Facebook's big Newsfeed changes: What's it all mean?

The way people see content on Facebook is about to change. Again.

Keeping track of Facebook’s algorithm changes often seems a job in itself, and with each “deprioritization” there’s a slew of social pundits crying doomsday. This January, the platform announced another major change to the way it serves content to people, and before we call it “Facebook Zero For Real This Time,” we wanted to get consensus from ICF Olson’s own experts in this space and check in with Facebook, too.

First, let's get clear on what happened. 

On January 11, Facebook announced changes coming to its newsfeed algorithm that will emphasize posts from family and friends and further push down content from brands and publishers. Organic reach was already near zero as early as 2014, but this change is considered the final blow–especially for publishers. Brands will not be as affected as many are already using "pay-to-play" strategies. 

So what does Facebook want to see?

In a nutshell, interaction,  And requests for it in the comments will not make the cut.

"Content that generally facilitates or inspires more meaningful conversation or meaningful interactions between people will get more distribution, and content that does so less will get less distribution," Head of Newsfeed, Adam Mosseri, told Wired last week.

It's no secret Facebook's own Mark Zuckerberg has been fretting about the platform's role since at least this past election, after which the company came under scrutiny.  During and since the election, Facebook has increasingly become a hotbed for political discourse – factual and not– and such content has a polarizing effect. This is not in line with Facebook's public goal of connecting people, so Zuckerberg made a post days after the official Newsfeed announcement with regard to how the platform will handle "fake news."

Zuckerberg quote

You can read between the lines here: All of this news makes people unhappy and less "connected," which has an effect on how much time they are spending on Facebook, and without a doubt, people are the product on social platforms. It made sense to continue to lump brands and publishers together to make these changes. Though it remains to be seen whether Facebook's 2 billion users will react positively (or at all), brands and publishers will need to take another look at their Facebook strategies.

So how will it affect those strategies specifically?

Impact on Content:

 Since the last Facebook algorithm change in 2016, we have been working with the understanding that our organic content reach was reduced to near-zero levels. With the newest change, you can expect to see lower reach, lower referral traffic and lower video watch time. There is little we can do to counteract this. Facebook says posts that see high organic engagement will be prioritized by the channel, and those include: live video, vertical video and carousels. Finally, Facebook has noted that brands that continue to publish content that has low engagement will be further deprioritized. While they didn't give a number or define what they see as low engagement, we should be able to determine how current engagement rates affect reach. Clients should understand they it may be detrimental to share organic content just to fulfill a posting cadence.

Impact on Paid Media:

Facebook stated these changes won’t directly impact ads or promoted posts, and they won't be deprioritizing paid ads “at this time." That qualifier could point to direct impact on the horizon, but our contacts at the site said they didn’t know of any concrete plans in the works. 

One exception is boosted posts. Boosted posts put spend behind posts that already exist organically, so the paid reach of these posts can be negatively affected by a lack of interaction prior to boosting. Facebook does not recommend boosted posts going forward, and all paid FB should be executed through Ads Manager.

While Facebook isn’t releasing a change that directly impacts ads, we anticipate an indirect impact. Zuckerberg stated that Facebook expects people to spend less time on the platform (although they expect that time to be better spent– more meaningful and relevant, etc.).  With less time spent comes less ad inventory available for purchase.  At the same time, as organic content from publishers and brands becomes further deprioritized, Facebook expects to see an influx of ad dollars. Supply is expected to decrease while demand is expected to increase, which will likely inflate costs. Brands should be prepared for this, and should keep a watchful eye on their CPMs, CPCs, CPEs, etc., to understand how this change impacts their ability to efficiently use the Facebook ads platform.

Influencers:

The Newsfeed change will have little to no impact on our approach to working with influencers. It will, however, benefit Facebook users with fewer than 5,000 friends, as their engaging content will likely be seen by more friends and family. Those people typically have some level of privacy on their account that prevents us from finding and working with them. For influencers with 5,000 or more fans, they will likely be hurt by this change because Facebook requires them to convert their page from a personal page to a brand page. When this happens, those influencers will be treated like brands, and they'll be susceptible to the same deprioritization. That said, we rarely seek or work with influencers who use Facebook as their primary channel, instead looking to more public channels like Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest and YouTube. A strong Facebook presence is always a plus, but never one of our requirements in our discovery and vetting process.

In short, brands should not despair any more than they already were. The changes are coming soon, but they affect publishers to a much harsher degree. As an experience, Facebook is definitely set on going back to its roots. ICF Olson will continue to monitor Newsfeed changes and work with our clients on the best strategies for reaching core audiences in meaningful, effective ways.

Contributors: Jen Boyles, Ashli Henry, and Jason Miller