Like most great tragedies, this is a love story where someone dies at the end. Over the past decade, millions of businesses both large and small have found Facebook to be a great marketing tool to connect with customers and drive sales. Not only did it work, it was also free. Truly a match made in heaven for any business owner.

But now, Facebook is changing how its News Feed algorithm prioritizes content. Earlier this month, Mark Zuckerberg announced that users should “expect to see more from friends, family, and groups” and less from “businesses, brands, and media.”

On top of that, Facebook has also announced that the changes will reduce engagement for Pages across the board. Obviously, this has quite a few businesses on red alert.

Here at Alpha Media – Peoria, we’ve been working diligently to test the impact of these new changes and in some cases, have had to quickly pivot the strategies we planned on utilizing for our clients. We know that change can be stressful, especially when it impacts your business, so we put together a few pieces of key advice on handling the new changes and making sure your business’ organic reach doesn’t plummet.

Organic reach is dead.

Okay, it’s not dead but you’re not going to like the odds. You probably will not be surprised to learn that there is a ton of competition for organic reach. According to Facebook, the average user has about 1,500 stories competing to appear in their News Feed every time they log on. Facebook’s algorithms then select roughly 300 of those stories based on their ranking of how relevant each story is to that user.

On top of that, organic reach and engagement for branded content have been declining for years. Back in 2014, the organic reach rate for brand Pages was already down to 6% (and as low as 2% for brands with over 500,000 followers).

Average organic reach chart

A chart showing the decline of organic reach over the past five years

From January to June 2017, the average number of engagements with branded content on Facebook fell more than 20%, and we can expect that number to decline a bit more as organic reach decreases.

So, if Facebook has been declining business pages’ reach for years, what exactly is changing now and why is everyone making it a big deal?

That’s a good question. In many ways, this marks a new era for Businesses on Facebook and Pages that don’t adapt are likely to see their reach significantly drop.

Facebook’s Head of News Feed, Adam Mosseri, recently stated that in addition to boosting posts from friends and family, the Facebook algorithm change “will also prioritize posts that spark conversations and meaningful interactions between people.”

We know what you’re thinking. What counts as a “meaningful interaction”? While Facebook hasn’t announced any publicly visible metrics for marketers to measure this, their Marketing Partners team provided a few examples in a recent FAQ.

Here’s a list of interactions the updated News Feed algorithm would mark as meaningful:

  • Multiple people replying to each other’s comments on a video they watched or an article they read in News Feed
  • A page responding to a person’s comment on their post
  • People commenting on or interacting with a page’s live video
  • People responding to page posts shared through Messenger
  • Any interactions that people have with a page post that has been reshared by a user

So, to make sure your posts don’t lose engagement, make sure that your posts have a lot of engagement. Sounds like a catch-22, right?

But things aren’t as bad as they sound. If you can maximize the number of “meaningful interactions” with your content, your organic reach shouldn’t take much of a hit.

Other important points to keep in mind: branded content will not be moved out of News Feed, and brand Pages won’t be disadvantaged compared to other Pages.

To sum up: Businesses both big and small are all in the same boat. Organic reach for Pages will keep declining, but there are ways you can make sure your brand still has a strong presence on Facebook.

Get in touch with your emotions (or at least your followers)

Think about the content that prompts you to really engage. Is it the content that entertains, inspires or amazes you? With all that extra weight being placed on interactions and comments in the new Facebook algorithm change, you will really need to stimulate your followers’ opinions and feelings.

Remember, multiple people replying to each other’s comments on an article or video is a prime example of a “meaningful interaction”. If you can post content that gets people discussing or debating in the comments, you’ll not only have great engagement stats, but you’ll also get priority in the updated News Feed.

But what emotions should you focus on to prompt meaningful discussions among your fans? This research published in Harvard Business Review found that six emotions were extremely common in highly shared content on social media. These were:

  • Admiration
  • Amazement
  • Astonishment
  • Curiosity
  • Interest
  • Uncertainty

If you focus your organic posts on stimulating at least one of these six emotions, you’re likely to see a boost in shares and comments. Your brand can still be prioritized in the new Facebook News Feed as long as you share content that amazes your audience and gets them talking.

Don’t resort to engagement bait

With the new Facebook algorithm change, you may be tempted to do whatever you can to boost engagement and keep your Page’s content prioritized. If you go too far, however, you’ll end up hurting because of it.

Facebook released a different announcement about “Fighting Engagement Bait”. In short, it stated plans to lower the News Feed rank of posts deemed to manipulate users into engaging with them.

How does Facebook define engagement bait? In the post, they described it as “spammy posts on Facebook that goad users into interacting with likes, shares, comments, and other actions.” They offered the example of a Page prompting followers to “LIKE this if you’re an Aries!”, “tag a friend who…” or “like for X, love for X, etc.”

To explain further, here are the five types engagement bait Facebook will downgrade your posts for:

Types of baiting Facebook discourages

White iPhone’s displaying three different types of posts that Facebook views as “engagement bait”
Source: facebook

First, “vote baiting” asks followers to “vote” on one of several options by reacting to or commenting on a post in a certain way.

Second, “react baiting” prompts users to give specific reactions to a post.

Third, “share baiting” offers hidden value to users that share a post.

Fourth, “tag baiting” calls on users to tag friends with characteristics defined by a post.

Last, “comment baiting” pushes users to sound off in the comments with a particular word or phrase.

Essentially, you can’t game the system by begging your fans for shares, tags, and likes. The only way to keep your organic reach solid is to create or share genuinely interesting, discussion-provoking content.

Video is king

Engagement and reach are through the roof for Facebook videos. Video content posted on Facebook sees an average of 135% more organic reach than photos.

On top of that, native Facebook videos have a mean engagement rate of 4.9%. Compare that to the average engagement rate of under 2% that posts from major brands typically get, and you’ll see why video might just be the most powerful tool in your social media workshop.

Facebook’s News Feed algorithms also prioritize video, essentially giving your video content a free bump in your fans’ Feeds. And that bump is amplified by the fact that videos take up a large amount of real estate on users’ screens.

Don’t forget to add captions, too—82% of Facebook users watch videos with the sound off, and videos with .srt caption files included receive as much as a 367% increase in engagement as a result.

Behaviorally, people tend to stop scrolling if they see movement in order to identify what it is. With that in mind, even GIFs or videos that are just a few seconds long can be incredibly attention-grabbing.

Even if your brand doesn’t have the time or resources to produce high-end video campaigns, simply making use of animated content could help you maintain your posts’ ranks.

Keep calm and keep advertising

Many business owners forget one simple rule: you can’t build a brand on organic reach alone. With that in mind, even if the new Facebook algorithm change does lead to a downturn in your Page’s organic reach, there is no reason to lose your cool.

Organic posts are not the right medium for reaching out to vast hordes of potential customers or getting your brand message spread far and wide. Rather, they’re for building deeper relationships with the people who already know and love your business and providing a communication channel directly between you and your fans.

Or on a more pragmatic level, they can be a strong tool for testing content before choosing to spend money promoting it.

Meanwhile, paid Facebook ads can precisely target your ideal potential customers in large numbers at relatively low cost. You can scale them up almost indefinitely as long as you’re getting a positive ROI and reach exponentially wider audiences with almost no interference from News Feed’s ranking system.

If you want significant reach on Facebook in 2018, the organic growth approach is no longer sufficient. Making use of paid posts and ads can keep your engagement at the highest possible level.

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