In the early days, business marketers really did get a pretty delicious free lunch on Facebook. They did all the hard work of developing and managing an infrastructure that would attract pretty much the biggest single audience in human history; all you had to do as a business marketer was show up, and create content that consumers enjoyed.
And access to that massive audience was free; once you’d attracted some folk to Like your page, you could generally expect the Reach of an individual Post (ie, the number of people who saw it) to bear at least some resemblance to the number of Likers you had.
Towards the end of 2012, many Pages saw that reach decline. This was down to changes in the Facebook News Feed algorithm (then called Edgerank).
Once a user is connected to sufficient people and Pages that there’s more content available when they log on than they’ll realistically read through, Facebook filters that content to try and present the user with the stuff they’ll find the most fascinating. The News Feed algorithm is the thing that does the filtering, and over the years has prioritised all kinds of different “signals” from the user as to what content they were going to enjoy the most.
The algorithm seems to get tweaked more or less constantly, although of course Facebook don’t give away too many details. But there was another big change at the end of last year.
And unlike the last time we saw a major decline in post reach, when Facebook denied that this was a deliberate strategy, this time round they are very explicit that there’s been a deliberate shift in the algorithm in a way which basically reduces Page owners’ access to their Likers’ newsfeeds.
Because the content in News Feed is always changing, and we’re seeing more people sharing more content, Pages will likely see changes in distribution. For many Pages, this includes a decline in organic reach.
They go on to state pretty categorically that you need to prepare to spend money, recommending that Page owners use
a combination of engaging Page posts and advertising to promote your message more broadly. Advertising lets Pages reach the fans they already have and find new customers as well. The fans you have matter. In addition to being some of the most loyal customers, fans also make the advertising on Facebook even more effective.*
They’re not kidding. Here’s what the change, which looks to have taken effect pretty clearly at the start of the December, has done to one of our clients.
This business has a Liker base of over 10,000, and we’ve been managing their page for over two years. Levels of engagement have been consistently strong during that time, but look what happened to their reach when the new algorithm cut in:
A quick glance shows that there’s been a reduction in peak reach from 5-6k per post, to around 3k. So yes, Facebook really mean business on this one.
There are big implications this time. Here are our top ones:
Coming up with a strategy to gain targeted, relevant Fans is more vital than ever. Facebook paid media is frequently based on promotion to either your Likers or your Likers’ friends, so in either case having a solid Liker base to start with is crucial to getting value out of your paid media. If you’ve been running ill-advised contests which have attracted a huge Liker base of Indian ipad lovers when you’re running a nightclub in the UK, you’re now going to be paying for the privilege of showing your content to those people who will never buy from you.
It’s more important than ever to think carefully about whether you have the time, content and budget to make Facebook work for you. (In actual fact this is a blessing for both users and businesses – the overall quality of business-generated content should go up, as those businesses who don’t “get” the Facebook environment give up and leave, and businesses who were “dabbling” will refocus their efforts elsewhere and stop wasting time on Facebook.)
Relying on “viral” content shares just got even harder. If you don’t pay for visibility, you’re relying on even fewer initial views to generate shares and get your brand seen. Together with the difficulty of creating truly “catchy” content in the first place, your chances of making an impact are low.
But basically, this means that Facebook is now mature in terms of a clear business model: they provide the infrastructure and attract the users, you pay for access to those users – essentially the same as for any other web property. A business can still influence both the reach and impact of their Facebook presence (through a clever attraction strategy to draw in Likers, rigorous targeting for paid media, and ensuring that the content is up to scratch when it is seen); but without setting aside a regular budget, the majority of organisations are not going to see results.
*full article text from the Facebook blog can be found here
Another day, another Facebook tweak! Last week, Facebook announced a number of changes to the way that the Newsfeed works. This time, it won’t look any different; but the coding underlying what each user sees has changed, so the content of the news feed will be a little different.
The number of Friends and Liked Pages an average Facebook user has is increasing all the time. Whilst that’s good for Facebook on the one hand, it also gives them a problem; that being less discriminating about who you are linked to, may lead to a less interesting News Feed in the longer run. Here’s Chris Cox, Facebook’s VP of Product:
“The average person today has about 1500 stories they could see, ranging from one of your good friends getting married, to bottom of the barrel updates like your friend from high school who you haven’t heard from in years became friends with someone you’ve never heard of.”
Remember, Facebook’s financial future is dependent on lots of users, logging on a lot – that way they have lots of lovely potential consumers to “sell” to advertisers and business users like you or us. If users start to get bored and log on less frequently, that’s bad news for Facebook’s bank balance.
Facebook have a whole team of people who do nothing but work on trying to make your news feed more alluring. Chris Cox again:
“The goal of the Facebook News Feed team and algorithm is to figure out what stories out of those 1500 will delight and fascinate you.
When the News Feed team succeeds, you see things you care about, have a good time on Facebook, and use it more. When it doesn’t, Facebook seems like a boring waste of time. This team makes or breaks Facebook’s engagement level.”
So, Facebook has just updated the algorithm which sits behind users’ News Feeds, determining what they see. Here’s what we already knew about what influences how likely a post is to turn up in a particular user’s News Feed:
We actually think this already creates a problem: that the News Feed algorithm works in the same way for every user. This would be fine if every user interacted with Facebook in the same way, but they don’t.
