The changes will affect all types of content posted by publishers, including links, videos, live videos and photos. Facebook said it expected a drop in reach and referral traffic for publishers whose audience comes primarily to content posted by the publisher’s official Facebook page. Just how much is difficult to say.
Organic Facebook reach has been dropping for years, so this isn’t a surprise. And it’s good to see this kind of transparent-ish statement from the company.
Still, there’s a little bit of reading-between-the-lines. There are two exceptions to the expected drop in reach, and they speak to what Facebook is really doing:
- (From the link): The changes “will have less of an impact, however, if most of a publisher’s traffic comes from individual users sharing and commenting on their stories and videos.”
- Ads and boosted content will, presumably, still appear as normal.
Facebook wants to keep people there
Point 1 is Facebook’s not-so-subtle way of encouraging web publishers (like news sites and blogs) to install their share buttons and commenting platform. Remember: Facebook wants people to come to and stay on Facebook, and those features help pull more people and content in. They also help drive toward a world in which Facebook is the default social sharing network.
Point 2 is the only thing Facebook left out of its transparent statement: You will have to pay to reach your fans. It’s a foregone conclusion at this point that Facebook Pages will become something like Facebook Premium—where there is zero organic reach, and publishers pay Facebook as a sort of digital printing press or billboard.
Don’t panic: It was never ‘your’ audience anyway
While this particular news is sudden, it follows a trend we’ve seen expect to continue to see over the long haul: Facebook will make changes to keep more people on Facebook, longer, and to encourage greater ad spending.
This is a no-brainer when it’s written out like that, but there are emotions attached to all this. People worked—hard—to build up their fan bases organically. Now they have to pay to talk to them?
That logic only works if you assume that your fan base was ever truly “yours.” You know the adage, If the product is free, then you are the product? This is that, where brands are the “you.” Facebook allowed brands to set up encampments on their property for years, and now they’re coming around asking for rent. Brands that don’t like it don’t have much recourse.
How brands can respond
That being said, this is by no means “the end of Facebook” for branded accounts. It’s an evolving reality, which ends with the “Facebook Premium” model that I described above. As we march closer to that, there are a handful of logical steps for brands to take:
- Reemphasize spending and focus on your owned channels—your website, blog, email lists, etc.
- Encourage people to share content from your site by installing share buttons (either Facebook’s or a third party’s) and/or comments.
- Boost (pay for) posts to reach more fans.
- Take a “multiple streams of income” mentality and build up your brand’s presence on several other networks.
One big asterisk on that last point: This is New York Times-level news because Facebook is the biggest social network on earth. But don’t think that other networks like Twitter or Pinterest offer safe harbor. They all want the same things Facebook does. Adopt a mentality where your website is home base and social networks are your embassies.
This latest Facebook algorithm change isn’t the end of the world for your brand. But if you’ve been treating your Facebook audience like it’s something you own, this should serve as a wake-up call. Focus more on the stuff you have full control over. Facebook is rented space.