The New Facebook Algorithm Brings Users Back to the Center. What Does This Mean for Marketers?

by Angela Yang

Facebook started 2018 with an announcement that it would change the algorithm that powers its News Feed to favor “meaningful interaction.” Its goal, they say, is to “bring people closer together” and to keep them connected.

The new algorithm change is one of many since Facebook debuted its News Feed in 2006. Many have been subtle tweaks, but this one seems like a bigger shift to protect users from engagement bait and false news. What’s behind this change? And what does it mean for marketers used to creating paid and organic Facebook strategies? It’s worth asking how this impacts where Facebook sits in the greater digital ecosystem.

How we got to now
Four factors have historically dictated how Facebook ranks content and ultimately what users do and don’t see in their Facebook experience: 1) inventory: content shared by followed/friended profiles and pages 2) signals: data points that dictate recency, story type and more 3) predictions: likeliness to engage and 4) scores: relevance of content.

All of these factors have often addressed the repeated rally cry from publishers and brands that Facebook should prioritize their content. Publishers and brands argue that this will “drive relevance” and increase “time spent” on Facebook, while creating “thumb-stopping and engaging content.” It’s no secret that Facebook has actively courted and paid major publishers for their content offering to make the platform undeniably sticky and a first choice for content and news consumption among a growing native social audience. The result has been an uptick of sponsored posts, video content and a pattern of unusually similar content themes and stories surfacing in the user’s experience.

Facebook is re-focusing on users over brands
What makes this new shift so different from algorithm changes past is that it may put more weight into peer-to-peer engagement, which would favor content from people over publishers and brands. This shift has publishers feeling the hurt. Facebook also isn’t trying to sugarcoat the news either, citing “user well-being” and a revisit to the company’s original mission of “connecting people” as the purpose of its strategy.  

From reports today, here’s what we can anticipate in the algorithm change:

  1. An uptick in content from friends and family in feed as FB reports users have actively asked for more of this content.
  2. Less emphasis on “passive” forms of content (like video) in the feed.
      • *Facebook is adamant about making the distinction that video in advertising will not be affected. Forms of LIVE video are less likely to be affected due to the nature of the tactic (if done well).
  1. Content directly consumed from pages will receive less distribution than content passed along from user to user.
  2. Long commentary will trump short commentary when it comes to identifying content that drives more meaningful interaction.
  3. Broader focus on the importance of “stories” that drive interaction among users regardless of content type.
  4. Increased smackdown of engagement and clickbait posts that ask for user interaction.

After a tumultuous year of fake news and social media reckoning, Zuck’s intent seems to revolve around the hypothesis that focusing on its users (again) is the pathway to a healthier platform and more positive experience. But really, it’s not just the algorithm change itself that should be making headlines, it’s the implications and unspoken agenda from Zuck that can only mean bigger transformations for Facebook’s partners, products and users in the new year.

What this means for marketers
All this begs the question, should marketers rethink their paid and organic Facebook strategies? And where does Facebook sit in the greater digital ecosystem? Given a shift in prioritizing interaction between users, some are predicting a hike in advertising costs and the continued decline of organic content plays for brands. Others? Minimal impact to what has already seemed to be the status quo.

Here’s what we’re making of the change:

  • Brands turn inward. We predict brands will have a careful second look at how they prioritize content partnerships, production and delivery. Brands will be challenged to tell more than stories to break through the feed. Publisher relationships will continue to be a part of the larger digital mix, but it will be a rough journey as marketers take stock and tighten the purse strings, reallocating efforts to create value-add experiences that inspire customer referral, advocacy and community building vs. distribution.
  • Earned exposure won’t die. It will live in LIVE moments. Brands will need to get smarter, savvier and more vested in earning interactions from its customers to drive the same paid media impact and efficiencies they did a year ago. The days of the traditional content marketing model: Post content > drive to site> take an action will be challenged with a strong emphasis on active vs passive content. Timing and speed to market will be more important than ever with an increased push for LIVE programming and “real-time” moments from brands to drive the RIGHT reaction vs A reaction from users in feed.
  • A new wave of brand ambassadorship and loyalty. If interaction and commentary between users is the key to distribution and visibility, it begs the question of how individuals and their networks can drive that reach. Micro-influencers have been hotly debated as the next wave of influential interaction, but it’s hard to ignore the cache and personal touch that can only be captured through a human point of view to drive peer interaction. We see marketers diversifying their arsenal of brand ambassadors and extending customer loyalty programs and rewards to include more social-based engagements. Social, more than ever, becomes a conduit for loyalty and advocacy.
  • More options, not fewer, for Facebook advertisers. No doubt Facebook has a plan to strengthen its brand partnerships and capabilities for creative, content, production and delivery. The options from a paid perspective will continue to evolve and gain sophistication and smaller brands with limited budgets will have a harder time carving out a share of voice, but marketers will be ready to provide a second opinion and pose the question, “What’s beyond the News Feed?”
Angela Yang

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