By Adam Fraser
Facebook changing its algorithm wouldn’t ordinarily be massively newsworthy; such is the frequency with which it happens.
Major changes such as “Reachgate” is 2014 – when organic reach first began to be materially choked -garnered a lot of attention and angst, as brands realised they, in essence, could no longer freely communicate with fans of their Facebook pages. Reach dropped below 5% and subsequently crept much lower to 2% or less, in the following years.
Thus the begrudging acceptance of most people in the marketing world that social media had become “pay-to-play”, learning the hard lessons about the risks of rented land.
Publishers, such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal (and locally, of course, Fairfax Media) have endured a slightly different but equally painful bumpy ride. Initially unsure whether to entirely reject or fully embrace distribution via third party social platforms, Facebook has attempted to entice with media-specific products such via Instant Articles, offering advertising revenue share and closer collaboration. Ultimately none have been particularly successful and in a post-Trump, Fake News era, most publishers are realising now that the only long-term safety is via driving direct web traffic and digital subscriptions.
The latest announcement from Facebook, however, is deeply ominous for publishers, many of whom still rely heavily on Facebook referred traffic. While initially only a test in 6 countries, Facebook is looking at moving ALL publisher (and brand) content to a separate tab – out of the all-important main feed and into the “Explore Feed”.
The no-go zone. How often do you explore anything other than the main Facebook feed?
The best analogy I can think of relates to changes made by Gmail in mid-2013. All newsletter and sales type emails are automatically moved out of your main email inbox and into a separate tab called “promotions”. You can guess how often that gets looked at.
If Facebook proceeds to roll out this change more broadly, there will at least be no absence of clarity about a publishers relationship with Facebook. Pay to be seen or be sent to the wilderness.
Advertising, of course, remains a viable and often very effective option for many brands (and publishers). Whilst offering far better targeting and interactivity options, the challenges for advertising as a whole remain true as the growth in ad blockers demonstrates, and the cat and mouse game between Facebook and ad blockers continues.
Social media as a platform for brands is evolving to an inevitable conclusion for a medium of connection – like the phone system – infrastructure. We use social media to connect with people we care about. We only want to connect with brands on our terms and at a time of our choosing. Hence effective listening and real-time responses are essential components of a social strategy. Be where your customers want you to be and engage with them on their terms. Answer all of their questions at any time on any channel they wish. Beyond that, most people would prefer brands to stay out of their lives.