Facebook’s move to revamp content algorithm & what it means for brands

Facebook has decided to drastically change their newsfeed algorithm. The move is aimed at reducing the Facebook ads and post from various publishers and marketers and stay true to what it was created for – connecting friends and families from anywhere across the world, over the virtual network. The news has created quite a flutter in the business world, which has been utilising the platform for social media engagement and brand promotions.

Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg in a public post wrote that users would see a lot less posts from business pages and more content from their friends and family, which is what Facebook was created for. The reason behind this shift is the constant public reaction towards the posts from brands that hindered the user interaction space on the platform, leading to a dip in the user base from 36 billion per month to 31 billion per month, according to Similar Worldwide Data. As per a comScore report, the unique users came down from 131 million to 124 million users in the February-November 2017 period – a number staggering enough for Facebook to rethink its strategy.

Arnab Mitra
Arnab Mitra

According to Arnab Mitra, Managing Director, Liqvd Asia, the algorithmic changes are aimed at bringing a change in the users’ Facebook wall and what they see more frequently. However, businesses would be affected on the implementation of the plan as watch time would decrease. While organic sharing has been considered inactive for a while now for most brands, Mitra felt that this move could also a recipe for disaster for Facebook.

Zuckerberg in his post affirmed that Facebook’s objective was not only to surface “relevant content” for its 2 billion users, but also to prioritise meaningful social interactions that benefit them.

He added, “We built Facebook to help people stay connected and bring us closer together with the people that matter to us. But recently we’ve gotten feedback from our community that public content – posts from businesses, brands and media – are crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other.”

Zuckerberg’s goals for 2018 include ensuring that “time spent on Facebook is time well spent”, it will be a “serious year of self-improvement” for Facebook, where the core objective will be about “learning from working to fix our issues together”.

The primary objective to bring in these elementary algorithmic changes is to effectively connect the content that sparks a conversation rather than focussing on the number of people who react to, comment on, or share posts on various business driven posts. According to Zuckerberg, the changes are focussed at increasing “meaningful interactions” and reduce “passive consumption of low-quality content, even if it decreases some of the engagement metrics in the short term”.

As Indian companies also foresee a tectonic shift in their ongoing social media engagement and digital marketing strategies, there is a wave of mixed reactions amongst various Indian media players, brands and agencies. Arnab Mitra feels that while more businesses will continue to fight to be seen in the newsfeed, publishers should expect the cost of advertising on the platform to drastically increase. “Poorly performing ad sets, a result of bad creative, poor copy or irrelevant targeting will also lead to a bigger hole in their advertising budgets,” he added.

Click-bait and the effort to spread paranoia isn't going to work as Facebook is going to prioritise personally "meaningful" interactions, and not the volume of interactions. The planned change will affect the content that gets people to interact and comment more, which will increase, but engagement-bait might even be penalised. This is a clear indication for marketers, who will now have to chalk out a different strategy to get people to take interest in what they have to say, without giving away freebies or asking people to enter a contest.

Abdullah Basha
Abdullah Basha

Providing a different point of view, Abdullah Basha, Co-founder, Social Frontier, believes that, “This is a long overdue algorithm update. We had already advised our clients/users that a Facebook algorithm update is on the cards, we were just waiting to get the specifics from the social media giant. If the latest Facebook algorithm update actually works the way the company claims, that is, giving more weightage to people-to-people interactions, this could very well be the best thing that has happened to Facebook, the audience and even marketers. This is because now marketers will have to get smarter in designing and developing content that foster “real interactions” as opposed to those created for a passive “Like” or an “Emoji”. We believe this will help brands/publishers reach out to an audience that really matters to them – working very similar to the line of word-of-mouth marketing, but on a digital platform.”

He further observed, “Once the update rolls out, we might see a reduction in the “reach” of posts, but the quality of posts and the audience that these posts bring in through interactions (for the brand/publisher) will definitely improve. While some brands or publishers that relied heavily on creating Facebook content purely for ‘virality’ might get affected, we believe this algorithm update is a good evolution that’ll help Facebook, the general audience and marketers in the long run.”

