Behind Facebook’s latest newsfeed tweaks
Social media giant has changed its algorithm to increase users' engagement
November 29, 2012
Earlier this fall, Facebook tweaked its algorithm with the aim, it said, of improving users’ experience by limiting the appearance of posts that weren’t engaging. The idea was to highlight posts in readers’ newsfeed that they were most likely to respond to or interact with. Of course, media people immediately wondered what the impact would be on their clients, who use brand pages to market their products and connect with customers. GroupM Next and M80, a GroupM-owned social media and community activation agency, analyzed the results of the Facebook changes to find out how brands’ pages were affected. They found that these pages’ reach decreased by 38 percent, but the amount of fans’ engagement increased. That essentially means that while brands are reaching a smaller number of people, the ones they are reaching are more likely to share their content or get involved in a conversation about the brand, both valuable things for advertisers. Brandon Fischer, partner and director of predictive insights at GroupM Next, and Jeff Semones, president at M80, talk to Media Life about why Facebook made the tweaks, what they mean for advertisers, and why it could lead to more investment in the social network.
What did you find most surprising or most interesting about this study?
Fischer: The most surprising insight that came out of this study was the across-the-board decrease in the performance of "shares" as a post type (posts by a brand where they share content posted by another user or brand).
Facebook has acknowledged that their changes were designed to improve consumer experience and better target messaging on the network. We saw this manifest such that brands’ posts are now reaching a more engaged subset of the overall fan base.
It is fascinating that these "super fans" are not interested in engaging with someone else’s content that a brand shares. And even more interesting, Facebook has decreased pushing that content to the fan base by a large margin as well.
What's the most important thing media buyers and planners can take from it?
Semones: This further supports the need for stronger integration between the community managers who steward the relationship with consumers on Facebook, and the media planners/buyers who manage the paid media investments within social media.
In many cases, the teams responsible for managing the relationships and those responsible for managing spend are not working together as closely as they should be. Community managers develop expertise related to content and conversation, and understand what the audiences want and need to stay engaged.
The media planner's ability to tap into that expertise allows for smarter, more effective allocation of spend within social. So the social media teams, with community management and "paid social" integrated and activating together, are better positioned to adjust and thrive within Facebook’s ever-changing environment.
What is the upside in the decreased exposure of brands in the wake of Facebook's algorithm changes?
Semones: One way to look at this is that the Facebook algorithm change helps the brands speak to those use whom, to-date, have shown to be actively engaged with a brand’s posts and seemingly are most interested in hearing from them.
In some ways, Facebook has made the social media marketer's job a bit easier … with regards to engagement.
Is an increase in engagement potentially more valuable than greater exposure to fans? Why or why not?
Semones: Of course. However, success is generally associated with pre-determined key performance indicators [KPIs], especially in the absence of a direct correlation to sales. Generally speaking, all of our clients place a premium on engagement.
What a brand may lose with Facebook’s recent algorithm change and decline in organic reach, however, is the opportunity to increase engagement with fans who proactively liked the brand’s page but have historically been less engaged. For some brands, at scale, this could be thousands or even millions of users.
Do you think these changes will prompt more brands to try Facebook advertising to get their message across? Is this one of Facebook's aims?
Semones: The simplest answer? Yes and possibly. It is not a surprise that paid media is an inevitable evolution for brands on an evolving platform like Facebook. This is not to say brands need to be reliant on paid media. The opportunities that exist today and for the future are strong for brands both organically and with paid. Brands will just need to find the right formulas specific to their business, the types of posts they make, and how their messages and goals are supported or sponsored on Facebook. Again, this supports the rationale for the integrated social media team.
I think we can expect big things from Facebook as they evolve their advertising products over the coming months and years. Facebook knows a LOT more about who we are as users, what we do and what we may want/need. That's enticing to advertisers. Especially when there is data to support it.
Why do some sorts of posts fail to generate the engagement that others do? Which ones seem to work best?
Semones: The answer to this question will vary from person to person and brand to brand, but generally speaking, posts with photos, videos, relevant questions/polls or clear calls to action see stronger engagement than those without.
For a brand, it is a primary responsibility of the community managers to identify and know the answers to these questions better than anyone else.
Why, as you conclude, does "engaging content" matter less than before?
Fischer: For this part of the analysis we wanted to evaluate how do engagement and reach work together. Specifically, if a post is highly engaging, does it experience a higher reach? If yes, by how much? And has that changed since the advent of the new Facebook algorithm? Given that the recent Facebook algorithm change has been promoted by the social network as a move to emphasize the importance of engaging content, we expected that engaging content would have a greater impact on organic reach after the algorithm change.
However, our research did not find that to be the case.
We found that engaging content does in fact increase the organic reach of a post. Our analysis revealed that, before the Facebook algorithm change, when a post experienced higher than average engagement, that post would see an average lift in organic reach of 71.43 percent. In other words, because that post was engaging, the organic reach of that post increased by 71.43 percent.
After the changes to the Facebook algorithm, the impact of engagement on organic reach has decreased. Engaging content does still improve organic reach, but not as much as it previously did. Since the Facebook algorithm change, when a post experiences higher-than-average engagement, that post sees an average lift in organic reach of 21.43 percent.
We say that engaging content matters less than before because of the decrease in the lift engaging content provides to reach. It’s important to restate that when a post is highly engaging, it still receives additional reach. However, our data suggests that before the advent of the new Facebook algorithm, that highly engaging content enjoyed a significantly larger boost to reach.
Why this is the case is difficult to say. It could be because the new algorithm is targeting an already highly engaged user base, so highly engaging material no longer carries as much weight.
It could also be that the new algorithm has set a higher bar for what is considered highly engaging, and because that standard is so much higher it is difficult for brands to capture it on a regular basis. Unfortunately, our data and analysis can't decipher what’s driving the drop, only that it is happening.
What's the biggest misconception about Facebook engagement?
Semones: Lately it seems that engagement is all that matters. While it is certainly important, it is foolish to isolate and focus solely on Facebook engagement while neglecting the other parts of a brand's social media ecosystem.
Tags: advertisers, buyers, community, exposure, facebook, facebook advertising, facebook algorithm, facebook engagement, Jeff Semones, media, newsfeed, people, social media, social media advertising, study
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