in Business & Marketing, Digital & Tech

[Warning: Clickbait ahead] Why is Facebook broken and how can you fix it? Here are the 11 things you should know…

I am posting the below article I wrote back in January relating to Facebook. I see things are moving fast now with all the Cambridge Analytica and #DeleteFacebook hashtag so just wanted to get this out there … maybe it helps someone understand why Facebook is so sick and in trouble…

Here it is unmodified (written last week of January 2018):

As I was trying to choose a title for this blog the echo chamber of the online marketing world was ever so evident. What title should I use to entice (i.e. manipulate) people into clicking, reading, sharing and liking? I don’t know… but I can test. This blog will reach many different audiences and with the tools available today on platforms like Facebook I have the power to present a title that will closely match the values of the users it reaches. Todays reality in digital marketing is that you don’t just assume. You test. You validate. You learn. You iterate. And you allow the fittest (in this case copy) to survive and thrive. And you just do more of that.

For example, the title above can have multiple endings that can all be targeted to different audiences selected on interests, profession, demographics, gender and even race.

… to drive insane profits.

… as a Facebook marketer.

… to drive customer happiness.

And my personal favorite

… to turn clickbait into meaningful social interactions.

In other words, you follow in the footsteps of the most successful companies of our era: Facebook, Amazon, Google, Netflix … These companies don’t drive business on plain assumptions, they drive business on market reaction and demand by testing assumptions, which are increasingly being run by algorithms. And they do it through technology, by understanding people through the data that is generated when people use technology.

This fail-fast, test & learn mentality has helped Facebook reach a critical tipping point and 2018 may be the year where they will need to make some tough choices. Since their announcement in June last year of having passed the 2 billion active monthly users milestone, the company is making clear to the world that keeping almost a third of the world’s population connected, informed and happy, is proving to not just be a challenge, but come with great power and responsibility. In fact, 2 days after this announcement, they reminded the world with an updated version of their values and hinted to the fact that “big” changes will come to their news feed algorithms.

In a recent string of announcements, CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg explains the company’s determination to “fix Facebook”. Let’s take a look at some of the more noteworthy announcements in a timeline, which are leading to this sudden urgency to fix the biggest social network on the planet.

Active accounts on Facebook as of September 2017 reveal over 2 billion active users use the platform every month and Facebook now owns 4 of the 5 biggest social platforms outside of China:

Here is a noteworthy timeline of announcements over the past year:

Feb 16, 2017: Mark Zuckerberg published his “5800 word Manifesto” on Building Global Community.

June 22, 2017: Mark Zuckerberg announces Facebook’s new mission statement at Facebook’s first communities summit.

June 27, 2017: Facebook announces milestone of 2 billion active monthly users.

June 29, 2017: Facebook reminds us of their values and a commitment to “fixing the feed”.

September 6, 2017: Facebook admits Russian involvement to influence US elections and “fake news” issue.

December 15, 2017: Facebook updates us with academic research hinting to the negative side-effect of social media.

December 18, 2017: Facebook to demote any update considered to contain “Engagement-Bait” (almost a default in many campaigns today).

January 4, 2018: Mark Zuckerberg announces his new year’s resolution to “fix facebook”.

January 11, 2018: Mark Zuckerberg announces his plan for improving the news feed to be “time well spent” followed on same day with a Facebook update explaining the details.

January 19, 2018: Mark Zuckerberg announces plan to address “Trustworthiness” of news sources based on surveying local residents, which has been met with some interesting criticism.

January 22, 2018: Facebook starts publically debating and asking the harder questions: Is social media good or bad for democracy? What effect does social media have on democracy?

In his January 11 update (the most important one for you to read), Mark Zuckerberg starts with this sentence “One of our big focus areas for 2018 is making sure the time we all spend on Facebook is time well spent.” and continues to explain what he is doing about it “I’m changing the goal I give our product teams from focusing on helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful social interactions.”

To bring this into perspective, it’s actually not the first time Facebook has made these types of claims of “fixing Facebook” by cleaning up the news feed. In 2016, Facebook’s claim to fix their news feed resembles very closely its most recent announcements: In June 2016:

“Our top priority is keeping you connected to the people, places and things you want to be connected to — starting with the people you are friends with on Facebook. 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.” – Hmmm, ok. I believe you Mark…?

But seriously, there are some things we can and should be aware of at this point and that is the purpose of this article. Let’s take a look at these and what we know so far. I have kept the list to the 11 most relevant for facebook marketers today:

