Facebook Algorithm Changes: What Marketers Need to Know

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Few things inspire more chewed fingernails and cold sweats among ecommerce marketers than Facebook algorithm changes. When Zuck & Co. whisper those dreaded words – algorithm changes – it catches the attention of every business that uses Facebook.

And in 2018, just about every business uses Facebook. Which is why you get headlines like, “Facebook’s Algorithm Is Apocalyptic for Brands.”

Apocalyptic? Well, that seems a bit strong, but Facebook algorithm definitely matters. After all, Facebook sets the rules of engagement for reaching your customers (and potential customers) on the biggest social media platform in the world. So we need to know what’s going on with that algorithm.

This post will go over exactly that. First, we’ll look at Facebook algorithm changes in 2018. Then we’ll identify common themes that emerge in lots of Facebook algorithm changes, and go over tips for how to survive new and future changes.

What is a Facebook Algorithm Change?

A Facebook algorithm change refers to a change in the News Feed algorithm. That’s the queen bee algorithm controlling who sees your content and ads in their News Feeds.

True, Facebook is fueled by god-knows-how-many algorithms. Algorithms for finding friends, playing games, and attending nearby events. But when marketers say “Facebook algorithm changes,” they are talking about the News Feed algorithm.

It’s the News Feed algorithm, more than all the others, that dictates how much noise you can make on Facebook. So for our purposes, a Facebook algorithm change is a change that Facebook makes to the visibility of your content in the News Feed.

The Big Facebook Algorithm Change in 2018

The most recent Facebook algorithm change that made marketers shudder came in January, when CEO Mark Zuckerberg penned a lengthy Facebook status update explaining that content from friends and family – not businesses and brands – would populate users’ News Feeds. In other words, posts from your business page will be pushed aside. From Zuckerberg:

The first changes you’ll see will be in News Feed, where you can expect to see more from your friends, family and groups….

You’ll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media. And the public content you see… should encourage meaningful interactions between people.

Adam Mosseri, Facebook’s Head of News Feed, gave some more details in the Facebook Newsroom:

Because space in News Feed is limited, showing more posts from friends and family and updates that spark conversation means we’ll show less public content, including videos and other posts from publishers or businesses.

So, it’s easy to see why this Facebook algorithm change has spooked ecommerce marketers and store owners. Facebook is very clearly saying that the content you build around your store will probably be seen less. Your reach will drop, and it will drop not because of anything you did, but because Facebook wants it to.

That Facebook content strategy you worked so hard to create and execute? It’s still relevant. Just not as relevant as it was in December.

What the Facebook Algorithm Change Announcements Don’t Say

We can get so worried by these Facebook announcements that we forget to look at what’s not said. And with the 2018 changes, it’s vital to remember what isn’t there.

For starters, everything is framed around “content” and “posts.”

Recently we’ve gotten feedback from our community that public content — posts from businesses, brands and media — is crowding out the personal moments…

You’ll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media…

We’ll show less public content, including videos and other posts from publishers or businesses…

Sure, it’s a shame that your carefully crafted content will have a harder time cracking into people’s feeds. But even if this Facebook algorithm change puts a dent in your organic reach, you can still use Facebook ads. Ads are the lifeblood of Facebook, and neither Zuckerberg nor Mosseri use the words ads or advertisements once. (Even successful dropshippers aren’t shy of Facebook ads questions.)

Users might see a post about Grandma’s new car instead of your flash sale announcement. But Grandma won’t be replacing your ads.

There is speculation that a decrease in business’ organic reach will cause ad prices to spike. And that makes sense: If everyone starts relying on ads, the demand will go way up. (According to one theory, the Facebook algorithm has been tweaked specifically to drive up ad prices.)

Even so, don’t get caught up in doomsday scenarios about what this Facebook algorithm change means for your ability to reach your target groups. It’s just that instead of spending a few hours creating engaging copy and images, you might have to spend a few hours (and a few hundred bucks) creating ads.

The New Facebook Algorithm Change Isn’t New

Another aspect of this Facebook algorithm change that often goes unmentioned: Facebook has been heading in this direction for years.

For example, after a 2014 algorithm change, Facebook said, “People told us they wanted to see more stories from friends and Pages they care about, and less promotional content.”

In a 2016 press release, Facebook said, “That’s why today, we’re announcing an upcoming change to News Feed ranking to help make sure you don’t miss stories from your friends.”

Fast forward to 2018, when Facebook said, “The first changes you’ll see will be in News Feed, where you can expect to see more from your friends, family and groups.”

