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Why Facebook’s recent algorithm changes are good for business

This is the second in a 3-part series on Facebook in 2018.

Part 1 dealt primarily with the company’s recent user data scandal and its likely fallout.

Part 3 will focus on Facebook in Thailand today, as well as its prospects for the future.

With much of the news media’s bandwidth over the past month devoted to Facebook’s poor privacy controls, casual observers may have missed the news that marketing departments worldwide will pay more attention to: the significant changes to its NewsFeed algorithm.

At the time it was announced, the new system caused understandable concern among publishers both large and small. “Facebook News-Feed Changes will Cut into Publishers’ Branded-Content Revenue”, claims this article in DigiDay, reflecting the worries of many in the industry. But what is Facebook really doing with its algorithm – and why – and is the future really going to be worse for brands online?

The most far-reaching change is likely to be the removal of organic content from commercial pages in everybody’s newsfeeds. Instead of giving companies a ‘free’ but small reach for each new post, content creators are now going to have to pay every time they want their material to see the relative light of day.

A simplistic reading of the new landscape might argue that social media marketing agencies in Thailand will only have a more difficult time from here on out. After all, the main policy change is that it will become more expensive for any given company to reach its audience members – even the ones that have ‘liked’ the company page, and have therefore made a positive indication that they want to see new posts. Isn’t this just a price-gouging monopoly move by the world’s biggest media company? How can such a development be seen as good for content creators in any sense?

As it turns out, there are plenty of ways.

  1. A healthier Facebook is a better Facebook

Facebook’s own brand has taken a big hit over the last 18 months, in the wake of fake news scandals and disturbing content intruding on people’s newsfeeds, not to mention its user privacy debacle. The new algorithm will mark another stage in Facebook’s retreat from the contentious and sometimes poisonous atmosphere of today’s increasingly polarized world.

Although the story received comparatively few headlines lately, Facebook also has a new policy of identifying pages that propagate fake news, and preventing them from buying any kinds of ads. With a sharper line between posts from friends & family (the reason most people are on Facebook) and sponsored content, there is less room for divisive or parasitical material to sneak in the middle.

As users’ online experience improves, they are likely to spend more time on Facebook, and be in a better mood while they’re there. The previous newsfeed atmosphere – a cartoon advertisement for fast food or laundry detergent, sandwiched between incendiary fake news stories and increasingly antagonistic back-and-forth commentary among hardline political foes – was never sustainable and was never rewarding for anybody involved.

In January, Mark Zuckerberg said that people had been spending 50 million hours less on Facebook in response to this and other platform-related issues. He also noted that posts from “businesses, brands and media” had been “crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other.” And on that last point …

2. Less is more

There is value in scarcity; when users see too much of the same type of thing, they tend to pay less attention to it. The new algorithm will help us move toward a Facebook experience that features fewer commercial posts. These posts, however, will necessarily be of higher quality because the companies producing them have to invest real money in each one.

Higher costs for publishing content means that companies will now have to rely even more heavily on convincing their audiences to increase reach for them, for free. Since this can only happen when a Facebook user clicks the ‘share’ button, the incentive for advertisers has to adjust accordingly.

The pendulum will therefore by necessity swing far away from the old ‘annoying but memorable’ advertising formula, and toward the ‘actually pretty cool and likeable’ model. Examples of the former will suffer a sad fate on newsfeeds – doomed to be scrolled past in an instant – while the latter will live a long and prosperous life through repeated interactions and shares.

3. Finally, a level playing field for all

Many commentators have argued that the lack of organic reach means that businesses suffer from a high barrier for entry. This problem, the argument continues, will disproportionally hurt small businesses because they lack the resources to compete with more established companies.

We believe the opposite is true. ROI is the key issue regardless of company size, and the way to get it is through attractive, shareable content. Even if you only have the resources to promote your posts to ten thousand people, that number could increase exponentially if a percentage of that ten thousand in turn shares it to their own followers, who in turn share it even more widely.

Big corporations surely have budgets that will automatically earn them a large initial reach for their content, but if that content isn’t popular, it won’t be shared, which means it will soon be gone and forgotten.

By contrast, many of the internet’s biggest viral hits have been low-budget productions. Thanks to affordable video production, all it takes is a great idea and the right execution, and the sky’s the limit. The playing field is no longer about showing off high production values, as it was in the old television age. Right now, companies of all sizes are limited only by their marketing vision and sense of creative spirit. If anything, the current moment is representative of a more level playing field than any other time in history.

4. No more cheap tricks

That level playing field smoothens out the rough edges in other areas as well. As with Google and other digital leaders, Facebook is continuing to tighten its chokehold on companies that use dirty tricks in order to ‘game’ the system. Some less-scrupulous corporate marketing departments have published misleading messages in order to earn clicks, or pleaded with audiences to “COMMENT on this post if you agree!!”, knowing that audience interaction automatically causes post views to increase.

The new algorithm reportedly has more effective spam detectors, which will reward genuine content by punishing the cheaters. Moreover, Facebook recently announced that “using ‘engagement-bait’ to goad people into commenting on posts is not a meaningful interaction, and we will continue to demote these posts in News Feed.”

By contrast, straightforward communication will receive no such penalty. Companies remain welcome to invite their followers to opt-in to future posts even if they aren’t sponsored or promoted. And it’s easy to show them how:

It takes an extra step for readers, but you can also let them know they’ll be rewarded for taking actions like these. Special discounts or coupon codes could be included in posts that will be visible only to committed followers who opt in.

Incidentally, there is another, often overlooked way to convince people to interact with your page. Namely: Make it interesting! A lively and lovely online presence can do wonders for a brand – not just for its reach, but for its reputation.

The Facebook advertising experience: Better now than ever before

As newsfeeds increase in quality and trustworthiness, audiences will be more receptive to the messages they find there. And while it may be true that Facebook’s motives for further monetizing the publishing algorithm are self-serving, the additional cost also comes at a significant benefit to honest businesses that want simply to compete on the merits.

By all means, let’s loudly criticize giants like Facebook when they deserve it – but not when they do something right! Facebook’s power over the market allows the company to dictate the rules of engagement with a mind toward long-term results. The constant introduction of new rules and regulations within its platform may, admittedly, be disorienting and inconvenient at times. But without Facebook taking positive steps to protect its user experience, we get the kind of free-for-all that has degraded online discourse in recent years.

That kind of ‘race to the bottom’ was truly beginning to damage Facebook as an entity, and we all should be thankful that they have re-aligned the incentives in a positive way. With the new algorithm nudging both companies and ordinary users toward a healthier, more pleasant and more constructive way of using the platform, the time is right to get back in and be a part of it.

At long last, high quality content is returning to Facebook. If your digital marketing strategy is of high quality, then you should too.

Lexicon is a full-service digital marketing agency in Bangkok, Thailand. We specialize in corporate storytelling and produce all of our content in-house, including branding,  copywriting, video production and graphic design. Lexicon’s social media marketing services start from just 10,000 THB per month.

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