Facebook cracks down on clickbait headlines

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

Facebook Pages vs Facebook Groups – what’s right for your business?

Facebook Groups vs Facebook PagesIn today’s post, we’re going to look at the REAL differences between using a Facebook Group and using a Facebook Page for your business. Not just what Facebook says about the two options, which frankly doesn’t help all that much, but the actual pros and cons in practice – from your future Facebook community’s point of view as well as yours. And there are some huge implications which most people aren’t aware of.

Facebook Page vs Facebook Group – Definitions

So, let’s start with what Facebook has to say.

Facebook Pages:

…allow entities such as public figures and organizations to broadcast information to their fans.”

Whereas Facebook Groups are for

“..members… to connect, share and even collaborate on a given topic or idea”.

So, here’s the first point about the difference between the two, and it’s an important one: Pages are intended primarily for one-to-many broadcast. You run the show, your Likers join in. That’s not so say that discussions can’t take place between community members, they can, but it’ll be within the context of a post that you initiated.

One of the things that many people are unaware of with Pages, is that if a user posts on your Page, only you and anyone directly visiting that Page will actually see it. It will NOT appear in other Likers’ News Feeds, UNLESS you choose to share the post. Depending on the type of organisation you are, and what you’re trying to achieve with Facebook, that may be an advantage or a disadvantage – more on this below.

The key word in the Group description is collaborate. Groups are much more about a many-to-many discussion; think of them as all the members sitting in a big circle in a room, rather than classroom style with you at the front!

What that means in practice, is that when any group member posts to the group, that post will go into all the other members’ news feeds (News Feed Algorithm notwithstanding) without any kind of involvement, or moderation, from you. You will still have the ability to delete inappropriate posts and so on, but the basic assumption is that all members are of equal importance in terms of creating content.

Pages vs Groups – pros and cons

So hopefully you can already see that there is a distinct difference between Pages and Groups. They’re definitely not just interchangeable. But beyond the basic structure, there are some additional pros and cons which you need to be aware of when choosing your Facebook presence.

Facebook Page Pros

With a Facebook Page, you get access to a whole host of enhanced features which aren’t available to Group owners. These include:

Promotion. The opportunity to promote your content to a wider audience, via Promoted Posts, Advertising and so on, is only available to Facebook Pages, not to Groups. If attracting new members, or promoting specific content or offers in a short time frame is important to you, then this is going to be a deal breaker and you will need to use a Page.

Analytics. The facebook Insights package, which is included free of charge with all Pages, is very powerful and is continuing to be actively developed by Facebook – so it’s likely to get even better in the future. Insights can show you all kinds of valuable stuff from who your Likers are (where they come from, what age group and gender they are, and even when most of them are logged on to Facebook) to which of your Posts are most effective. You can even compare the performance of your Page with that of a competitor, without the competitor knowing about it. So again, this is a huge plus for Pages over Groups.

Visibility. When you’re in Admin mode for your Page, posting on other Pages creates a nice live link back to your own organisation.

News Feed. Liking another Page while you’re in Admin mode will pull that Page’s content into your Page’s News Feed (not your personal feed). This allows you to automatically collate content from partners or businesses which are complementary to yours, for example wedding photographers or florists if you’re promoting a wedding venue. That not only helps you keep in touch with those businesses, but it will often provide a good source of content which will be valuable to your own Likers, too.

Facebook Page Cons

Community spirit and engagement. Tthere are exceptions, but the majority of Pages find creating a real spirit of community – where Likers actively request and value other Likers’ opinions – an ongoing challenge.

You will be fighting the News Feed algorithm. Although we’ve not studied this scientifically, our own experience and those of our clients suggests that Facebook is far less generous when deciding how many Page posts are going to reach Likers’ newsfeeds, than they are with Group posts.

Moving on to Groups, there are pros and cons here, too. (Sorry – we never said it would be an easy decision!).

Facebook Group Pros

The major advantage is the way that Group posts work, in terms of the visibility of all posts to all members, and the higher probability (we believe) of a Group post showing up in a members’ News Feed vs an un-Boosted Page post.

Privacy options. The other Group-only function is the ability to make the group Closed. This means that a group administrator has to approve every new member before they get access, and group discussions are not visible to non members. Of course, if you’re aiming to build visibility on Facebook, this is a bad thing. But if you’re dealing with a sensitive topic / product / service which your users may not want to be seen discussing in “public”, this is the only way to go.

