Why Facebook has just done regional newsrooms a huge favour

There’s been a lot of talk about changes to the way Facebook surfaces content from pages people choose to like.

Like many things with Facebook and its algorithm, the exact details of what Facebook is doing are never clear – but Facebook is crystal clear about one thing, and that is that it will keep evolving how it chooses which posts to put in front of people to ensure the stuff which is most interesting to them.

In the latest iteration, it appears that fan pages for brands have taken a bit of a hammering, making it less likely that a post you put on your brand page will travel a long way. Marketers claim the latest change means the organic reach of posts – the number of people who see a post, which depends on a number of factors, not least the number of your fans who choose to share it on – has dropped dramatically.

Perhaps the most entertaining kickback from this has been from Eat24, a fast food delivery company, which believes its business is suffering from this latest change. It wrote an entertaining open letter to Facebook complaining it was unfair to their fans:

“You know that all those people clicked ‘Like’ on our page because it’s full of provocatively posed burritos and cheese puns, right?”

It went on to argue that Facebook just wasn’t as much fun as it used to be, suggesting cool brands have a better time on Instagram and Twitter now.

Facebook replied:

“We used to love your jokes about tacquitos and 420 but now they don’t seem so funny. There is some serious stuff happening in the world and one of my best friends just had a baby and another one just took the best photo of his homemade cupcakes and what we have come to realize is people care about those things more than sushi porn (but if we are in the mood for it, we know where to find it Eat24!).”

In other words, Facebook is doing what some people accuse traditional mainstream media of – telling people to take their way or the highway. I see it a bit differently, however, and within the humour of Facebook’s response is a serious message. It is saying users don’t want to see every post a brand posts and that you will have to work harder to get the exposure you need.

Marketing experts everywhere are seeing this as bad news, arguing that Facebook is pushing people down the route of taking advertising out if they want to guarantee reach. That definitely feels like the way news publishers work. If an advertiser wants to get their message across, the only way to guarantee it is to pay for it. Newsroom might choose to cover it if it’s newsworthy, but there aren’t any guarantees.

In short, it feels as though Facebook is putting PR in check. A Facebook experience which is clogged up with adverts-dressed-as-posts from brands you might have liked to have the chance to win a prize a year ago is only going to lead one way for Facebook. Some see this as Facebook branding brands as ‘noise.’  Martin Belam looked at it from the point of view of a Facebook user, and using average user data, concluded the change was good news.

And I think it’s good news for regional publishers, for two reason. It’s proof, if it were still needed, that Facebook needs to be taken seriously.  Looking through the stats for some of the brand pages I work with, there’s no doubt there been a bit of a drop off in organic reach, but no significant change in the number of clicks well-written and well-targeted posts receive.

The way Facebook monitors clicks isn’t as obvious when it first sounds:

facebook insights

 

Take the data from a post which did particularly well on one of our websites. It reached 1.1million people, way more than the 60,000 people who are actually fans of the page in question. It generated 17,743 likes, comments and shares – the shares being the thing which drove the organic reach, which is so important for marketers. People liked the post, so chose to share it. Facebook responds to that by making it more prominent on the Facebook timelines of people who are already following the page the post appeared on.

For journalists, however, it’s the interaction which matters most, because that tells us whether people are interested in the content were posting. This post generated 247,357 clicks, of which 109,539 actually went on to click on the link in the post, which was a link to the article it was talking about.

So, crudely, of the 1.1million people the post reached, there was roughly a one in ten chance of someone going on to visit our website. Looking through the data on our Facebook fan pages, that one in ten chance to pretty static, regardless of when the Facebook changes took place.

For journalists, the latest Facebook changes are good news, because it means Facebook is setting us a challenge which is also our common goal: To be providing content which people want, written in a way they want it. 

The following graphic is from TechCrunch:

From Techcrunch

All of the criteria in that equation are what journalists and news brands should strive to be. We need to have the interest of our users, we need our posts to promote a response, we need to have a track record of engaging users, we need to be providing them with the media they like (eg pictures and links) and we need to be talking to them regularly.

Facebook is essentially setting news media a challenge: Work for your audience. For marketers out there, that probably does means spending money. For journalists, it means making sure we understand what the audience want, and learning from the data Facebook provides. 

There’s more good news too: People tend to want to share our content anyway, if we’ve done it well. The Facebook data I shared above suggested the post we put on our fan page generated 109,000 clicks to the website. The actual article received 350,000 clicks from Facebook.

The changes to the algorithms at Facebook don’t change the way people are likely to share stuff they find for themselves on websites, and the data I’ve seen continues to show that up for every one click you generate from your fan page, you’ll get at least two more from people sharing stuff themselves.

The biggest, and most simple lesson from this 1,200 word post? Ban autofeeds from your website to Facebook fan pages. Imagine if the BBC lunchtime news on TV was actually just the radio news, presented with a black screen. How long would you stick with it?

That’s exactly the same message a user gets when no effort goes in to sharing a headline on a Facebook fan page. That trick of sticking the #fb hashtag on Twitter accounts so Tweets appear on Facebook is no longer a victory for efficiency. Thanks to Facebook, it’s now a sign that you aren’t talking to your biggest audience.

And for all the talk about Facebook becoming less popular, and young people not being interested, and Facebook  making it harder to get a message across from a brand page, one thing remains true: For journalists, it’s where the bulk of the audience remains.

 

 

3 comments

  1. “I see it a bit differently, however, and within the humour of Facebook’s response is a serious message. It is saying users don’t want to see every post a brand posts and that you will have to work harder to get the exposure you need.”

    But isn’t the issue here that they’re not saying “work harder”, what they’re actually saying is simply “you will have to _pay more_ to get the exposure you need”?

    1. For journalists I think it’s more a case of making sure you’re doing engaging stuff. Reach is almost irrelevant for journalists if you aren’t engaging.

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