Facebook Zero: Coping with the upcoming News Feed changes

Facebook has made yet another big change to its algorithm, in a bid to keep people interested in the platform.

This latest change, dubbed ‘Facebook Zero’, is likely to have the biggest impact on brand pages yet. Our Digital Strategist, Deepa, explains how your business can prepare for the impending changes.

In January, Facebook said they will “make posts from businesses, brands and media less prominent.” After user testing they’ve found people see too many brand posts and not enough from their friends and family.

Organic reach, which has been steadily declining over the last few years anyway, will likely fall off a cliff for most brand pages. Publisher Little Things saw organic and influencer traffic drop by 75% as a result of the algorithm change – leading them to leave Facebook entirely, despite having a fanbase of 12m people.

The changes haven’t come into force for everyone, but they will soon. So, it’s time to get prepared!

Why are Facebook changing the algorithm?

Facebook believe that passive consumption of brand content makes Facebook an isolating place, rather than engaging, rewarding and fun. The amount of time people spend on Facebook is declining too, so Facebook are taking action to slow this down.

They hope that these changes will mean people interact in a more meaningful way on Facebook – mainly with their friends. This then encourages people to continue using Facebook, over other networks.

What kind of content and engagement will be prioritised?

Reading between the lines, Facebook want fans to see content that directly affects them. This means posts from their friends and family but also from their local area, for example local news. We envisage that this is the new pecking order:

  1. Posts from friends
  2. Local news and issues
  3. Brand posts

Facebook have also mentioned that passively watching video is isolating for people. They are right, how many of those Tasty videos have you watched mindlessly? Did you feel connected to them in any way? Or did you just watch and go?

Because of this, Facebook are pushing Live video as the best content that brands (and personal profiles) can put out. Live video receives 6 times more interactions compared with published video – people are more likely to comment as it’s happening there and then. From our research we imagine these types of content will work best with the new algorithm:

  • Live video
  • Posts from groups
  • Local news
  • News articles or videos that will prompt comments and discussion
  • Local events, especially those your friends are attending.

In terms of engagement, comments are now more valuable than reactions and shares. Long comments are preferred, the Facebook algorithm is more likely to show your posts in the News Feed if they generate discussion. This is the new hierarchy:

  1. Comments
  2. Shares
  3. Reactions
  4. Post impressions/video views

This shows Facebook that your content is meaningful, rather than throwaway. Comments like ‘this is great!’ or ‘thanks for sharing’ will work against you compared to when fans share actual stories and opinions.

Are you local?

Despite a lot of talk in recent years about the dangers of social media echo chambers, Facebook is keen to narrow your circle on their network. They want you to see posts about issues and news that are directly relevant to you, so local news will become much more important. Additionally, this is another strategy to crack down on fake news.

Facebook local news

This must be a relief for local news organisations, as many rely on Facebook for the majority of their traffic. Any local news will be prioritised above branded content in the News Feed.

Stop creating this content now

Facebook has publicly acknowledged that passively consuming articles or videos that don’t spark engagement or interaction is bad for a person’s mood.
— Facebook Newsroom

In 2017 Facebook announced that engagement bait would be demoted by the algorithm, and this will continue to be the case. As well as avoiding click-bait, this means you mustn’t ask for comments or shares explicitly (e.g. share if you like this…) in your status updates.

As mentioned earlier in this post, uploaded video will be less important in the News Feed. We are likely to see these videos being demoted, in favour of Live video. So it’s time to go live!  

What can you do about the Facebook algorithm change?

It’s going to be harder to be seen on Facebook – so can you do anything to stop this? Certainly, over the next few months there are plenty of ideas you can use to slow the decline of your organic traffic.

See first. Ask your fans to select ‘see first’ on your page by putting a post out on your page. It’s a simple and quick way to ask people to make your posts a priority in their News Feed. As an extra step, why not promote this post to your fans too?

Encourage longer comments. How can you optimise your posts so people leave longer comments? Think about what will provoke an emotional reaction or an opinion from your fans.

For example, if you’re a wedding dress shop – ask brides how they might feel when they walk down the aisle in their prefect dress. Do this instead of asking, ‘have you found your wedding dress?’

Storytelling. Storytelling is one of the key content trends for 2018, as people move away from click-bait. Think about the personal stories connected with your brand, how to inspire people or how you can educate your fans.

This is much more meaningful, and interesting, than ‘buy our stuff’ or ‘go to my website’ type posts.

Blue Cross

Live video. We’ve mentioned this a lot in this post, but we can’t emphasise Live video’s importance enough. If you’ve never tried live video before, it’s time to grasp the nettle. Start off with shorter 15-20 minute sessions, perhaps just a simple explainer video or a Q&A.

If you’re at a special event, like a trade show or conference, why not try live streaming some of it? Practice filming normal video first to ensure your smartphone or laptop can handle it, and to tweak your sound and lighting levels. As it becomes more popular you may want to consider more sophisticated video production.

Advertising. The more cynical among you will have already realised that this change is a ploy to get brands to spend money on advertising. The free ride is over. If you want to take advantage of Facebook’s community, then you ought to pay for it! The costs of advertising are likely to go up, as demand does, as it is now the best way to get your content in front of people.

Start a Facebook group. Facebook groups have rocketed in popularity in recent years, and it’s because they bring people closer to their friends or interests they like. Posts from groups already have high priority in the News Feed, and it is set to continue this way.

Setting up a Facebook page, owned by your brand but open for members to comment, is a good way to get your content seen but in a natural way. You won’t be able to own all the content in the same way as a brand page, but you will have a good outlet to increase your brand’s audience. It’s also a good way to get real sentiment from fans and do simple market research.

Diversify. Why not try different platforms or put more time into your other networks? This might pay off better than focusing your attention on an increasingly difficult to use Facebook landscape. You might find that concentrating on Instagram or redoubling your SEO efforts is a better way to maintain your web traffic or customer base.

What will happen next?

We still don’t know the full effect the algorithm change will have, it may not be that bad, but it’s good to get prepared. There are still ways to promote your brand on Facebook, but you’ll need to be a bit cleverer about what you do.

Also, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. This major algorithm change is teaching brands that relying on one network is a bad idea. Create a varied marketing mix which uses different channels, that way you’re protected from large changes like this.

Social networks are always making changes from one week to the next, keeping us all on our toes! Be flexible and tuned in, and you’ll always find new ways to reach your audience.

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