Just one easy example: the older a user, the less likely they are to “interact” (like or comment) with a post from one of their friends – no matter how interested they were in it. The fiftysomething generation just doesn’t see the need to pepper the web with Thumbs Up symbols! So for them, what Facebook is likely going to do is to deprive them of seeing content they were actually interested in – just because they don’t behave like a younger user, who is very inclined to interact.
Anyhow, Facebook has introduced a couple of new features to the algorithm: Story Bumping and Last Actor. Here’s what they do:
With Story Bumping, Facebook doesn’t just look at what stories have been published since a user last looked at their feed, but at all the recent stories they hadn’t seen (ie, which Facebook had previously not displayed!) — not just “new” but “new to that user”. Facebook says that “This way, you see more relevant stories, even if they’re a little bit older.”. Which is true…and presumably it also helps cover up lean times when hardly any of your friends have posted anything!
From a business point of view, we might assume that Story Bumping would be good news. Since it’s fundamentally harder for a Page post to compete with big news from a user’s closest friends, Story Bumping gives your Page a second bite at the cherry – the opportunity to get more visibility during times of lower competition. And that would seem to be true, looking at Facebook’s own analysis:
“Facebook has rolled Story Bumping out on the web and is starting to push it to mobile. Initial tests showed the Story Bumping led to 5% more likes, comments, and shares on stories from friends, an 8% boost in interactions for stories from Pages and public figures, and an increase from 57% of potentially visible stories read to 70%.”
“Last Actor” looks at the 50 people a user most recently interacted on Facebook (so activities such as viewing a profile or photos, or liking feed stories). Facebook then shows that user more from those people (or pages) in their feed in the short-term.
The “short term” wasn’t specifically defined, so we don’t know how long this effect works for. However it is certainly something that businesses need to note, especially if you’re having a big recruitment drive such as paying for boosted posts, providing a special offer or even just advertising,
Someone Liking your page for the first time is likely to have been directly to your Page to check it out, and maybe read and /or interacted with a few Posts, so your business Page is very likely to fall into the Last Actor category for them. So, you better make your next batch of content shit hot – because that’s the point at which it’s most likely to be seen by your new Likers.
To sum up: Businesses could well get a boost from these changes; but careful, detailed campaign planning will become more important and effective than ever before.
What was your primary reason for being on Facebook? For most organisations, it’s all about visibility and reach – selling more, and more often.
But, here’s the thing: If you’re a consumer-facing company, and you set up a Facebook page, there will be a customer service dimension to what you do.
Consumers come in many colours, and if they have a question or a problem, they will use the communications channel that THEY prefer – not the one that you do.
So if you’re going to be present on a social media site, you actually have only two choices: to provide great customer service, or to provide bad customer service. But either way, you will be engaged in a customer service dialogue.
Doing it badly often takes the form of putting up the equivalent of a “Talk to the hand, cos the social media team ain’t listenin‘” sign on the Facebook page.
For example, Page usage guidelines stating that the Facebook page is not a customer service channel, or a pinned post with alternative contact details. Score some points for at least trying to set expectations, but here’s the thing: a proportion of consumers will ignore it, and ask anyway. Then they’ll be disappointed at best, or angry at worst, when you either don’t respond or (as they see it) fob them off with a phone number.
So, if you’re going to be there, be prepared to be brilliant instead. Yes, dealing with customer service queries can be resource intensive, but generally only for larger businesses – if you’re running a local shop it’s unlikely that you’ll be getting queries hourly. And if you are – hey, that’s a whole lot of potential purchases you’re able to move along!
It’s really not that hard to do a great job; in the time it would take to type “sorry, we don’t actually help with anything here, please phone this number instead” your staff could be creating real customer loyalty.
Here are the key things to consider:
Make sure whoever takes care of your Facebook Page has at least a working knowledge of the basics around your business. Whether that’s a staff member or an agency, you need to spend the time to build a “frequently asked questions” list for them and ensure that they understand it.
Plus, they need to know where to go for answers to anything more complex, and what kind of turnaround time they should expect on questions. While we’re on that subject:
Your Facebook page is the closest thing you’ll get to a Batphone for your customers. It’s the place where you’ll find out first when there’s a problem brewing with your product or service, or if a new launch is about to be a huge success. So response times are crucial if you want to keep that customer intelligence flowing.
Most users will have forgotten what they wrote within a couple of days, and an unhappy customer will be seething within a single one. Monitor your Facebook page as frequently as you can (it’s not hard; have email alerts set up for new posts, or use Hootsuite or similar on your mobile to keep a quick check on things) but as a minimum twice per day.
We’ve talked about this before in the context of a company who do get it brilliantly right on Twitter, but striking the right tone for the Facebook environment is really important. It shows that you “get” the platforms and are engaging with your customers on their level.
Be friendly, helpful and not “corporate”, and if your customers are using informal, conversational language then make sure you do too.
Now, the massive payoff to doing a great job. Obviously a happy customer is great in itself, but by interacting with that customer via Facebook you’ve radically increased the impact of your excellent service.
If a customer calls you up on a telephone customer service line with a problem and you not only fix it, but also apologise and send them a bouquet by way of compensation, only your customer and the service agent knows about it. But conversations on Facebook are visible to that customer’s friends, and to the general public via your Page.
So suddenly, instead of just one happy customer, you have a happy customer plus a bunch of really impressed people who now feel really confident about doing business with you. And what might that be worth in future sales?