In news that always sends a shiver through the collective spines of the social media fraternity, Facebook recently announced another algorithm update. This one took aim at third party apps that post on behalf of users – Facebook has found that people aren’t particularly fond of getting updates like ‘Jim reached Level 6 of Viking Quest’, so they revised their system to have it downgrade the importance of such posts. This is obviously a very specific industry segment, so the overall impact is minimal, in relative terms, but it was still enough to spook alot of people, the impacts of ‘recachocalyspe’ still weighing heavily on marketers’ minds (even HootSuite had to send out an update informing users that their system was not affected by the change). Facebook’s decision to alter brand reach has caused many to re-asses their social media strategy, seeking ways to mitigate the impacts and work within the new rules. But working with them has proven difficult – Upworthy notably suffered a 46% decline in traffic following the algorithm update. And with the constant spectre of another update looming, many are now asking: ‘is Facebook still worth the effort?’
By Weight of Numbers…
Facebook is, by far, the world’s most popular social network. A listing which circulated recently showed a comparison of social media network populations (by user profiles) against the populations of real world nations. Facebook came in third, highlighting it’s immense market penetration. There’s no question of Facebook’s dominance, no doubt about the influence the social giant has, given it’s place in the modern communications landscape. And given those numbers, there’s no way marketers are going to ignore it, though the decision to reduce brand reach has definitely caused a change in thinking – if for every hundred ‘Likes’ you gain, you’ll only be reaching ten of those people, at most, the next time you post an update, the return on investment gets pretty cloudy. So what’s the answer? Pay for reach? Post more regularly? It’s a new way of thinking, a different way of considering how you utilise the platform. It’s not the same as it was at the same time in 2013.
What is Facebook Now?
This is the question many are trying to answer – What is Facebook? Where are we at in Zuckerberg’s grand plan? The ultimate ambition for Facebook is to ‘connect the world‘, and the company’s recent acquisition of WhatsApp definitely aligns with that, giving more people access to the expanding Facebook empire. The secondary goal, which has only arisen in recent times, is for Facebook to become a ‘personalised newspaper’ – the News Feed would be your one-stop source of news and information, incorporating updates from family and friends in amongst headlines from the news providers you provide. But the company has to make money too – ads are always going to be a part of the Facebook eco-system, and it’s advanced marketing options (enhanced recently by the addition of ‘Audience Insights’) show that Facebook is working to create a co-operative environment for brands, providing unmatched consumer data to help deliver your message to those most receptive to it. But you’ll have to pay to get it. The new algorithmic model changes the game – that which they’d once provided brands for free – reach to all their Facebook fans – now comes at a cost, that cost being either paid targeting or investment in improved content to achieve better organic reach. And better content doesn’t come with any guarantees – it’s a science all of its own, one which requires audience analysis and a dedicated effort to provide content that will best resonate with your target consumers. But in some respects, isn’t that the way it should be?
Don’t Hate the Platform, Hate the Game
This has been Facebook’s counter-argument – if you’re providing value, working to understand your audience and give them what they want, then you’ll remain relevant to them and continue to gain reach through organic process. Sure, the algorithm change makes it harder, but it’s up to brands to pay more attention to their audience and maintain relevance in their world – and really, that should be the aim of all businesses anyway, understanding your audience, solving their problems, being such an important part of their day to day lives that they can’t help but continue to engage with your content. Google uses the same argument with SEO – if you’re providing relevant, quality content and people are sharing it, then you’ll rank better in search engine results. While the core principle is correct, it does mean that businesses need to invest more time into monitoring and analytics. Realistically, they’ll need to do this anyway, given the continual shift in overall consumer process. And that being the case, working with Facebook doesn’t seem so bad. Different, but not the end of the world – not the end of organic reach as we know it. But then, of course, not everyone has the resources available to do this.
Is Facebook still useful for marketers? Honestly, it depends on your audience. If you’re a B2B and Facebook’s never been a significant part of your marketing mix, it’s probably not going to become one in the near future and you’d be best focussing your efforts elsewhere. But if Facebook is a key platform, as it is for many small to medium B2C companies in particular, then it’s definitely worth taking the time to learn Facebook Insights and the new Audience Insights tool – if Facebook’s where your audience is, that’s where you need to be. There’s an amazing amount of data available and it is possible to develop a strategy to maintain good organic reach, working with your audience and seeing what resonates best. Paid options also provide great opportunities – just be aware that getting more ‘Likes’ is now only one part of the reach process. Getting likes and shares remains a constant challenge with every post, every update. If you do your research, learn where your audience is and what they respond to, you can work with the new algorithm to keep seeing results from the platform. But you need to take the time, you need to utilise the data, and you need to understand that, like all social platforms, your results will correlate with the time you invest into it.