As noted by Facebook’s chief product officer Chris Cox to Bloomberg – and re-affirmed by Mark Zuckerberg himself in this week’s Facebook full-year results announcement – Facebook’s ‘Reactions’ emoji toolbar will be available to all users soon. For those unaware, ‘Reactions’, which The Social Network announced back in October, is a way to give Facebook users the ability to respond to posts with something other than ‘Like’. The typical use-case of Reactions was explained by Zuckerberg at one of his regular Town Hall Q & A events last year:
“Not every moment is a good moment – if you share something that’s sad, like a refugee crisis that touches you or a family member passes away, it may not be comfortable to like that post… I do think it’s important to give people more options than liking it.”
For a long time, Facebook users have called for a ‘dislike’ option, but Facebook has (rightly) deemed that too negative and a tool that could lead to a lesser user-experience. Their alternative solution was to develop a toolset which utilises the rising trend of emoji, as well as the most common, one-word responses used across Facebook’s network, to create a set of emoji-type responses which people will be able to use in place of the traditional ‘thumbs up’.
Those emoji responses, based on Facebook’s data, have been refined down to:
In their first iteration, there was also another option:
But initial testing among users in Spain and Ireland found that ‘Yay’ was often misunderstood – and really, it’s largely redundant either way, given users already have ‘Like’ and ‘Love’ as options.
In application, when a user clicks/taps and holds on ‘Like’, a new pop-up will appear from which they’ll be able to choose a ‘Reaction’ that best fits their response.
So what do these new options mean for marketers? In a word: insight.
Some Facebook Pages already have a graph like the below, ready to track data from Reactions use within their Page Insights:
It’s evident from this that Facebook sees analytical and insight value in Reactions, and they’re giving Page owners the tools to track them, straight up – though interestingly, Facebook’s also made a point of noting that any ‘Reaction’, at least initially, will be measured as equivalent to a ‘Like’ in their system. So if someone clicks on your Facebook ad and selects ‘angry’ in response, that’ll actually increase the likelihood of them being shown more of the same content, because any reaction is counted as a ‘Like’, and within Facebook’s algorithm, likes are indicative of preference. While it’s understandable that Facebook wouldn’t necessarily have a way to measure the true value of Reactions in the early stages of their roll-out, the measurement of a Reaction as a Like does raise an interesting query – if a user tags their response to something as ‘Angry’, does that mean they want to see more or less of that type of content?
This is where the complexity of Reactions comes into play – what do those responses mean, in terms of audience interest and intent? And then, how will marketers be able to use that insight to better refine and maximize their content? This’ll be a big focus for social media marketing types over the next 12 months, and the only definitive way to establish what each Reaction means will come via experience and use. And even then, different Pages are going to see different results – a news service might see better engagement when they post content that generates more ‘Angry’ responses (as it’ll get more people talking about the topic, and thus, generate more reach), but then a brand selling natural soaps might see better website visits and conversion rates with posts which inspire more ‘Like’ or ‘Love’ reactions.
The only way to know for sure is through experimentation. The goal of all content is to generate an emotional response – emotion drives the majority of our responses after all (particularly in regards to purchases), so it makes sense, by extension, that having further insight into a users’ emotional responses to our content can only help inform our marketing decisions. But exactly what each response means, in a wider context, can only really be ascertained by seeing how it’s used across that expanded scope.
This is the same with all of Facebook’s data – one person deciding to ‘Like’ a Page in response to a post has little meaning in itself, but 1,000 people following the same path indicates a trend. When you extrapolate that across Facebook’s now 1.59 billion users, you can start to get an idea of how valuable even the simplest action might be, because it’s matched up against trillions of other data points and processes, and it’s in that wider sample size that genuine insight takes shape.
In this sense, the only way to know how valuable Reactions will be for marketers is to examine the data after they’ve been implemented and look for usage patterns and correlations. And they will be there. More data – especially more emotional data – can only be beneficial.
And at some stage, you may just find that Reactions data is able to highlight insights that would have never been discernible via Likes alone. Powerful, indeed.
