Why Facebook’s Changes Might not be Bad for Business

This opinion piece from Digital Stack CEO Peter Harris was first published on Adnews

In a Facebook post last week, Mark Zuckerberg announced some big changes are coming to the way businesses exist on the platform.

Zuckerberg says “public content- posts from businesses, brands and media- is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other”. While a lot of the business community is up in arms, he’s actually right. If we as brands want to continue to gain value from Facebook, these changes are exactly what we need.

By now, you probably know what the changes mean. News Feeds will show fewer posts from businesses, brands and media, and more from friends, family and groups.

A better user experience and a better audience

Expect to see the embarrassing baby pics Mum posts get even more attention, while Myer’s mid-season sale gets pushed into the background. You may be thinking that sounds terrible, but Facebook already knows that. In fact, Zuckerberg anticipates traffic, video watch time and reach temporarily decrease, but there’s a method to the madness.

Facebook is trying to make the time people spend on the platform more valuable. The company is making a serious effort to “encourage meaningful interactions between people”.  This comes as research found passively viewing content (even if it’s entertaining or informative) is not actually good for you.

But as advertising and marketing professionals, we already knew that. We’ve become lazy on social media and now we’re feeling the consequences. From small businesses to digital agencies, too many of us have dropped the ball and it’s driving audiences away.

However, the changes aren’t happening overnight, so you still have time to clean up your act. Facebook says the changes will be incremental and will roll out over several months.

To confirm this, we looked at data from thousands of businesses that use Digital Stack to manage their social media marketing. Since the announcement, changes in organic traffic patterns for businesses have been negligible, both in Australian and global markets. As we emerge from the holiday period slump, we expect traffic to increase before seeing a gradual decline in numbers as the changes come into play.

At Digital Stack, we predict Facebook’s changes to act as a form of digital natural selection. Those with the strongest social media game will come out on top. We also anticipate:

The hardest hit:

Brands spamming people with uninteresting drivel that attracts very few reactions, comments and shares will be the hardest hit. If you’re talking or selling at your audience, expect your engagement to fall even further.

Conversation will be king. Brands producing content that drives discussion, invites people to share opinions and creates meaningful interactions won’t be affected. If anything, they might even perform better than before. We see posts that end in a question generate over 400% more comments than the average post.

Live will continue to dominate:

Keep it real. Literally. Zuckerberg says live video way outperforms regular video. Considering Digital Stack data indicates audiences engage over three times more with video than standard posts (and is growing at around 15% year on year), if you’re not already using Facebook Live, you should start.

Ad budgets will rise. To compensate for the dip in reach, CPM and CPC spend will inevitably rise on Facebook, but also across Google Ads. It definitely provides an incentive for brands to get social content in shape to maintain your organic reach and keep spend as low as possible.

Humans over brands:

In line with improving engagement is creating content people can relate to. Based on Digital Stack data, we already know personal content featuring people- staff, customer stories, community- performs 200-300% better than generic business posts like basic text or sales material.

With this in mind, it’s not hard to hypothesise that brands who showcase the people behind the business will rank higher than those who maintain a cold corporate image. Branding should still be a key part of your social strategy however. It has to be consistent across channels, branches and locations. But it should be subtle and add value if you don’t want to get muted.

This is where well designed templates and guidelines come into play. Focus on showcasing what makes your brand great- like users and their stories. For large, multi-location businesses and franchises, leveraging your community of small businesses could be your biggest advantage. Redirect some of the spotlight towards the locals, put a face to a name and build content that connects with the people who directly engage with your business on a day to day basis.

While Facebook’s strategy shakeup might seem unfair for businesses, in the long run, improving the value of newsfeeds ensures that Facebook remains a strong channel that allows us to engage and communicate with our customers, rather than becoming an empty feed of ads.

In fact, I expect more social platforms to follow suit to improve online experiences and reconnect with the underlying purpose of social media: to allows humans to better connect.

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