I know you've seen the headlines, Facebook changed their product again, and simply put, brands everywhere are freaking out. MBA's are being renegotiated, and content strategies are now being torn to shreds. You may not be freaking out, but if any of this sounds familiar you might get some value out of this article.
(Note: If you're lacking time, skip the history lesson and go straight to the 'Should I tear up my media plan?’ section).
I've personally experienced algorithmic and product tweaks on the platform going back as far as 2010! This is when brand Pages were a new toy and we were all figuring out how things worked.
You see, back then - as a Page - brands could organically post images/statuses that could potentially reach up to millions of Facebook users organically (yes, for free). Freaky right? The only limitation was how many users were online when the brand dropped an Organic post.
The opportunity to reach millions for free was so delicious that brands couldn’t resist investing in the platform, which in turn created a massive rapidly growing base of potential advertisers ripe for monetising down the track.
As brands flocked to the platform, Facebook started to build things to make businesses’ (Page owners’) live’s easier. This included building an insights panel, the offering of post boosting, Facebook’s self serve advertising platform, and on it went.
But like all things good in the world, we quickly messed it up. By being greedy/ gaming the system this new unregulated free market for reach/ engagement became over populated with spam, which killed the user experience for everyone. RSS feeders in particular were being used to scrape publisher content off websites to 'strategically' post time based spam to your feed, and a whole lot of other really dodgy stuff from bot activity to phishing was taking place.
Complaints to Facebook rose and overall user attrition did too. So, introducing... Newsfeed (edgerank).
Here you were thinking likes, comments, and shares were always there. In fact these buttons are a pretty recent addition to the platform, and also an incredibly elegant feature. It was made to both increase user 'interaction with content' while also solving the problem of quality scoring - these identified horrible advertising by forcing advertisers to either improve their output or pay through the teeth for it.
You see, hanging around during all of these changes I've learned one thing; that there’s only two things that can be guaranteed about a change to the platform.
- Facebook will forever focus on growing the base of users that it can show advertising
- Facebook will always aim to improve the user experience in order to own a disproportionate share of social media users’ attention
The platform dynamic:
Pretty simple, huh?
Unfortunately, most people operating strategy on Facebook (within Performance agencies especially) just looked to play with the minutiae, and shortcut their way to success; instead of steering the ship to work with the platform dynamic.
I can almost guarantee that most of you have seen at least one stale TVC running on Facebook in the last week...
So history lesson over, now let's look at the latest changes.
In your head you might say ‘how can this model you put forward be true when just this morning, referring to recent changes, Zuckerberg exclaimed "Let me be clear: Helping people connect is more important than maximizing the time they spend on Facebook,"’.
Well it’s easy: While focusing on fostering ‘more meaningful connections’ in sacrifice of ‘time spent on platform’ might sound all virtuous and lovely, don’t mistake that for dumping a view toward repairing the 50 million hours of user attention they lost last year.
Look past the rhetoric and at the model. You’ll find what Zucc’s really saying is that ‘Fostering more meaningful connections’ AKA ‘improving the user experience’ is more important to Facebook than time spent on platform, because when the model is literally that better user experience = increase in time spent on platform, you solve both problems anyway.
The changes are a sacrifice that have to be made, Facebook pushed the needle on advertising content too far and now to paraphrase another mad genius ‘it’ll be the recession they had to have’.
So again, just like all changes that have come before, user experience and attention are being put first.
Content that enhances the user experience posted in Newsfeeds, that increases interaction and ultimately user attention will be cheaper. Content that doesn't will be more expensive.
But what does that actually mean?
To Facebook this means:
- Creating content that strengthens relationships that have the highest chance to increase overall user attention. This is why Facebook recently asked users to sort their friends into categories of ‘close friends’ etc.
- Creating content for products that hold a user’s attention for longer. Longer form video (A longform SVOD offering 'Facebook Watch' is coming to Aus) Live Video ( A new live video feature that allows users to group chat with friends while streaming is on it's way also)
- Diverting content that is interruptive in the Newsfeed into placements that feel less interruptive (IG Stories and its expansion into FB Desktop and Messenger)
But what if you're not doing any of the above, and your brand doesn't lend itself well to advertising that improves Facebook's user experience...
Should you tear up your media plan?
All said and done, the answer is NO.
For brands who want to use Facebook as a mass reach tool, these changes are not the death-knell. Facebook know that there are plenty of brands out there who no-one generally wants to interact with but need to advertise. They also know that these kinds of brands have no interest in creating the type of content they want in their Newsfeed but still have plenty of advertising dollars to spend. It would simply be insane to leave that money on the table.
So if you are one of those brands, the only thing you have to consider is where Facebook see that kind of traffic as being the least intrusive, and best received by the user.
It’s been made plainly obvious; these changes affect the Newsfeed. Which means placements like Instagram Stories, that are not in the Newsfeed, have been purposefully developed to subvert interruptive and low value advertising away. Short, sharp content that enables the user to skip, but guarantees the advertiser a view is exactly where to start putting your money.
As a result, Facebook are pushing to make Stories available on desktop and Messenger, thus replacing Newsfeed inventory options for advertisers and as mentioned previously Facebook Watch is rolling out over the U.S and soon to be Australia which will essentially steal YouTube's model of splitting revenue share with content partners leading to 6 second bumpers, Pre Rolls etc.
You see, this change is a good thing, just like all the other changes were. Facebook knows where their money is at, and they know how to grow their product. If anything, what these changes do is unshackle uninterested brands from engagement metrics like – reactions/ likes, comments and shares – that, let’s be honest, Marketing Managers are skeptical about anyway - and ensures low CPM’s are still possible for traditional campaigns, and with easier more varied ways to buy them (TRP's etc.)
So if your agency or marketing partner is freaking out, or you're thinking about tearing up an MBA/ dropping Social all together, don't. Drop TV instead, because isn’t that what’s meant to be edgy right now?..
(*don’t actually drop TV, that is a freaking horrible idea*)