After much speculation, Facebook’s Instant Articles are here. Instant Articles gives publishers the opportunity to post their content direct to Facebook, in a move that some are proclaiming as ‘selling their soul’ to the social giant. The concern, given Facebook’s history of changing the ground rules, is that while the initial offering from Facebook on Instant Articles is good, the other shoe will eventually drop once the process has become embedded and publishers are reliant on the new practice. Like Darth Vader, the expectation is that Facebook will alter the deal, and once it’s become a key part of publishers’ overall strategy, they’ll be left with no choice but to simply pray that Facebook doesn’t alter it any further.
How does it work?
Instant Articles translates publisher content via HTML and RSS into good looking, easy to consume content, available direct on Facebook. There’s also a range of additional publishing options exclusive to the new platform to boost the presentation of content in the News Feed, things like auto-play video and interactive maps, all of which will function smoothly within Facebook’s mobile news feed. It’s worth noting that Instant Articles are only available via the mobile app right now – trying to access the same content on your desktop PC will take you to the normal, mobile web version of the article (though Facebook specifically notes ‘for the moment’ as a qualifier on this).
Instant Article posts load much faster than normal links, which is one of the major pain points Facebook is seeking to resolve with this option. The average mobile load time for an external link from Facebook is around eight seconds. Now, that seems like nothing, right? Eight seconds isn’t long to wait for an article to come up, but on a wider scale, when you consider how many people are using Facebook each day, that time is significant. Facebook has 936 million daily active users, if each of those users opens just one link per session, that eight seconds load time equates to more than two million total hours that people around the world are waiting, each day, for posts to load – time those people could be spending doing other things. Like reading more content on Facebook. From that perspective alone, Facebook’s move has a significant pay-off, even if they maintain the current ad revenue split, which, at present, looks pretty appealing for publishers.
How do publishers make money?
One of the biggest concerns about publishers posting first-run content direct to Facebook was that they’d be surrendering their own audience in favour of Facebook’s. If people no longer need to visit your site to view content, that’s going to result in less traffic, and by extension, less opportunity to monetize your audience. Facebook’s worked to alleviate this by offering publishers the ability to display their own ads within their Instant Articles, with all revenues from any such ads going back to the publishers. Facebook will then fill any unsold ad spots, and will take a 30 per cent cut from any revenues generated by those ads, with the rest going back to the publishers.
Facebook has also worked with comScore to ensure Instant Article views within Facebook’s app will count as traffic for the original publisher, not Facebook. So while publishers are ceding control to The Social Network, they’re getting a pretty good deal on advertising and losing nothing in audience stats. Facebook will also provide performance data on Instant Articles, better enabling publishers to work out what’s resonating best with their Facebook audience and make improvements.
Sounds like a pretty good deal, right? And considering many publishers are already significantly reliant on Facebook referral traffic anyway, partnering with the network via Instant Articles makes sense, as it’s likely (despite Facebook saying this is not the case) that Facebook’s algorithm will give preferential treatment to Instant Articles over other posting options. Though that, too, is where publishers hesitate in shaking Facebook’s outstretched hand and look down at the feet to see if their standing on the trap door.
What’s The Issue with Instant Articles?
The problem with Facebook’s new option is not what Instant Articles are now, but what they may become. Major players posting direct to Facebook is a fundamental shift in the publishing process. While, right now, the deal looks good, and it seems as though Facebook has done a lot of negotiating with their launch partners to ensure the deal beneficial for all, as with the many changes to the News Feed algorithm, Facebook has the right to change the game whenever it sees fit.
If publishers don’t sign up to Instant Articles, will that see eventually their content de-emphasised by the algorithm, making it harder to reach potential audience on the platform? If Instant Articles are given preferential placement in the News Feed, will that further reduce the reach of all other content as there’ll be less News Feed real estate remaining as a result? If Instant Articles are a big hit, and publishers become reliant on that as a new source of revenue, will Facebook re-configure the advertising split, leaving publishers with no choice but to take the hit and give over more money to the social giant?
