What does Facebook's algorithm update mean for marketers?

McKenzie Gregory

What does Facebook's algorithm update mean for marketers?

Once upon a time, companies created Facebook pages, and the people who followed those pages saw what those companies posted in their News Feeds.

Seems pretty intuitive, right?

Except there was one small problem. Companies started taking advantage of all that free, valuable marketing real estate by spamming their followers at every possible opportunity. It was the classic quantity-over-quality approach: Brands posted countless times every day, flooding the News Feeds that were, in theory, supposed to be filled with things Facebook users actually wanted to see. Understandably, the users didn't like it. 

So in the name of user experience, Facebook self-corrected with an update. 

And they haven't stopped since. Over the past twelve years, their team has steadily released algorithm updates to improve the News Feed—and with each update, marketers have adjusted their organic social strategy accordingly. When Facebook cracked down on promotional posts, marketers refocused their efforts by promoting valuable content instead. When Facebook decided to prioritize video, marketers found ways to weave that medium into their organic social strategies, too. 

See the full The Evolution of Facebook comic (Source: The Oatmeal) 

Organic reach continued to shrink, "pay to play" became the norm, yet we all kept trying to figure out how to satisfy the algorithm and actually reach the audiences we worked so hard to build. 


"News Feed FYI: Bringing People Closer Together"

Then, Facebook released the update to end all updates.

On January 11, 2018, Mark Zuckerberg announced a major revamp of Facebook’s News Feed algorithm that would prioritize content shared by friends and family and demote branded posts from publishers and businesses.

So what does that mean for us? Basically, the concept of Facebook as an organic content distribution channel is dead. To be fair, it's been coming for a while. While many marketers really do try to deliver value to their audiences through Facebook, the primary purpose of the channel isn't for people to interact with brands, it's for people to interact with each other. 

Still, it leaves marketers—especially those who have built significant audiences on Facebook – in a tricky position. What do we do now? Should we even bother with organic posting? Is there still value to be reaped from Facebook as a social channel?


Our team's reaction to the big announcement


What marketers can do in the aftermath

At this point, it doesn't seem like the best bet to abandon Facebook entirely.

For one thing, just having a company Facebook page helps with SEO. Plus, consumers expect you to be on Facebook, it helps lend credibility to your brand, and it serves as an important customer service touch point.  So considering the minimal effort it takes to post regularly, it's probably still worth having a professional-looking page populated with recent, quality updates. 

However, for those looking to actually generate ROI from Facebook, here are a few of the top recommendations we've seen from industry experts so far. 

1. Go all-in on paid social.

This one is probably the easiest way for marketers to adjust, though it may not be quite as easy on our budgets. Facebook has been nudging brands toward paid advertising for a while now, so chances are good that you're at least somewhat familiar with their ad platform. In lieu of organic posting for content, consider using paid placements to get your content in front of the right eyes. 

This also applies to video: Yesterday, The New York Times made a prediction that in light of the algorithm change, video ads will become a huge part of how users consume branded content on Facebook. 

2. Consider influencers and user-generated content. 

In a recent post on the Convince & Convert blog, their team recommended the following: 

"Right in the release, Facebook admits that posts from real people will take priority over posts from brands. This has been the case for a while but will become even more acute. The more you can encourage your actual customers to post on their personal page (and mention your business), the more likely you are to reach a decent audience." 

If you haven't already built a UGC discipline for your brand, now might be the perfect time to start. Word of mouth is a powerful thing, so use it to build a base of advocates that can help market for you. In the same vein, if you have the budget to invest in influencer marketing—and can find the right influencers to reach the people you actually want to reach—that's a viable option for getting around these Facebook changes, too. 


3. Use self-contained posts. 

Last week's Whiteboard Friday from Moz laid out a fantastic response to the current state of social.

Rand Fishkin of Moz talks about the current state of social media

Rand lays down some hard truths about the current state of social

If you have a few minutes to watch the full video, you absolutely should, but the gist was this: Social platforms want people to stay on social platforms. So if you want to achieve reach, use self-contained (i.e. no links) posts to elicit actual conversation among your followers. If you're on LinkedIn, for instance, you've likely seen these types of posts... 


Example of a self-contained LinkedIn post


Like them or not, there's a reason they clog up your feed: LinkedIn wants people to consume content on LinkedIn, not to hop off to another company's blog. So anything that keeps people hanging out on the platform talking to each other will win out in their algorithm. Apply this strategy on Facebook, and you'll be surprised how many more of your followers you can reach organically, even among all these changes. 

A word of warning, though: It HAS to be real conversation. Facebook will automatically demote what they call engagement-bait posts (Think "Comment for a chance to win!" or "Tag a friend!"), even if you're technically generating likes and comments. 


4. Refocus your efforts on the channels you CAN control.

As an ESP, obviously we're going to be the first to suggest email marketing as an alternative to social media marketing. But that doesn't mean it isn't a valid (and arguably better) option. For one thing, according to Salesforce, 77% of consumers prefer email over social media for permission-based promotional messages.

Secondly, as the Wizard of Moz said in that Whiteboard Friday video: 

"I would rather have an email or a loyal visitor or an RSS subscriber than I would 100 times as many Twitter followers because the engagement you can get and the value that you can get as a business or as an organization is just much higher." – Rand Fishkin 

These days, reliable reach—the ability to know your message is actually getting in front of your audience—is everything. And email is one of the few channels that offer that to marketers. This Facebook announcement may be just the leverage you need to convince the stakeholders in your organization to finally invest in email, both from a budgetary and manpower perspective.  

The biggest takeaway from this news 

Digital marketing is constantly changing. Today it's Facebook, tomorrow it will be SEO for voice search and augmented reality. We have to keep up... but that's what makes our jobs fun, right?

So rather than freaking out about the latest hurdle, let's keep coming up with creative solutions for our problems and find new ways to deliver value to our audience across channels. We'll try our best to live up to that challenge, and we hope you will, too!


About the Author

McKenzie Gregory

McKenzie Gregory is a senior content manager on Emma’s marketing team. A Nashville native, she can be found covering all things email on the Emma blog, debating hyphenation rules, and watching obscene amounts of Netflix without a trace of shame.

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