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What Zuckerberg's Facebook algorithm announcement means for brands

In a major announcement last week, Mark Zuckerberg laid out Facebook’s plans for 2018, stressing a renewed focus on “meaningful social interactions” and saying that branded and business content is “crowding out” person-to-person conversations. But what can we glean from his post, and how is it likely to affect the efficacy of Facebook as a tool for communicating with brand audiences?

Brand reach is going to suffer

As we roll this out, you’ll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media.

Mark Zuckerberg

It’s hard to misinterpret this sentence. Businesses, brands and media organisations will see reduced reach.

It’s almost a cliché by this point that organic reach has been decimated over the last five years, so hammering organic reach alone wouldn’t have a huge impact on people’s timelines. It’s therefore highly likely that the proportion of a user’s timeline occupied by paid posts will also decrease, which will increase competition for advertising real estate. This in turn will clearly drive up the cost of paid strategies.

Why are Facebook doing this?

Any decision to strip back the prominence of sponsored and promoted content will hit Facebook’s pocket in some fashion, so it’s important to understand the context. Last year, Facebook’s stickiness score per a Verto Analytics study dropped from 75% to 70% – and users are spending fewer sessions and less time per session there than they did in 2016. Facebook needs to reverse this trend somehow.

In short, they’re playing the long game; this will put a dent in their revenue over the short term, but it’s the only way to maintain Facebook’s relevance and counteract many of the criticisms that have fallen its way over the last 24 months.

Interactive content & deeper engagements will be King

In his post, Zuckerberg talks at length about the difference between “passive” content consumption and active interaction. 2017 saw a number of studies analysing the mental health impact of scrolling through Facebook, watching and Liking videos – and none of them cast Facebook in a great light.

Thus, we can expect that interaction will be a key aspect of content ranking going forwards. Really, this is a case of Facebook aligning with a belief of most marketers that chasing after Likes for the sake of hitting numbers does relatively little for a brand compared to deeper engagements and conversations. “People interact way more around live videos than normal ones,” he says. And real multi-directional discussions in groups will be afforded yet more prominence.

At Finn, we’ve long argued that some interactions are worth considerably more than others. In 2018 and beyond, brands will have to learn to really start a conversation, drive deeper types of engagements in the form of longer comments and shares, and use more creative channels to reach people.

Video content may not take precedence

Zuckerberg’s starting point is that certain types of posts have “exploded” in recent times, namely video and public content, which he uses as a catch-all term for brand, business and media content.

It’s revealing that Zuckerberg tars video content and “public” content with the same brush, here. After all, individuals can create video content, too. But it’s likely they don’t do so anywhere nearly as much as brands and media organisations. And since a video view is one of the forms of engagement Zuckerberg picks out as being passive, it seems likely Facebook is ready to level the playing field somewhat between video and other content formats.

How can brands win out?

While the future’s always ambiguous, there are a number of steps that brands can take to turn this announcement into an opportunity rather than a threat, and to safeguard against future surprises:


  1. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

    A strong social media strategy uses a range of channels and a great blend of organic, earned and paid tactics to reach a broad audience. Diversify your approach and optimise accordingly.

  2. Reassess the role of paid media in your social strategies

    Social has been pay-to-play for so long now that it’s understandable some brands have begun to use it similarly to any other ad platform. This announcement puts a pin in such a media-buying type approach – but that bring opportunities for more creative and original teams to capitalise.

  3. Ramp up your creativity with a focus on starting meaningful debate and discussion

    Facebook have even said they’ll be weighting longer comments against shorter ones to determine which content ranks highly in News Feed. So think beneath the surface of your brand, and ask what your audience really wants to hear or get from you. Activate your audience in creating content. And make things a two-way street.

  4. Ensure social has a clear and strong role within a broader digital ecosystem

    Not just a breadth of social, but a breadth of digital activities will give you something to generate conversation around on social and help drive your brand’s key messages home. Social shouldn’t sit in a silo.

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