Obviously, there’s no way of knowing how it will play out, but it’s generally agreed that building a reliance on ‘rented land’, in social networks or any other platform of which you don’t control the back-end, isn’t sustainable practice in the long-term. But maybe Facebook is, as they say, only seeking to improve user experience. Maybe eliminating that load time results in more people spending more time visiting other areas of Facebook or direct posted articles further enhance Facebook’s status as a key source of information, increasing time spent on platform, and thus, opportunities for Facebook to serve ads, and that, in itself, is enough reason for Facebook to maintain the system as is. It seems unlikely, in the long term. The initial deal being offered seems a little too good to be what it will in its final configuration. But it sure is appealing. You can imagine many publishers would be willing to sign-up to get better reach to Facebook’s 1.4 billion users.
Instant Articles is definitely an interesting development, and one everyone in the content, media and publishing space will want to keep a close eye on.
The new battleground of combined social and search is going to become a significant storyline in the world of social media marketing this year. Last week, we saw the first examples of what tweets might look like in Google search results as part of Twitter’s new deal with the search giant. It’s now being reported that Facebook is testing a newsearch feature – not quite on the same path, but more significant than it may, initially, seem.
Facebook is testing out a new functionality for iOS users which enables people to search for links while composing a status update, in-app. Just like adding a picture, the function would enable users to click on a link icon, then do a keyword search for articles related to that topic in order to share that content with your update.
At a glance, this seems relatively minor, adding in links is no major upgrade, it’s just streamlining that process – and really, it may be slightly restrictive, most people like to be able to share the exact links to the exact posts they want, and searching via this method might not necessarily help you locate the right content any more efficiently than searching outside of the app and cutting and pasting the link yourself. But then again, it might. And considering the massive amount of mobile sharing Facebook hosts, this process could prove hugely popular, effectively cutting Google out of the equation and keeping users on Facebook longer. And what’s more, it would also grant Facebook more control over more information, in the form of search data, which it could use to entice more publishers to its publisher platform. And that might just be the start.
Mo’ Data, Mo’ Options
So, let’s say this becomes a popular practice, that people are finding the links they want via this search process, Facebook learns your favourite websites and can better provide contextual searches, based on your previous sharing behaviour. That being the case, couldn’t Facebook then use that in building its case for publishers to post first-run content direct to Facebook? What if, as part of their pitch, they could say that “people use this new in-app search functionality 35% of the time, and we control the search results they get – we could ensure your content appears high in those results, significantly increasing the chances that users will link to your posts, thereby increasing your overall audience.” That’s interesting, right? What, too, does that increase in searches on Facebook do for Google traffic and Google’s share of audience? We know that Facebook leads social referral traffic by a significant margin (and that’s not even counting dark social shares) – if this addition were to catch on, it could be a significant concern for The Big G’s hold on search traffic.
Obviously, these are extrapolations, we have no idea how this is going to go till we see it in the wild and we get some stats on how users view this addition. But it could be something. It could be more significant than it may seem, at this early stage.
Earlier this week, Facebook updated their News Feed algorithm again, in what many are seeing as the next move towards ‘Facebook Zero’ – i.e. 0% organic reach for pages. Facebook announced three updates – the first is around users who don’t have a lot of content to see. Previously, the algorithm ensured people were not shown multiple posts from the same source in a row, they’re relaxing this measure for people who run out of content to view and are seeking to view more. Nothing major there, the impacts should be minimal.
The second update has a bit more to it – as noted in Facebook’s announcement, this update:
…tries to ensure that content posted directly by the friends you care about, such as photos, videos, status updates or links, will be higher up in News Feed so you are less likely to miss it. If you like to read news or interact with posts from pages you care about, you will still see that content in News Feed. This update tries to make the balance of content the right one for each individual person.”
So the focus of this one is on those friends who you regularly interact with, on showing you more content from those users and ensuring those posts appear more prominently in your feeds. This is based on your interaction history – Facebook will use past behaviour as a guide to add weight to the prominence of friends’ posts and ensure they appear higher in your results. This will impact page posts because it will be adding increased preference metrics to content posted from certain profiles – most probably, the impact of this will be minimal, but if a person is more likely to be shown content from friends, they’re conversely less likely to see posts from pages in their daily News Feed allocation.