  1. Person-to-person interactions meaning “friends & family” will be prioritized in news feeds (so less priority for company posts and pages).
  2. Meaningful conversations (long & thoughtful replies) will be prioritized in news feeds (Facebook now believes in engaged meaningful conversations).
  3. Videos will get less visibility if they are passively viewed with low meaningful engagement (Facebook does not want you wasting your time).
  4. Groups will be prioritized in news feeds. Especially local/community driven groups (consider groups for pages as a business to create value for users).
  5. Community driven “Trustworthiness” will become a news source ranking factor.
  6. Live Video is good (or even better) but use it sparingly and only when the context warrants a live video. Abusing live video to get more reach may hurt you in the long run.
  7. Quality content is going to become more relevant than ever before. Your audience is human and the algorithms will be programmed to select for “meaningful social interactions” so ensure your content is high quality, relevant, interesting and worthy of meaningful engagement and thoughtful discussions.
  8. Click & Engagement bait will no longer be tolerated by Facebook and demoted if detected. Stay away from clickbait tactics as they will likely be demoted if the “meaningful” engagement is not in balance with less meaningful likes & shares.
  9. Following on from the last point (because it’s probably the most important concrete action you can take immediately), be very careful with manipulative call to actions. Try to make any call to action a native part of your message. Facebook will demote anything that is considered as engagement-bait as they do not consider this type of content “meaningful”. You can and should read their recent update on this topic. This maybe the most confusing point for some marketers and why I placed it in the noteworthy timeline above (Update on Dec 19, 2017). Facebook wants engagement, but you can’t bait users into it. You can actually get engagement without engagement bait. This is consistent with Facebook’s emphasis on authenticity. Your goal is to not only get lots of comments, likes, and shares, but for that engagement to be meaningful. [Thanks to Jon Loomer for insights]
  10. Messenger – The elephant in the room and possibly Facebook’s next big frontier. Facebook wants conversation. Messenger provides it. Keep experimenting with messenger as a customer communication channel. Conversational interfaces with or without screens (voice) where bots (skills/actions) and chatbot play an important role in this emerging communication medium for brands to connect with customers in meaningful ways, stimulating conversation.
  11. Advertising –  As for paid advertising, we just do not know what will happen. But Mark Zuckerberg did mention in his Jan 19 update on trustworthiness that news (which is primarily promoted content these days) in feeds will drop from 5% today to 4% in the near future, which is a 20% drop in amount of news a feed will be exposed to. He also mentioned in his Jan 11 update that time on facebook feeds will likely decrease to time well spent: “I expect the time people spend on Facebook and some measures of engagement will go down”, so we can only conclude at this stage a possible decrease in the short term supply side (less attention, less news/promotional content in feeds). With the demand side exploding as advertisers and marketers rush onto the platform demonstrated by Facebook’s aggressive 47% growth year over year in H1 2017 [Forbes coverage] , we can expect a possible increase in cost from an advertisers perspective to reach a similar audience and drive similar results you may or may not have enjoyed in 2017.

According to Eric Harding who is the social strategy lead at SuperDigital.nl, a new digital performance agency in the Netherlands, social media marketers need to keep in mind that Facebook’s upcoming changes are not intended to decrease paid exposure, but intended to improve the quality of updates people see in their feeds which fulfil Facebook’s mission and values. He reminds us to keep in mind that the relevance and quality factors, which are now being pushed to the organic news feed, were already a part of the Facebook Ad algorithm. The ad that wins an auction and gets shown, is the one with the highest total value to the user [Facebook reference]:

Total value = Advertiser Bid x Estimated Action Rates + Relevance and Quality (user value)

However, as mentioned in point 11, Zuckerberg stated that the amount of news in a feed will drop from 4 to 5%. Which could be interpreted as a drop in inventory. So focus on the elements which are becoming more and more important “relevance and quality” in order to increase this total value and win the auction without necessarily raising your bid (remember Google Adwords?).

“Do not underestimate the impact of high quality creative and relevancy on your performance. The companies that understand how to engage with their audience in a native way, will be the winners in 2018” – Eric Harding, Social Strategy lead at SuperDigital.nl

So what should I do differently? Probably a lot of things. But we do this every day. Relating to Facebook, its not so much about changing but more about asking yourself the right question:

“Do I create content that inspires authentic engagement and conversation?”

This applies to both organic and paid. If you do this, you will be fine and may even see uplift in 2018. If not, time to change something. Go back to the drawing board and start with the right questions. A fun and enlightening read from Jon Loomer is a good next step after reading this article. What I got from this article apart from the obvious that in the end “Marketers ruin everything”, which I also publicly presented in a keynote last year, it is to focus on what you do best. If that is community management, do that as Facebook immediate future will be about the power of community. If it’s inspiring your audiences with the creation of amazing organic content your competitors are envy of – do that. If its kickass social advertising that drives brand and performance and business growth – do that. In the end it’s about doing what you do best and improving at that every day. That is what will move the dial in today’s noisy and fast paced environment.

“Do more of what you do best and strive to do it better.”

Companies will in the end require a smarter breed of marketer who understands how to build relationships through technology. I often refer to this as building “Meaningful Connections” or as facebook puts it “Meaningful Social Interactions” since they no longer connect us, but instead, bring us closer together and give us the power to build community.

I hope this writing can serve as a reference point for you to read about, learn, gain insights and the wisdom to take action on all that’s been happening. You can also watch a recent keynote I gave on this topic at the best social media future. If you would like to discuss it over a warm beverage, whether in person or through technology – hit me up on social media. I would consider that a “Meaningful Social Interactions”.

By Chris Baldwin, PhD. Helping people & organizations grow sustainable. I work as Strategy Director at Traffic4u (A Reprise Label) and IPG Mediabrands in Amsterdam and occasionally contribute to my personal blog.

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