That’s how you can get nearly identical headlines two years apart:

2016: Facebook’s algorithm update will prioritize posts from friends over news organizations

2018: Facebook will now show you more posts from friends and family than news

In other words, featuring content from friends and family has been a Facebook talking point for years. Evidenced by these ongoing changes to the Facebook algorithm, Facebook is apparently still trying to find the right balance. But the point is, Facebook has long wanted the content in users’ News Feeds to come primarily from friends and family. Not from your ecommerce store.

How many times will Facebook announce algorithm changes about prioritizing content from friends and family before it finally, permanently, successfully prioritizes content from friends and family? Who knows. But one day these threats about clearing brand content from the News Feed will come to life, and you need to be ready when marketers’ organic reach is put on life support.

So, What Should I Do About These Facebook Algorithm Changes?

Facebook algorithm changes won’t go away any time soon. Facebook is going to keep tweaking what users see, and if history is any indication, those tweaks will continue to make it harder for brands, businesses, and companies to reach people organically inside their News Feeds.

So, what does that mean for you and your business? Here are some things to keep in mind.

Place a premium on interaction

Check out how 😍 Zuckerberg is about interaction in his announcement:

Clearly Facebook will be placing a premium on interactions, so you can expect to be rewarded if you post stuff that generates comments and inspires people to tag their friends.

Of course, right before this Facebook algorithm change launched, Facebook announced that it was actively fighting “engagement bait.” You know, those posts that say, “Tag 5 friends and get registered for our giveaway!” So the interactions you generate should be legit.

Launch a fundraiser

Facebook is trying to reshape its image. That means less content from companies, sure, but also more transparency. Fewer dodgy apps. Better data protection. Less content from Burmese military officials.

And finally: More charity fundraising.

As you may have seen on your last birthday, Facebook now lets you launch a fundraising campaign for your favorite charity. This is exactly the sort of PR-friendly change that Facebook loves – and it’s something that you can leverage to get visibility for your brand.

Wait, don’t brand visibility and charity contradict? No!

Facebook has expanded its launch-a-fundraiser function for brands like yours: “Pages – including those run by brands, public figures, and nonprofits themselves – can now create and donate to fundraisers.”

Ecommerce shops from across the web tap into social responsibility as a way to simultaneously help a good cause and make customers feel good by helping that cause. If you want content to get in front of people, this is one type of non-paid post that Facebook seems to love.

Play with Audience Optimization

Facebook wants engagement? Let’s give it to them.

There’s a cool feature that Facebook does a really good job of hiding: Audience Optimization. Audience Optimization lets you set the same sort of targeting rules for your organic posts as you’d use for your ads. As Facebook explains, you can “target your posts in News Feed to audiences most likely to engage with your content (e.g., based on interest). Also allows you to restrict who can see your post in News Feed based on audience age or location.”

So if you have content that you think would be most relevant for a certain segment, you can use this feature to hit that segment. This will drive up your engagement rate, which will show Facebook that people in your target group like this post, which will get the post seen more.

To launch Audience Optimization, go to your Facebook Page settings. In the “General” area, you’ll find “Audience Optimization for Posts.” Go ahead and enable that, and get your engagement on.

Look into “Live” videos

When announcing their recent algorithm changes, Facebook dropped multiple hints about the importance of live video. In fact, they weren’t hints: Facebook said it loud and clear.

According to Zuckerberg, the brand and business content you see “should encourage meaningful interactions between people…. We’ve seen people interact way more around live videos than regular ones.”

As Mosseri put it: “Page posts that generate conversation between people will show higher in News Feed. For example, live videos often lead to discussion among viewers on Facebook – in fact, live videos on average get six times as many interactions as regular videos.”

Translation: We want interactions, live videos generate interactions, you do the math.

Now, doing video for Facebook Live is easier said than done. But if you want to flatter the Facebook algorithm into showing your content, it appears Facebook will be charmed by video. Just remember:

  • Your videos don’t have to be pristine quality. They shouldn’t be grainy, but people will tolerate less-than-studio quality if the content is engaging.
  • Don’t expect an immediate flood of viewers. Facebook, YouTube, and Google Search, among others, are notoriously fuzzy with details about their algorithms, but it’s conventional wisdom that all of these platforms like frequency: The more content you produce, the more the algorithms like you. That means you have a clear path to increased visibility – produce more videos – but also a built-in disadvantage when you’re just getting started. Tl;dr: be patient.
  • Facebook Live video probably won’t be the magic bullet forever. There is no “final Facebook algorithm change.” Changes will keep coming, and the next one will probably treat video differently than this one. Facebook was “obsessed” with live video back in 2016, then they were less obsessed in 2017, and they seem obsessed again. Who knows – maybe by the time your live video operation is thriving, there will be a Facebook algorithm change that favors VR.

