Recently, Facebook announced a change on how its News Feed algorithm will work. This new algorithm intends on fostering the very reason why Facebook exists anyway (or at least I hope), to connect friends and family.
Well, of course Facebook has always been connecting friends and family, but it seems that was no longer Priority 1 for it. Mark Zuckerberg posted revealing how some people had become unhappy with their News Feed, stating that posts from businesses, brands and media were now crowding user’s personal moments which in turn was messing up their connections to friends and family.
As a result, Facebook has resorted to altering the way the users’ News Feeds appear, favouring posts from friends and family over any other. In as much as this is a noble idea, it changes a lot, particularly for businesses, brands, media and for Facebook itself.
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Well, before we get to how it affects all the above mentioned, I really just want to mention how this will potentially affect me. Yes, I put myself first.
So, for starters, 80% of the time I go on Facebook for entertainment. The other 15% would be when at work and the information I need can only be found on Facebook, while the remaining 5% would be to stalk or find long lost individuals – no stalking is not entertainment for me me, it’s business. Anyway, the issue is on that initial 80%.
My entertainment is definitely not what who and who is up to, but rather, videos, memes, news, blogs and maybe one or two funny statuses from my Facebook friends. Now I can’t imagine being able to see my entertainment only after being subjected to tonnes of people’s “day well spent” and “throwbacks” that I really don’t care about as much.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the more important things.
For starters, we need to understand Facebook and how it generates its revenue. I remember Techzim wrote on how we moved from being the consumers to being the products sometime back. The advent of big data (or shall we say the discovery of its worth) has enabled tech companies which handle people’s data to use that data to generate revenue instead of generating it directly from users. Let me explain that a bit more.
See with online content you can generate revenue using two main models: advertising and subscriptions, then there’s the less common payment facilitation model, product model and the more recent in-browser cryptocurrency mining model. Well, for this article I’ll just talk about one, the relevant one which is the advertising model.
The advertising model (unlike say the subscription method) does not rely on individuals to pay directly so that they access content, rather, it maximises on the users’ activity on that platform in order to generate money.
In this case, Facebook collects user information such as age, sex, location as well as the less obvious yet vital data such as personal preferences, device information, network, browsing patterns etc. and uses that data to ‘match-make’ you with adverts from its clients (which is not you, you’re the product… clients are the businesses that use the platform to advertise).
This in turn means advertisers can confidently place their ads on Facebook with the assurance that their ads will be directed to the relevant people aka potential customers as opposed to just ‘haphazardly throwing adverts’. And because the platform has billions of people, Facebook also makes billions of dollars from it since businesses have found this as an effective way of pushing their products.
So now back to my own issue with this new News Feed algorithm; simply because I won’t be seeing my memes, vines etc as much, I’ll probably be spending less time on Facebook. But guess what? That’s what Facebook actually wants! Now that’s really confusing. Considering that the time users spend on Facebook is proportional to the revenue it then generates, I’m forced to think there’s more to this decision than what meets the eye… more than just the criticism of its role in the distribution of fake news and all.
Anyway, moving on…
How does the ‘News Feed change’ affect businesses/media/publishers/content creators etc?
Okay, the quite obvious one is that users will not be able to see their posts/ads on Facebook as much as they did. This therefore means Facebook is no longer as good a marketing platform as before the algorithm change. It gets even worse for pages that generally do not receive much engagement from users.
If in Zimbabwe (or any other country with similar conditions), this is a total bummer. Our internet in Zimbabwe is WhatsApp and Facebook (net neutrality issues). Therefore, to reach an audience online, content marketers have to heavily rely on on these two platforms. Of course we use WhatsApp more in this country but because it’s not as easy to verify information that spreads on WhatsApp as is on Facebook, people tend to trust Facebook more in that regard.
So yes, this is a big deal!
Facebook however says that users can select their favourite pages so that they always see posts from those pages (See First in News Feed Preferences). This is not good news for most brands, how do you compete with meme pages, gifs and vines? What are the chances that of the 50 pages that a user liked, they would actually choose your page which talks of products like tv sets and decoders as something they’d want to ‘see first’ on their News Feed?
And by the way, this is a double hit on content creators because YouTube just made some changes on its monetisation policy which will potentially kick out a lot of people from receiving money from the platform.
But then again, WhatsApp Business is a few weeks or less away from coming to Zimbabwe, the situation might not turn out to be as desperate as it seems. In fact, now we’re looking forward to its arrival even more due to this.
Nonetheless, it’s not like brands and content creators are completely going to ditch Facebook, so let’s look at how they can still make the most of it.
How can businesses/media/publishers/content creators etc. minimise the effects of this change?
As we make these updates, Pages may see their reach, video watch time and referral traffic decrease. The impact will vary from Page to Page, driven by factors including the type of content they produce and how people interact with it. Pages making posts that people generally don’t react to or comment on could see the biggest decreases in distribution. Pages whose posts prompt conversations between friends will see less of an effect.
So the first thing to note is that brands and content creators need to create posts that are much more engaging. On that note, we might need to write a follow up post on how to create engaging posts – no promises though.
Anyway, the more engagement the post receives, the wider its reach. This means brands would have to stay away from only posting a picture of a product and its price because really, it won’t receive much engagement; unless of course the price of the product is absurd, then yea, engagement is certain. However, the whole point of the advert is defeated since the engagement is likely because of disgust and not necessarily interest.
The next thing that brands and content creators need to do is record more Facebook lives than anything. According to Facebook, live videos get six times as much interaction as regular videos on average (ask Olinda). Not sure how brands can leverage on this since this might highly depend on the type of product being advertised but well…
Lastly, since users can still opt which pages they want to ‘see first’ it means that competition for the user’s attention gets stiffer. For content creators especially, this means upping your game on the type of content you push out. It has to be content a user can’t imagine going a day without or more like going ‘through a Facebook scroll’ without.
However, its not all bad news, I mean it’s likely that boosting posts on Facebook would be cheaper in monetary terms (some speculate that it would cost more since the product aka the user becomes a scarce commodity).
Also, this is an opportunity for entrepreneurs (tech or not) to come up with ways or platforms on which brands/businesses/content creators can use to push their products and services online. Something relevant to our Zim context, or even internationally. Facebook just created a gap and that’s a good story…