Anand Bhaskaran
Anand Bhaskaran

While taking into consideration the point of the brand utilising Facebook, Anand Bhaskaran, Manager, Digital Marketing, bigbasket, commented, “The implication is that the rate of growth of ad inventory on Facebook will decrease. Assuming that demand for ads grows faster than inventory supply, we can expect CPMs (cost per 1,000 impressions) to increase. What is not clear is the extent to which ad inventory will decrease and, therefore, the expected increase in CPMs. We'll just have to wait and watch in order to understand this.”

He added, “Another key point in Facebook’s press release is that they will promote posts that generate genuine (as opposed to what they call "engagement-bait") conversation among people. Therefore, I would expect that over time, marketers will emphasise on ‘conversation-worthy’ rather than just ‘thumb-stopping’ creatives. From a pragmatic, day-to-day perspective, marketers will just have to try different creatives/posts to figure out what ‘conversation-worthy’ means in practice. Over time, Facebook’s ads team will gain a better understanding of what types of creatives work better under the new newsfeed algorithm and will share new creative best practices. Until then, the best thing to do is experiment and figure out what type of creatives work.

Hemant Jain
Hemant Jain

What this means for news publishers

Sharing his point of view, Hemant Jain, Senior Executive VP, Lokmat Media, said, “The algorithm changes will almost certainly affect ad-supported media companies, who extensively depend on Facebook for user traffic and have built a strong bond with readers and viewers through other means. Emphasis will be on creating content that encourages community connection. Focus on the core, quality and credibility of news to initiate some of the most meaningful interactions between people both online and offline. Live videos often lead to discussion among viewers on Facebook and on average get six times as many interactions as regular videos. In future, news publishers will need to necessarily have an ‘FB Live Plan’ as part of their Facebook content and marketing strategy.”

“During the recent times, in India, Facebook has initiated aggressive programs to encourage media publishers to create and distribute video on Facebook, which in my view will need to be re-thought basis how these changes impact the overall outcome. The ‘engagement-bait’ approach practised by many publishers to goad people into commenting on posts will no longer be winners. The shift is definitely back to a ‘Value’ play from what was emerging as a volume play. In the New Order, the ownership is on us - Let’s stay true, let’s make news (content) an experience, ‘credible & relevant’ to users, that they find it worthy to ‘Share' with friends, and discuss with others through comments and messages and in the process get picked up by the Facebook algorithm worthy for a wider reach,” Jain added.

Manish Kumar
Manish Kumar

Presenting a contrarian view, Manish Kumar, CEO and Co-Founder of Digi Osmosis, commented, “Firstly, I disagree that FB is showing less of publisher posts because it has started showing more of friends and family posts. Publisher posts have fallen because more and more of sponsored and advertiser posts are being shown to users. Also, preferences are being given to publishers who are publishing FB’s native Insta article as they are faster to access and more convenient for FB users. FB is a commercial platform listed in the stock exchange and they heavily focus on their users and profits. They first attracted brands to start their fan pages as the audience/ prospective consumers were on FB, then made the same brands and publishers spend money to garner the fan base and now making them spend to reach their own fans whom they acquired at a huge advertising cost. However, it’s still one of the most targeted paid media available with accurate targeting and least wastage. Smart publishers flourished and grew before FB and will do so even today. Too much dependency on any platform is dangerous, but time and planning gives solutions.”

“Editorial innovation, faster and more optimised websites, better SEO, better usage of other digital platforms for promotions and distribution, collaboration between publishers, syndication, etc. will help. As for now, a lot of them are badly affected," he added.

