Is Free Visibility On Facebook A Thing Of The Past?

It would appear that for most businesses, it’s only getting harder and harder to get your messages out to your fans. Remember the days when everybody was signing up for Facebook, and you had an ...
Is Free Visibility On Facebook A Thing Of The Past?
Written by Chris Crum
  • It would appear that for most businesses, it’s only getting harder and harder to get your messages out to your fans. Remember the days when everybody was signing up for Facebook, and you had an awesome free way of getting in front of your biggest fans on a daily basis? They’d “like” your page because they liked your brand, wanted to engage with your business or get deals when you had them to offer. A marketing dream come true. Unfortunately, that dream is over.

    Due to recent changes to Facebook’s News Feed algorithm, it’s just harder than ever to actually get your updates seen. Let’s not kid each other. It’s been getting harder for years, in general, but one of these latest changes was essentially Facebook’s version of the Panda update, except that it is likely even further reaching, and doesn’t have nearly as many guidelines for establishing what should be seen vs. what shouldn’t.

    Google takes into account a variety of factors related to trust, reputation, duplicate content, spelling and factual error, attempting to put out content just for ranking, general quality control, thoroughness, etc. When Facebook launched that update, the company said that the change was “mostly oriented around source,” but that over time, it could start “distinguishing more and more” between different types of content. But as I asked back then, when does Facebook ever do anything quickly? Are you one of the few that has seen that nearly year-old “new” News Feed yet? How about the inclusion of status updates in Graph Search announced back in September? No? Me neither.

    Facebook has, however, announced additional changes to the News Feed algorithm. After that initial Facebook “panda” update, Ignite Social Media put out a report finding that brands across sizes and industries were seeing a 44% decline in organic reach on average, with some seeing declines of up to 88%. Only one saw an increase.

    Facebook has since revealed further News Feed tweaks to show users less text status updates from Pages (like businesses and brands). The News Feed now treats text status updates from pages differently than ones from regular users. According to the company, it has seen that people write more status updates (9 million more per day on average) when their friends write status updates, but the effect is not the same with updates from Pages. Therefore, they’re not going to show text status updates from pages as much.

    “We are learning that posts from Pages behave differently to posts from friends and we are working to improve our ranking algorithms so that we do a better job of differentiating between the two types,” says News Feed ranking product manager Chris Turitzin. “This will help us show people more content they want to see. Page admins can expect a decrease in the distribution of their text status updates, but they may see some increases in engagement and distribution for other story types.”

    According to Turitzin, the best way to share a link on Facebook after the update is to use a “link share.” That means using the actual link option to share, as opposed to just including the link at the end of a text update.

    Facebook link shares

    But how much of a difference will it make compared to how well link shares were doing after that other update? We haven’t seen much difference. We’ve not encountered any evidence that links are magically getting any more visibility.

    Chat Wittman, founder of EdgeRank Checker wrote a blog post comparing sites that were seeing more and less organic reach in the News Feed. A page with reach on the decline posted mostly status updates, and asked for engagement frequently. One that saw in increase posted mostly photos and rarely asked for engagement.

    Wittman suggests focusing on engagement (which is different than calls to action asking for it), analyzing why fans click “like” on your content, avoiding those calls to action, avoiding memes, analyzing outbound links to see which sources are most well received, increasing post frequency and testing different times of day for different types of content.

    To the point of increasing frequency, this is actually something that Facebook has basically endorsed itself, by the way, though obviously it’s going to depend on just what you’re posting.

    By the way, just look at this graph from EdgeRank Checker showing the decline of organic reach:

    organic reach
    Image via Moz

    If there’s a sliver of good news to any of this, perhaps it’s that Facebook’s general strategy appears to be driving users away from just the News Feed, or at least to other ways of consuming Facebook in addition to it.

    Facebook has already begun putting out standalone apps. Other than Instagram, which it acquired rather than built, Messenger is it’s most popular one, but it just launched another one called Paper (a news reader).

    This is apparently just the beginning of a larger strategy which will see Facebook launching more of these apps to take up more of your phone (or tablet’s) homescreen. Users will tap into specific parts of Facebook. Want news? Go to Paper. Want to privately chat with a friend? Go to Messenger.

    It remains to be see what other apps exactly Facebook will reveal, but Mark Zuckerberg did recently indicate that Graph Search will be coming to mobile “pretty soon“. Perhaps this will be its own app. Either way, it will present new visibility opportunities (and challenges no doubt) for businesses.

    Graph Search has significantly improved the social giant’s search capabilities, but its potential is far greater than its current functionality. In addition to the aforementioned status update functionality, mobile is a huge part of what it could be – a way to find relevant content. Location is, of course, an extremely important signal in relevancy for some types of queries, and often those related to businesses.

    Josh Constine shares an interesting quote from Zuckerberg, talking about Messenger, but more generally about Facebook’s app strategy for this year:

    “The other thing that we’re doing with Messenger is making it so once you have the standalone Messenger app, we are actually taking Messenger out of the main Facebook app. And the reason why we’re doing that is we found that having it as a second-class thing inside the Facebook app makes it so there’s more friction to replying to messages, so we would rather have people be using a more focused experience for that.”

    A similar mentality could easily be applied to any other facet of Facebook. Apply it to Paper. With Paper, news is no longer a “second class citizen” to status updates or branded messages from Pages. Perhaps it’s only a matter of time before Facebook launches a standalone app that will cater more to Pages. How about simply a “Pages” app? Would anyone use it?

    We don’t know exactly how Facebook’s going to execute this strategy, but it’s possible that some of it will actually help Pages. Of course that would detract from the sweet “pay-to-play” deal they have going now, helping to line the corporate pockets with the dollars of businesses who just want to be seen. They’ve even got a new mobile ad network in the works, which would see Facebook ads appearing in third-party apps. What incentive do they have to give brands too much free visibility?

    But different standalone apps are going to mean new things for brands to consider. Look at Instagram. Brands have fully embraced that, and it’s turned into quite an impressive marketing tool for some of them.

    Image via Instagram

    You may be thinking, yeah, but this whole app strategy is just about mobile. What about the desktop? It’s true, none of this is going to do much to change how users behave with Facebook on the desktop. Users, however, are only using Facebook on mobile devices more and more. Facebook currently has more than 556 million mobile daily active users. That’s up 49% from a year ago. It has 945 million mobile monthly active users (up 39%).

    Can Facebook get better for brands that don’t want to shell out the ad dollars? I don’t know. Things don’t look great at the moment, but this increasing focus by the company on standalone mobile apps is going to be something to pay close attention to. Perhaps there will be some opportunities to make up some of the lost visibility among Facebook users that Facebook pulled away with its News Feed updates.

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