How will Facebook’s new algorithm impact the reach of brands’ content?

Last week Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, issued a statement on his Facebook page announcing an update to the News Feed algorithm, which will see Facebook prioritise content from friends and family over content published by businesses, brands and media organisations.

Mark’s aim for this year is to ensure the time we all spend on Facebook is time well spent, and he hopes the News Feed update will help bring back more meaningful social interactions to the platform.

Zuckerberg said: “I’m changing the goal I give our product teams from focusing on helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful social interactions.”

This video from Facebook sums it up pretty neatly:

These changes may be beneficial for our personal well-being, but naturally, as an agency, we’ve been considering what impact the News Feed update will have on brands paid and organic social strategies.

After having a natter with both our Communications and Digital Media teams, here’s everything we know so far:

The impact on organic content

Facebook has already acknowledged that brands may see the popularity of their posts and engagement metrics decrease over the coming weeks. Just how much impact this will have will vary between brands and their pages, depending on the type of content being posted and how users interact with it.

If interaction is high on a brand’s page, with content sparking meaningful conversation between friends, then distribution of the content will not be as badly impacted compared to a page which gets minimal engagement…

Users who actively want to see content from pages can still do so by tweaking their “See First in News Feed” settings, however we expect that the majority of people won’t take the step to do this without extra encouragement or incentive.

With these changes, we also anticipate there could be a wider effect on visits to external sites, as a large volume of traffic for news and entertainment publications comes via Facebook. Zuckerberg has said he expects that “the time people spend on Facebook … will go down.”, meaning if people are a) being served less content from brands and b) spending less time on the platform, they will be less exposed to external links and may be less likely to visit these sites.

The impact on paid strategies

From what we understand at present, we anticipate that the changes will have less of an impact on paid strategies and rankings compared to organic posts.

Ultimately, Facebook relies on advertising as a revenue stream, and the News Feed is the crowning glory of ad placements, so we are unconvinced that Facebook will remove ads from the News Feed just yet; but that’s not to say it won’t affect advertising costs.

If organic reach of posts becomes limited, and we see brands shift from organic to paid strategies in a bid to become seen, then reliance on boosts will increase. If paid ads are also being restricted, what we will see is a reduced supply, increased competition and further increased ad rates.

Despite this, in the long run the changes could potentially benefit paid advertising, by preventing ‘context collapse’. This is something Facebook has been worried about for a while, whereby users stop sharing as many personal details with the platform, which then lessens the value of their data. As Facebook relies on selling vast amounts of data to advertisers they can’t really afford to let this happen. So, it may be the case that these new changes will encourage people to start sharing again, and in turn reinstate the incentive for organisations to pay for quality data and advertising space.

When do the changes come into effect?

Facebook has confirmed that the platform started testing changes in this direction last year, but it will take months for this new focus to make its way through all of its product offering. We know the impact will first be felt on the News Feed, and we can expect to see less public content from businesses from now onwards.

Top 3 steps to stay ahead:

  1. Keep a close eye on your Facebook analytics, to stay aware of how the changes may be impacting the reach and level of interaction with your content.
  2. The best place to keep up-to-date with changes at Facebook, is Facebook’s own News Room. Get this page bookmarked and keep checking back for updates.
  3. Last but most importantly, brands should be making a conscious effort to ensure their content encourages meaningful interactions between people. Facebook has penalised overly salesy messaging and CTAs for a while now, but creating genuine content that will spark emotion and conversation is now more important than ever.