Harshil Karia
Harshil Karia

Harshil Karia, Managing Director, Schbang, opined, “I think this is Facebook going back to the basics. It's always been about connecting with your friends. So, the move comes as no surprise. It’s also in line with Facebook announcing earlier that they'd be de-prioritising brand posts. Publisher posts have anyway seen a fall in reach over the last few months. With respect to brands, most brands have anyway started moving away from using Facebook as a 'daily conversation' medium and focussing on it as a reach medium backed by spends. So, I don’t see then fretting or being impacted too much. What I do expect is that content with general virality that has true shareability will be more visible within consumer feeds.”

Sanjay Mehta
Sanjay Mehta

“Obviously it is a very big of news for brands and publishers,who have been using Facebook extensively, and now this move of Facebook will make it harder for brands and publishers to get their required visibility on the news feed,” remarked Sanjay Mehta, Joint CEO, Mirum India. He added, “This is a big shift for them from an advertising point of view. Though advertising will still be there, but with lesser visibility now, besides the cost per reach will be more with the changing cost dynamics of Facebook. Also, what finally works here is good content and good engagement and not just posting ads that people don’t connect with. Brands will be forced to think in terms of good content and making it more relevant. This means more hard work for agencies and brands and not sticking to just rampant carpet bombing that brands often end up doing.”

At the same time he felt that it was not really about going back to basics, but an evolution of the medium. “Facebook obviously needs to think of it as if it allows the trend of brands clustering messages left right and centre to continue. It will make the platform less popular amongst the users as the younger population is already getting drawn away to Snapchat and other mediums. Facebook does not want to alienate its very loyal user base and so should ensure that the platform remains popular with the user base and that is why these evolutionary steps are being taken. On the other hand, from the brands’ point of view, they would have to put in hard work in terms of being more strategic about their brand campaigns and communication. This will open opportunities for other platforms also for the brands to try them. Google can benefit from this, but there is also a huge element of very accurate targeting through programmatic media as Facebook’s strength is that it was able to offer user based targeting. Facebook’s loss would be programmatic media’s gain as well,” Mehta pointed out.

Gozoop, an Indian digital media agency, recommends that brands need to be very selective about their daily posts and their frequency. The suggestive list also includes smartly using paid media for the content to reach its audience, publish more live videos as they generate discussion amongst users, smartly convince community to select ‘See First’ preference for the page, craft posts that make people interact with each other in the comments, not schedule posts from their blog, and refrain from using engagement-bait as Facebook will penalise it.

Prasad Shejale
Prasad Shejale

Prasad Shejale, Co Founder & CEO, Logicserve Digital, noted, “Facebook has long displayed concern over the decline in ‘organic sharing’ and the platform is getting dominated by publishers, brands, and the worst culprits are those who want to promote fake news and also manipulate people’s vulnerability to provoke outrage. The Facebook platform has been heavily criticised for misleading news and influencing the US elections and also for negatively influencing people regarding their social lives and well-being.”

Mark Zuckerberg has pledged to devote 2018 to “fixing” Facebook, and the current algorithm update involving News Feed is definitely a step towards Facebook’s mission to bring people closer together and build relationships. The changes to the platform will enhance user experience and make it more useful.

“If the platform remains relevant for people to connect, interact and share within their social circles, then those who use the platform passively will turn into more active users on Facebook. This will help build and nurture social interactions and relationships with positivity. I personally feel that the move is good for individuals and thus, eventually good for genuine brands who provide relevant, share-worthy content. This will enhance their brand value and loyalty further,” Shejale remarked.

He further added, “The change has ramifications for publishers who heavily depend on Facebook for content dissemination. In countries where the explore feed experiment took place, some journalists reported readership halving overnight as a result of them disappearing from most social media feeds. But, as I mentioned earlier, now only good, relevant and genuine content will be shared and discussed by the larger active audience.”

Echoing similar sentiments, most of the industry observers, players and brands see this algorithmic shift as an evolutionary step for the platform users. However, this also means that brands and agencies need to develop a different course of action, a different algorithm for themselves for branding and brand promotions on Facebook while also adopting newer popular platforms to build consumer connect.

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