At The Mercy of Facebook’s Algorithm? Don’t Hate The Player, Change The Game
Worried the latest algorithm tweaks could mean a decline in reach? Columnist Jordan Kretchmer says it might be time to switch up your Facebook strategy.
Surprise! Facebook announced another round of updates to its News Feed algorithm last week. This time the social media giant is setting its sights on promoting content from friends over posts from brands and publishers.
Facebook called it “balancing content from friends and Pages,” but for the brands and publishers that depend on Facebook for referral traffic, it’s hard to see the balance.
Over the past two years, Facebook’s algorithm has chipped away at the number of people that a brand or publisher can reach organically (without paying for it). It started getting bad about a year ago, when the average unpaid brand post (for large pages with more than 500,000 Likes) was only seen by about 2 percent of that brand’s fans. But today that number is potentially plummeting even closer to zero.
A Widespread Update
The new algorithm consists of three tweaks that include making it more likely to see multiple updates from the same friend; placing content from friends more prominently in the News Feed; and surfacing fewer updates about friends liking or commenting on a particular post (like those from brands or publishers).
Facebook warned in its own blog post announcing the changes that “post reach and referral traffic could potentially decline” as a result. In fact, some brands reported seeing their reach stats decline almost immediately after its release.
If it wasn’t already crystal clear that Facebook expects you to pay for your audience, it is now. Organic reach is dead.
But if you’re too busy yearning for the old days or bitterly deleting your Facebook page, you’re missing the huge opportunity Facebook is offering you instead.
When A Door Closes, Look For A Window
Facebook’s advertising platform is shaping up to be one of the largest ad networks in the world. And while many in the social media marketing industry are still stunned by the loss of their largest free distribution channel, others are discovering that it’s actually highly effective as a paid channel.
In fact, a recent study from Adobe Systems (PDF) shows that while organic impressions are down by 35 percent since the first quarter of 2015, paid impressions have grown by eight percent.
Evolving your Facebook strategy to incorporate paid media isn’t as simple as throwing money at sponsored posts. Like any other paid channel, you should be using Facebook to drive traffic somewhere — ideally to your own property, where you have total control.
So instead of investing your Facebook budget in campaigns that live on Facebook (like campaigning for more likes or hosting a Facebook contest), invest that money in driving traffic to your own website or app. That’s where you can really get to know them, and vice versa.
To drive the most traffic, start by testing various headlines and images for each post to optimize based on the ones that garner the most likes, shares and clicks. If you’re working on a smaller budget, do some initial A/B testing with non-promoted posts — not just on Facebook but on Twitter, Linkedin, Pinterest, etc. — to determine what combination drives the most engagement. Then promote the winners.
Don’t Just Buy Clicks: Groom An Audience
Your new Facebook strategy doesn’t stop at just getting people to visit your website. You need to take it a step further or you’ll still be dependent on borrowing Facebook’s audience in order to reach your fans.
To free yourself from that cycle, focus on developing an audience of your own: people who come directly to you.
If a visitor arrives on your site from Facebook and it’s boring, chances are they’ll head right back into the Facebook vacuum where the cycle begins again. And sadly, when it comes to social traffic, that’s exactly what happens most of the time for brands and publishers alike.
But research from Chartbeat shows that if you can hold visitors’ attention for three minutes, they are twice as likely to return to your site than if you only hold them for one minute.
So how do you get them to stay? There’s no magic pill that works for everyone, but a few common tactics tend to drive results.
Online communities — where fans can chat with each other, review products, upload photos and videos or get exclusive content from your brand — can boost engagement significantly. Video is also emerging as a highly effective tool, as are content marketing tools like blogs, tutorials and other resources that give the audience something of value.
These strategies increase audience engagement on their own, which is proven to drive more return visitors. But if you’re really savvy, you’ll also use them to drive email subscriptions.
Because once you have a fan’s email address, you have a truly 1:1 relationship — where no Facebook algorithm, baby picture or cat video can come between you.