The third update relates to posts that friends have liked or commented on:
…many people have told us they don’t enjoy seeing stories about their friends liking or commenting on a post. This update will make these stories appear lower down in News Feed or not at all, so you are more likely to see the stuff you care about directly from friends and the pages you have liked.”
Again, the precise impact of this change is hard to predict, but it underlines the fact that ‘likes’, in themselves, are becoming little more than an aesthetic measure – and worse, that even interactions like comments are not necessarily going to increase your post reach. This change inadvertently puts more emphasis on shares and on prompting users to take direct action to explicitly promote their support of your page.
So what’s that mean for Facebook marketing? This change further underlines the need for brands to move from a broadcast focus to making themselves part of the conversation. With this update, Facebook is essentially saying that their users want to use the platform to interact with friends and the content they’re individually interested in, and the only way to effectively promote your pages without moving to paid ads is to generate conversation amongst people independent of your properties. That’s obviously easier said than done, but the principle for Facebook marketing remains that you need to create great content, you need to listen to what your audience wants and is responding to, and you need to become part of those conversations in order to attract more direct interactions with individuals and ensure your brand is part of any relevant conversations.
This also underlines the need to work with individual advocates – I’ve already seen it suggested by some that maybe brands should create personal profiles to help get better reach amongst their communities, but that won’t work, as it’s in violation of Facebook’s terms. Having people speak on your brand’s behalf is the best way to ensure you’re maximising Facebook reach – this is why employee advocacy is becoming a big focus, because who better to speak on behalf of your brand than those who live it everyday? Happy, engaged, socially-empowered employees can play a big part in brand awareness, and this update only reinforces the need to consider ways to facilitate authentic conversations across Facebook’s social graph.
This also sets the stage for updates to Facebook’s own search capabilities – Facebook recently announced changes to their API, effective April 30, which will reduce the capabilities for third party apps, particularly in relation to personal profiles, groups and search functionality. These changes seem relatively small, but for Facebook to be restricting them, my guess is that they’re close to releasing improved search functionality within their own walls, hence, these changes are designed to keep people on Facebook, as opposed to managing their Facebook presence via other platforms. This News Feed update somewhat supports this, in that it puts more emphasis on search to find content, as opposed to tangential organic reach.
Whatever the outcome, it’s clear that this update doesn’t help Facebook marketers and further supports the looming dawn of Facebook Zero. So should you just move on and forget about Facebook marketing? Depends on your audience, depends on how this changes your engagement levels – depends on many individual factors that can’t be answered in a generic sense. The fact is that Facebook has 1.44 billion active users, and many of them are likely interested in your products and services. Reaching them might not be as easy as it once was, but it is still totally possible, and totally viable when done in a considered way.
So, if a social media expert, or someone going under a similar moniker, comes to you and tells you that absolutely have to create video content, it might be time to look for a new advisor. Video is powerful, no doubt, and it’s a great way to generate engagement and build your brand online – the expanded capacity of our mobile networks and the evolution of apps and social platforms has enabled a new age of video communication. But if you’re only producing video content in order to make videos, to ‘do video content’, it’s quite possible that you’re missing the point, and will struggle as a result.
A Question of Quality
The thing is, bad content is bad content. It won’t matter if it’s video, audio, performance art – if no one likes it, it won’t get shared. Actually that’s not true, maybe people not liking it is what you’re going for, and that leads to people sharing – if it’s not sparking an emotional response of some kind, it’s going nowhere. And this is the biggest risk in the new wave of video content – while everyone should consider and be encouraged to think about how they can utilise video, if you don’t have an original or interesting idea, it may not be worth doing. The increased emphasis on video is seeing people make video content for the sake of making it – I’ve seen people post video of themselves holding their new products as they wave a description card along the bottom of the screen. I’ve seen content like this, from Mike, who, evidently, buys golf clubs:
Okay, bad example, that’s actually been shared a heap of times, but you get my point – making video for the sake of making video is probably not the best way to go. I mean, it won’t cost you a heap – the array of video recording and production apps these days enable anyone to make good quality video at low cost – but the problem is, if the quality of video content, overall, starts to drop, and people’s news feeds get flooded with average quality posts, users will rightfully complain. And complaints lead to algorithm shifts.