It’s also worth considering making a Group Closed in other circumstances, though. With an Open Group, each time a member comments on a post, that comment is likely to be included in their friends’ news feeds. If the Group discussions are on a fairly niche area, and it is (or is likely to become) a very busy group, members may actually prefer it if that wasn’t the case. That’s not necessarily because it’s a sensitive topic, but just because their friends may not share their avid interest in tropical fish breeding! So by Closing the group, you’re removing the issue of members self-limiting the amount they engage because their friends are telling them they’re sick of hearing about Guppies.

Group disadvantages

Apart from missing out on the promotional and analytical functions you get with a Page, the other issue we see with Groups is futureproofing. Group functionality hasn’t been actively developed by Facebook for a while, and unlike Business Pages they aren’t a direct revenue generating area. So in theory, there may be a higher risk that Facebook bins the Group function in the future.

However, good Groups definitely make a big contribution to Facebook’s “stickiness” – the frequency with which users log in, and the amount of time they spend on the site. So we don’t think Facebook are likely to kill off Groups altogether, but they may miss out on function enhancements in the future.

So, when do I use a Facebook Group?!

Hopefully you can analyse the pros and cons of each option above in terms of the impact on your own organisation type and objectives, as there really isn’t one right or wrong answer here. In general, if your Facebook strategy is quite strongly commercial – for example, you want to use it to sell directly, make special offers, reach out to a targeted audience quickly – then a Page will likely be the right choice.

On the other hand, if your product or service would benefit from a much “softer” approach, and/or you’re in a very niche area, then a Group might work better for you. For example, let’s say you’re selling Dog Agility equipment, and the community of people who own dogs and do agility with them is quite small – but extremely committed and interested in sharing knowledge. In those circumstances giving up some control in favour of hosting a very active community (to which you then have access for sales purposes!) might well be worth it.

Have we missed anything? We’re still realising little differences in the way both options work which can make a big difference, so if you’re aware of anything else please do comment below.

Page reach throttled? Get over it. 3 reasons why Facebook marketing is still a bargain

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.

3 reasons why marketing with Facebook is still a bargain

One: The Targeting

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?!

Two: Trackability

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.

Three: Cost

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 - cost to reach a thousand people

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 one image, why all hospitality venues should offer free WiFi NOW!

In a bid for the shortest blog post ever, we bring you this. In a single image, all of the arguments we have over and over with hotels, tourist attractions and similar businesses about why providing no (or chargeable) WiFi is shooting themselves in the foot.

So here’s the picture which is worth a thousand words: it appeared in Kate’s Facebook news feed recently.

If you need it spelling out, here’s the significance:

Why providing free WiFi is the single best piece of marketing spend you’ll ever make

That image was snapped by a contact of Kate’s, and put into a group for dog owners which she’s a member of. Pretty much all of the people in that group are more or less constantly on the lookout for quality places to stay which will also accept their hounds.

That hotel meets both criteria, and because of that post to Facebook has just been advertised, for free, to the most targeted group of potential customers they could ever dream of. Oh, and rapidly endorsed by several other people who all love the place too – social proof, much?!

For any hotel or resort owner, getting such a compelling advert in front of a large and relevant target market has got to be the ultimate victory. And yet the one thing they could do to make it easier – providing great Internet access – is all too often forgotten about or priced at a level which gets nothing but derisory laughter from their customers.

To really put the icing on the cake

Now that Facebook post being out there is obviously a great start. That particular hotel has also established a Facebook page, which allows the customer to tag them (provide a live link to their Page) in her post – even better, as potential customers are likely to click on it to find out a bit more.

If they were really savvy (and we’ve no idea whether there was any followup in this particular instance) they’d be replying to the lady in question and going all out to ensure her stay was as perfect as possible – since she’s just proved with that one post that she’s influential with, and connected to, exactly their type of customer.

It’s not rocket science

It really isn’t, is it? Make sure your customers can get easy internet access. Be present on the social media sites they might be using. Monitor those platforms, respond and capitalise where you can. So why are so many hotels still charging £10 an hour for WiFi and totally ignoring social media?

Of course, if your rooms are a candidate for The Hotel Inspector, you might have good reason to keep that router in the cellar. Real-time commentary on the mould in the shower isn’t going to do you any favours…but then the best plan might be to fix that, before you bother with any marketing at all!

Why Facebook Business Pages are no longer a free lunch

It’s not entirely true that there’s no such thing as a free lunch: sometimes there is, just usually not for very long. And so it’s proven with Facebook.

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.

When is a Liker not a Liker?

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.

Facebook says: spend some dosh or forget it

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.*

Organic reach decline in pictures

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:

facebook business page reach decline

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.

What does this mean for Businesses on Facebook?

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