Fed up with seeing those blatant clickbait headlines in your Facebook news feed? You know, the “this cute kitten / starving puppy was attacked/ rescued / cuddled by a baby / chihuahua / alligator. You won’t BELIEVE what happens next!!!” ones (if you’re still not sure, spend a few happy minutes with this clickbait headline generator. If nothing looks familiar, you have super-intellectual friends – well done
Apparently, a few Smart Cookies are making megabucks from these sites; this is how it works. They dredge the internet, and other “viral” type sites like Reddit, for content which ticks the shareability buttons, come up with alluring headlines*, and republish that content onto their own websites with the clickbait titles added. Then, they feed those links into Facebook, often with an initial advertising budget to start pushing them into people’s news feeds as Boosted Posts, and wait for the traffic to start flooding in.
Because of the way Facebook’s News Feed Algorithm works (or has until this week), a clickbait rolling stone headline will gather a very large amount of moss indeed. Or to put it another way, every time one of your friends clicks on one of those articles, it becomes more likely to show up in your feed. If you click too, you’re passing on the joy to your friends. So with that initial investment in a boosted post, the article gets traction throughout Facebook and starts sending lots of traffic back to the original Smart Cookie’s website….which they can then monetise by selling ad space on the basis of all those zillions of page views.
So basically, the Smart Cookies have been exploiting Facebook to deliver traffic to their own sites, for their own reasons.
Strangely enough, Facebook aren’t very keen on this, and have now announced that they intend to knock the whole thing on the head. For one thing, someone else is cashing in on their customer base; for another, all those lovely clicks are departing Facebook and landing on the Smart Cookies’ websites; and for a third thing, some users possibly find those headlines annoying. We’ll leave it to you guess which of those three things are the official reason for the algorithm change they’ve just announced which will reduce the visibility of these articles…
Here’s the full official release if you’d like to read a slightly less snarky view of the whole story: News Feed FYI: click baiting
* alluring in the way that a carrier bag of cheap chocolate is alluring. It’s hard to ignore but will leave you feeling kinda nauseous and grubby if you go there
There’s been plenty of coverage over the last few months about the massive decline in Facebook Pages’ organic reach. In case you missed it: If a page with 5,000 Likers was regularly getting 1,500 sets of eyeballs on their page posts last December, as of now they’re probably getting more like six or seven hundred.
And yes, it’s deliberate; Facebook have been very open about their change to the News Feed algorithm. They’re a little less open about the reasons, pleading “improved user experience” (which doesn’t really hold up, as if a user didn’t want to see a Page’s posts they’d not have Liked them in the first place; or could just go and Unlike them) rather than “need to make a return on investment for our shareholders“.
It’s a shame they don’t feel they can be totally upfront about this: Facebook, and its shareholders, have invested millions of dollars in creating a concept which has changed the world and the way millions of people socialise. It’s not, in our opinion, at all unreasonable that they should start to ask for a contribution at some point. Charging for user accounts would be suicide, (Friends Reunited, anyone?!) so making a levy on businesses using Facebook as a marketing platform is the obvious way to go. And make no mistake - each and every post a business makes on Facebook is, and always has been, an advert!
Anyway, in some quarters there has been a somewhat hissy overreaction to this, with a few brands swearing that they’ll never talk to Facebook again. We think this is a mistake, and here’s why.
The ability to ensure that your post or advert hits the exact people who are most likely to be interested in it, is still unequalled, certainly for anything with an audience the size of Facebook’s. (We’re not counting advertising your Pink Widget in the Pink Widget Monthly magazine, readership of 35!).
Compare the mainstream alternatives of billboards, magazines and papers, and even radio advertising: you are paying for access based on the size of their total audience, regardless of whether half of them are male and you’re selling a new type of pregnancy test.
Facebook allows you to target by criteria (geography, gender, age and many more depending on the type of content), and to pay only for access to that exact audience. Or, you can use what should be the best targeted audience of all: friends of your existing Likers. Provided you’ve built your audience the right way, to attract people who’re genuinely interested in your organisation, this will be great. If you’ve tried any of the shortcuts like buying followers….not so much. But you didn’t, right?!
Again depending on which type of content you use (ads vs boosted posts etc), you will get feedback on who’s seen your content and interacted with it, ranging from great to fantastic. Again, with traditional marketing you get almost none: yes you could use a tracking code in a print ad, but that will only capture those who take one particular action in response to it. You don’t know who’s read it and then had a bit more of a look around at your facebook page, or clicked through onto an article you included. Short of handing out the names and addresses of everyone who glanced your way, this is still as good as it gets.
Yes, you are now being asked to pay something. But do you know how the something in question compares to the alternatives? We were genuinely surprised, not having had a great deal of contact with other advertising mediums. So here it is, from a recent (very useful!) study by Moz.com :
Facebook is WAY out in front for that one thousand eyeball fee, and print advertising, in particular, looks like pretty poor value.
So yes, Facebook has been a free lunch for organisations for a long time, and now it isn’t. But that lunch still isn’t being charged for at market rates, so it’s only likely to go up from here. Our advice is to appreciate the benefits, get smart about using Facebook’s many paid for options, and go get them!
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