When it comes to Facebook, it’s time to put up or shut up

Recent changes to Facebook’s Edgerank algorithm have got a lot of people up in arms. Yet again, the social sky is falling. And yet again, I’m here to be the voice of reason.

I was lucky enough the other week to be in a room with some of the Facebook global team where the change to the algorithm was discussed, so here’s my take on it all.

A lot of people are saying the change in algorithm combined with the introduction of promoted posts is designed to make brands spend more on paid media to prop up Facebooks revenue and share price. News flash. Brands always did have to spend money on paid media in order to build and maintain a successful community.

Facebook says the main reason for the algorithm change is to ensure people’s newsfeeds are filled with the most interesting and relevant content for them. This makes sense. They have a billion customers that they need to keep happy. We’ve all missed that important/exciting status update from a friend because our newsfeed is full of posts from brands that we liked years ago, no longer interact with but are too lazy to unlike.

The impact of this change which was made on 20 September has been significant for those pages that aren’t supported with paid media spend. In some instances we’ve seen reach per status update drop by as much as 24 percentage points. For those pages that are supported by always on paid media, the impact has been minimal.

The good news is engagement rates—particularly virality—have doubled, if not tripled. This also makes sense. If Facebook is showing status updates to fewer people, but those people are the ones most likely to engage, then of course engagement rates will increase.

What Facebook has done is nothing new. Take search as an example. You can put a lot of resource into SEO and use organic search to reach a small group of people who are likely to engage with your brand and not spend a cent on media. Or you can extend your search strategy using media budget to buy paid search placements that extend your reach to a much broader—but arguably less interested—audience knowing that at least some of them will engage.

Facebook is no different. Focus on your conversation strategy and you’ll engage with a small group of brand loyalists. Invest in paid media and you’ll extend your reach to a broader, but less engaged, audience.

There are plenty of articles out there on how brands should respond to these changes. Here’s what I think:

  1. Differentiate between reach and engagement. Your conversation calendar drives engagement, your paid media drives reach and growth. If you aren’t supporting your page with paid media, you shouldn’t have reach or growth KPIs.
  2. Engagement is now critical. If you can’t support your page with paid media, then you will need to build interactivity (like, comment, share, vote) into your status updates. This will ensure those you are reaching remain engaged, and when you hit that sweet spot with a post that gets great interaction rates your reach will extend to your wider fanbase.
  3. Treat your Facebook page like paid search. Have an always on media budget and upweight when you are in campaign. Buy reach through promoted posts and sponsored stories, but stick to targeting fans only and don’t promote every single status update. Just pick the ones that are most important, engaging and on-brand—and make sure they encourage interaction. 
  4. Consider your conversation calendar as your engagement strategy. Don’t just turn to building an app for everything. Think about whether you can use interactive conversation to achieve your objectives, or put your app development budget into creating other forms of content.
  5. Integrate your conversation calendar and your paid media schedule. If these are managed by two different people, tell them to get together regularly and plan how one can support the other to deliver the best possible result for the brand.

Brands have had it pretty good on Facebook. They’ve been able to build substantial communities of consumers and been able to engage with them like never before without huge investment. As a result the playing field has been levelled and small brands can be just as powerful as their bigger competitors. 

So if brands want to continue to harness the power of Facebook, it’s time to put up. Put up the time. Put up the effort. And put up resources—both human and financial—that are needed to make this channel a success.

  • Polly Williams is a senior digital strategist at PHDiQ. This post originally appeared on the PHDiQ blog.

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