“And Like That… He’s Gone”
Facebook, above all else, values user experience. This has been debated over time, whether they care about users or money, but Zuckerberg’s line has always been that user experience is their number one priority. And it’s hard to argue it isn’t, almost every major Facebook algorithm shift has been triggered by user feedback; users said they didn’t like clickbait, so Facebook altered their filter; users didn’t like overly promotional posts, so they were de-emphasised by the algorithm. Facebook knows that, above all else, their power is in audience engagement on the platform. And they also know that people can and will migrate to other platforms, the social landscape can change very quickly. They know this, of course, because that’s how Facebook supplanted MySpace. In social media, if you lose the crowd, you lose, a fact that all the major platforms are acutely aware of, and as a result, they tread more carefully than ever when rolling out updates and features.
So what happens when people start seeing an increase in content they don’t like? They complain, and Facebook is forced to re-evaluate how that type of content is distributed. Right now, native video content is getting the highest organic reach of any post type, but that could change, and that change could literally happen overnight. Currently, Facebook’s distribution algorithm is pretty good at filtering out low quality content – organic reach is, of course, at the lowest it’s ever been, so it’s pretty hard to reach a significant audience either way, and their ad filtering works on a quality scoring-type system to reduce the reach of ads that no one’s responding to. Low quality content, in whatever form that may be, degrades user experience and forces Facebook to re-evaluate how they distribute content to satisfy the needs and expectations of users. Making bad video content is bad overall, as you’re not only potentially hurting your own reach (in terms of post performance influencing future content), but you may also be contributing to a wider resistance to video posts, overall.
There Can Be More Than One…
The argument here is not video or Facebook-specific. – there’s an inherent risk to over-emphasising any one type of content. If you force people to create video – or blog, or post infographics – making people focus on any one type of content will inevitably lead to some people struggling to produce quality work. I love blogging, I write all the time, but I know plenty of people who struggle with it and I’ve seen them post average quality work which, understandably, is getting little engagement, and this is frustrating for them because they’ve been told they absolutely, definitely have to blog. But maybe they’d be better off focussing on something they can do confidently – it’s possible that they could have massive success producing live streams for Periscope. Maybe they’re no good at writing, but really good at conversation – Hangouts on Air or Twitter chats might be a better focus. Definitely, written content is a key element, particularly for SEO purposes – and outside production assistance is always an option (cost prohibitive) – but you might also be able to also utilise transcripts, Storify logs – there are different ways to ensure you’re ticking all the content boxes.
To say anyone needs to create content of any specific type is potentially risky, and with so many options now available to connect, it may be keeping them from their best option to generate interest and engagement.
What’s Good for Them is Good for You
So what content should you focus on? The best way to make content your audience will love is to listen to them. Analyse what your communities are talking about, look at the key interests and topics being discussed amongst those most likely to buy from you or your business. You can use apps like Social Crawlytics to establish where and what content is driving the most social referrals to your site, or BuzzSumo to search for what content is being most shared amongst those in your industry. If you don’t have enough content to go on, run your competitors’ websites through those apps and see what’s driving the most engagement for them – if they’re seeing a heap of engagement with image posts or quizzes, maybe that’s what you should do too.
If you can identify trends or commonalities amongst your audience, you can let those fuel your ideas for content – this will enable you to work with what your audience is after, what they’re most likely to respond to. And of course, this is not to say you should be afraid to try or resistant to testing out what can be done with any type of content – video is generating great response and there’s a wide range of tools available to experiment with. But you shouldn’t be making video for the sake of making video. There’s no point to that and you’re likely not helping your brand any by posting video content that lacks passion, purpose or any spark of creativity. Content is crucial, but what type of content you create should be driven by what your audience is responding to and what’s within your capacity to provide.
But then again, it’s always possible that your worst idea might end up getting the most attention. Now, I’ve gotta go find some old golf clubs.