Is Facebook’s update bad for small business?

It’s happened. Again.

In an attempt to get us to become a bit more sociable, Mark Zuckerberg announced on Thursday 11th January that he wanted to give Facebook users a more ‘meaningful’ experience on the platform – by shaking up the algorithm once again.

Starting this week, Facebook will begin implementing changes to its algorithm, whereby content that it believes will be favoured or shared by the user will take precedence over content created by publishers, brands and media outlets.  

The all-elusive mechanism which decides this will become even more secretive in an attempt to filter out corporate posts, instead prioritising pictures of that puppy owned by that girl you sort of knew at sixth form.  

This news shouldn’t come as a shock to many. Facebook has been embroiled in a number of recent controversies, from foreign interference in national elections on its ad platform to the rapid rise of fake and offensive content pieces in the news feed. It can only be suggested that these recent wrangles have become catalysts to Zuck’s major decision of shifting attention from publishers to your friends and family. #fakenews

Haven’t brands always had trouble with organic reach on social?

As every social media manager will tell you, organic reach has been on a steady decline over the past few years. Back in 2014, the gradual curbing of organic reach was set in to place when VP of Publisher Solutions Brian Boland cited that there was simply ‘too much content’ being posted on Facebook news feed. People were drowning in it.

Fast-forward 4 years and there’s now too much paid promotion to filter on a users news feed.

Zuckerberg’s vague explanation does not confirm which conversations will be prioritised. What exactly constitutes a meaningful interaction?

This news will also have social media managers concerned about their impact, particularly those who work alongside small businesses. Many of these businesses rely on the platform as a way to reach new people, so de-prioritising their position is guaranteed to affect their overall reach. VP of product management at Facebook Adam Mosseri confirmed that ‘there will be anxiety’ from publishers who use the platform to attract new customers.  

Before we all sink into digital despair, there are a few questions to ask about the dramatic Facebook revamp.

Zuckerberg’s vague explanation does not confirm which conversations will be prioritised. What exactly constitutes a meaningful interaction? Facebook explained that content which groups or friends find interesting would see little to no change in their organic reach.

As we experience with our regional clients, hyper localised audiences have a tendency to recommend friends and family to services they are already familiar with. Facebook’s new algorithm will likely take into account posts that ‘inspire comments’ to determine its level on the news feed, making its prominence clearer to users. It could be argued that local audience are more likely to engage with local business with local issues that affect them.

But how do you create discussion without engagement baiting?

This will be the biggest challenge for small businesses and social media managers in 2018. Just last month, Facebook announced plans to curb all forms of engagement baiting. These posts were shared passively amongst users and did not provide a forum for discussion. Instead, they provoked interaction with posts that took advantage of the algorithm, which at the time monitored likes, shares and comments as a means of deciding its placement in a users news feed.

2018 is the year of listening, and not broadcasting

Small businesses on Facebook will now need to begin or ramp up their outreach and start building a community on the platform, engaging and creating a conversation with their audience in order to provide a platform for more ‘meaningful’ dialogue between business and consumer.

Social media managers & business owners will need to ensure the content they are sharing is of a high quality. I believe Facebook will refine and distinguish what it determines as high quality, by checking click-through links and working out the value of its post by the copy included in the posts and the domain authority in an attempt to filter out unauthentic content.

There will also need to be more emphasis on monitoring conversations on social, in order to understand what sparks comment from fans – 2018 is the year of listening, and not broadcasting.