often like their pages because they're interested in seeing that kind of stuff.
Do you think SMBs are getting the short end of the stick with Facebook's changes? Share your thoughts in the comments.
These are examples that Facebook used to illustrate the type of content it is referring to:
We spoke with Branndon Stewart, founder and CEO of online marketing firm OutboundEngine, about what the changes really mean for SMBs.
"It will become harder for SMBs to earn space in their customers' news feeds, and they may have to pay to reach the same number of people that they used to be able to reach for free," Stewart tells WebProNews. "But, it also means that when businesses do successfully land in the news feed, they'll have less competition and a greater share of the audience's attention. This change is important for the overall health of the Facebook ecosystem--a relevant and uncluttered news feed keeps users coming back. SMBs may not like the change, but the alternative is that users abandon Facebook and flock to the next social network, meaning yet another web property for business owners to manage."
Using Facebook effectively in light of the News Feed changes
"The most important thing a business owner can do to be successful on Facebook is share great content that followers find valuable," says Stewart. "That means a mix of original content, links to interesting third-party content, and meaningful offers from the business. Businesses shouldn't be posting the same thing over and over, and they certainly shouldn't be constantly selling at their audience."
"Don't forget that Facebook is a highly visual medium, so content should have a high level of professional polish--users expect to see beautiful photography and thoughtful design," he adds. "Finally, SMBs shouldn’t overlook Facebook's paid advertising platform. The costs are still reasonable (unlike Adwords), and the ability to target your message is unparalleled. The number of options available in the platform can be overwhelming, but business owners who take the time to understand it will find a big opportunity to get ahead of their competitors."
As we learned from a new BrightLocal study, SMBs aren't exactly shelling out a ton of money for their online marketing, and there are channels to consider beyond Facebook.
Is it still possible to reap significant marketing benefits from Facebook without paying?
"I view Facebook as table stakes for any business in 2015, like a website became in the late 90s," says Stewart. "If a potential customer is researching a company or product, they're highly likely to review the brand's Facebook page, and if there's nothing there, the brand sacrifices credibility. Even when customers want to limit brands' presence in their news feeds, when they visit their Facebook business pages, they expect a robust experience full of engaging content. So while the upside of non-paid Facebook marketing may have peaked, the downside of not having well-maintained social profiles only continues to grow."
This somewhat echoes comments Facebook made itself when discussing the News Feed changes.
“We know this change might raise questions about Pages and their role,” the company wrote in a blog post. “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,” Facebook said. “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.”
Is video on Facebook a must at this point? How can SMBs get the most out of Facebook videos?
Facebook has recently been touting its growth as a video provider. It says it’s increasingly seeing a shift towards visual content, especially with video, and that in just a year, the number of video posts per person has increased 75% globally and 94% in the U.S. Because of this, it says, the composition of News Feed is changing. The amount of video from people and brands in News Feed has increased 3.6x globally year-over-year. Since June, Facebook has averaged over a billion video views a day, and on average, over 50% of people who come to Facebook ever y day in the U.S. watch at least one video daily. 76% of people in the U.S. say they tend to discover the videos they do watch on Facebook.
Native Facebook video has actually become more popular than YouTube for posting videos to the social network as far as brands are concerned. According to a recent report from SocialBakers, brands on Facebook posted 20,000 more Facebook videos than YouTube videos last month.
"I think it's too early to call Facebook video a 'must,' and I always caution businesses against blindly chasing after every single internet marketing trend because they often don't have the resources to execute well," says Stewart. "Think of videos you've had a meaningful engagement with on Facebook. Is your business capable of delivering something similar? Or are you going to try to shoehorn in whatever video you happen to have laying around, or, worse, spend resources shooting a new video that delivers no value to your audience?"
"Facebook users and Facebook itself have high expectations for content quality, and video is often the hardest/most expensive content to deliver," he adds. "If you can't commit the resources to doing it right, you'll get better results with other forms of content."
How can businesses effectively use Facebook's new call-to-action feature?
Facebook recently gave businesses a new call-to-action feature, enabling them to include buttons on posts that let them encourage fans to take specific actions.
"One of the most basic concepts in online marketing is the funnel - what do you want a customer to do, and what steps to they need to take to get there?" says Stewart. "Facebook usually sits toward the top of the funnel, when potential customers are researching your business to decide if they like you, and those buttons are designed to get people to the next step."
"If the calls to action make sense for your business (e.g. 'Shop Now' is a natural fit if you're in ecommerce), then by all means give them a shot," he says. "But put thought into what happens at the next stage of the funnel. For example, don't send people who click 'Shop Now' to your home page, point them directly into your store instead. The same goes for the 'Contact Us' button - send them directly to a page with a prominent form so they have clear direction about what to do next. The golden rule is: when you ask a customer to take an action, make it seamless."
Facebook may have made a lot of changes that haven't been very kind to Pages, but recently it has also made some that could give businesses new opportunities. They may not directly make up for the lost organic reach, but there are new tools to work with, and Facebook is still a behemoth when it comes to referrals to websites.
Are you concerned about Facebook's News Feed changes? Please discuss.
Images via Facebook, SocialBakers