Trust that your ads will continue getting seen – and that they’ll be more expensive

As we discussed earlier, the newest Facebook algorithm change will make it harder to get your organic content into people’s News Feeds. But your ads? Oh, Facebook isn’t hiding your ads.

In fact, a strong argument can be made that this algorithm update will make ads even more important for Facebook. The prices will probably go up, sure, but if Facebook succeeds in generating more engagement – that is, after all, the stated goal – then at least there will be engaged eyeballs on your ads.

Use the new Facebook algorithm as an excuse to diversify your marketing mix

If you were looking for an excuse to mix it up and quit relying so much on Facebook, here you go. Sure, if you’re running an online business, you can’t avoid Facebook. But with every Facebook algorithm change, we are reminded that success on Facebook is a moving target.

That’s why it’s important to make sure your customers can find you on other platforms, too. While Facebook may want to protect its friends-and-family roots, that other Facebook-owned social media platform, Instagram, has no such philosophy. So maybe instead of sending people to your Facebook page, do like online bra store Harper Wilde does and send them over to Insta.

Google doesn’t care about friends and family

Okay, that’s a deceiving headline. Maybe Google does care about family and friends. The point is that Google doesn’t mess around with these “more content from friends and family” algorithm changes that Facebook seems to roll out every 18 months.

Does Google adapt their algorithms? Absolutely. Google’s Panda algorithm, for instance, was designed to remove search results from content farms that were producing searchable but ultimately lame content. The Penguin algorithm, meanwhile, was designed to remove search results from sources that were deemed spammy.

That said, Google will never ice you out in favor of your cousin’s new cat picture. That means SEO can be your friend today, tomorrow, and next year.

Same for AdWords. AdWords does not appear to be subject to the drastic changes that Facebook organic content is. If you plop down your money and create your ads, AdWords will make sure people see it.

Assume that your content won’t get seen as much

As if making noise on Facebook weren’t already hard enough. It’s only going to get harder.

True – even with these Facebook algorithm changes, posts that generate legitimate engagement will continue to pop up in News Feeds. And the hacks that we’ve just gone over will help with that. But generating that engagement in the first place will be harder because you’re working against a built-in bias that Facebook’s algorithms have against your content: You aren’t friends and family.

Facebook Is Still a Business Platform

All this talk of prioritizing friends and family over brands might make you think, “Well, I guess Facebook has transformed into a quasi-philanthropic platform whose mission is to connect people with loved ones.”

Thing again.

Facebook still has bills to pay and shareholders to please. Which means it still has industry-leading business tools that they are more than happy for you to use.

Facebook Pixel: The Facebook Pixel is a snippet of code that lives on your website and lets you leverage Facebook data to run more impactful ads. Basically the Pixel looks at who visits and buys at your store, and then does two things: (1) targets those same users with ads later on, and (2) targets people who are similar to your customers and who, by extension, might also be interested in your store.

Facebook Analytics: Facebook Analytics is a powerful tool for analyzing how people interact with your website, Facebook page, and Facebook content. Contrast Facebook Analytics with Google Analytics, which doesn’t have any idea what is happening on your Facebook page, and it looks all the more powerful.

Facebook Business Manager: The average Facebook user might start to see more heartwarming posts of their new baby cousin, but entrepreneurs out there are still going to have full access to the suite of toys available in Facebook Business Manager. Business manager will remain the place to make ads for Facebook and Instagram, and ads are still how Facebook and Instagram make money. So fear not, Business Manager is still your friend.

Conclusions on Facebook Algorithm Changes

Facebook algorithm changes will never stop. That much seems clear. If we take that as our starting point, here are some things that marketers can trust through past, ongoing, and future changes:

  • Don’t expect a Facebook algorithm change – at least not one announced publicly – that deprioritizes content from friends in favor of content from your store. Period. The trends is always in the direction of friends and family, and away from brands. So assume that the News Feed algorithm will never be as nice to you as it is today.
  • If there’s a silver lining, it’s this: Facebook is making changes to keep users more engaged. Engaged users are more likely to engage with ads. Your ads. It’s not like Facebook is becoming a charity. There will still be ads, and if these Facebook algorithm changes have their intended effect, those ads will be seen by users who enjoying themselves and open to seeing your ads.
  • Facebook algorithm changes are a good reminder that Facebook is not the be all end all of advertising. Facebook is sexy. The user base is ginormous, the Business Manager UX is nice (mostly), there is a proven record of brands gaining traction and driving sales via Facebook. At some point, though, these Facebook algorithm changes might test your patience. And when that happens, remember that Instagram, AdWords, and our old friend SEO will be waiting with open arms.

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