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Stop the madness: what you REALLY need to know about the Facebook news feed changes

No need to panic: What you really need to know about the Facebook news feed changesHave you noticed the ‘Reach’ on your Facebook Business Page posts has gone down in the last week or two? I’m betting you read a few of the indignant “Facebook is forcing brands to buy ads to reach their fans!” articles or at least saw “Be sure to join our email list, Facebook is keeping us from reaching you!” sponsored posts in your news feed and started to feel a bit panicked.

Take a deep breath.

There is no need to panic or forsake your Facebook Business Page.

I've been contemplating these changes and reading opinions on every side of this debate since it started bubbling up last week (thanks largely, it seems, to this December 5th AdAge article) and I want to give you two things to help you make sense of the hubbub: 1) The facts on what is actually happening, and 2) Some important perspective on these Facebook news feed changes (yes, I really think this has been blown out of proportion).

The Facts (to the best of my knowledge)

  • Unlike Twitter whose home feed is simply a real-time feed of every single tweet from every single person you follow, Facebook uses an algorithm (formally called Edgerank) that takes into account more than 100,000 different variables to decide which posts show up in your news feed (and when) with the aim of making your news feed the most valuable source of information for you, based on your interests, relationships and habits on Facebook.
  • Facebook has said without this algorithm filtering the typical user would receive approximately 1500 stories per day in their News Feed from friends and Pages. The algorithm ensures we are shown only about 300 stories: the ones Facebook is guessing we’ll be most interested in.

Facebook Marketer Jon Loomer put this to the test in his own News Feed, literally tracking all the stories he was shown for 24 hours–yes, all 373!–and he was served over 100 organic–non-sponsored–stories from Pages he cared about, which accounted for nearly 30% of his News Feed.

“What I’m not seeing here is filtering done for the sole purpose of screwing brands, at the expense of user experience. If you want to reach more Fans organically, you need to compete with the mounds of content that users could see every day. To be “preferred,” you need to do one of two things: 1) Be awesome or 2) Pay to reach them.

— Jon Loomer (Check out the full results from his experiment, it’s a refreshingly scientific look at the issue.)

As the amount of content produced on Facebook increases, the competition to for the eyeballs on any one user also increases and the reach of any one Page will naturally decrease.

  • Facebook’s algorithm is not very well-understood as they don’t really reveal the nuts & bolts of its inner workings. Facebook communicates the broad strokes and occasionally when they make changes, they talk about them (as they did in the report discussed in that recent AdAge article) but more often than not the changes are only apparent after-the-fact when social media professionals start comparing notes on how their numbers have changed.

Some perspective

  • What percentage of your Twitter followers do you think you reach with any one tweet? (Hat tip to Jon Loomer for pointing out this valuable comparison.) Personally, I follow over 1000 people, many of whom are in a different time zones from me. I’ve said this before but I spend very little time in my Home Feed because it scrolls by so quickly I find it useless. I make Twitter lists to curate together people talking about the subjects I’m most interested in–and so I know exactly where to find discussions on specific topics. But even then I know I don’t see every tweet from every person in those lists. Not even close. As marketers on Twitter we don’t expect to reach 100%–or even 16%!–of our followers with a single tweet, so why do we have this expectation on Facebook?
  • Reach is NOT the be and end all. You want to reach the engaged fans, the fans who care about you, who interact with your posts or at least who read the articles you share or click to look at the images you post. You want to reach the fans that find your content valuable because those are the people you can SERVE. (And happily, those are also likely to be the ones who will become clients or customers in the future.) If your friends like your page because they want to support you but don’t really care about your business, they aren’t your ideal customer and you don’t need to be reaching them.
  • While there are things you can do to boost your organic reach, the bottom line is the Facebook algorithm will work for you if people find your posts VALUABLE, INTERESTING or ENTERTAINING. If you’ve built a targeted audience of ideal clients you can be of service to, its just a matter of experimenting and tracking metrics that actually matter! For example: What percentage of the people you reached engaged with the post? Clicks, likes, comments and shares are all a measure of engagement and Facebook tracks all these things for you.
  • I’d love if Facebook was a bit more transparent about their algorithm but honestly, I like their filtering in general: I truly believe it helps me get the most out of my news feed. It adapts when I show interest in new topics or become more or less connected to certain people. I find my news feed is generally full of relevant content I’m actually interested in seeing which is an incredible feat considering the sheer volume of stories the 900+ “friends” and 300+ Pages I’ve Liked must create each day.

A bit more food for thought: going beyond your Facebook Page

All this being said, a Facebook Page is only one way to use Facebook for your business: turning on Followers on your personal profile and creating a group for your community or paid programs are both tools in your Facebook marketing arsenal that are worth consideration. But don't give up your Business Page, either! It has many advantages over just using your personal profile, such as:

  1. access to Facebook Insights,
  2. ability to run Facebook Ads,
  3. you can have more than 5000 connections, and
  4. it's a place where you can legally sell stuff (doing this on your personal profile is actually a violation of Facebook’s Terms of Service [see section 4.4] and could get your profile shut down).

Also, as much as I think Derek Halpern’s article on this issue was a big contributor to a lot of the panic last week around the Facebook news feed changes (because his audience is HUGE and his opinion carries a lot of weight), I do agree with him on this: Don’t rely solely on Facebook–you should definitely be building an email list to communicate directly with your audience.

I’d love to hear from you

Have you noticed a dip in your Page’s post ‘Reach’ in the past few weeks? Do you feel like Facebook is treating business pages unfairly?

I'd love to hear your experience and opinion in the comments. Whether you agree or disagree, I think it's a very valuable discussion! If you found this article useful, please share it on Facebook, Twitter or Google+ using the buttons right below: I'd love to help end the madness by bringing some Facebook Page owners a little bit of perspective on this issue!

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4 Responses to Stop the madness: what you REALLY need to know about the Facebook news feed changes

  1. Michele December 15, 2013 at 17:52 #

    I always appreciate a grounded perspective… it’s like when gmail made those changes and everyone freaked out. It’s noteworthy and worth paying attention to, but not worth getting all stressed about. Anything digital will change regularly, so we have to get used to that.

    I do have to say, as someone who’s been on Twitter but is new to a FB business page, I’m finding it quite hard to gain traction. You need engagement to get seen but you need to get seen for engagement. The algorithm doesn’t seem very friendly to new pages. But ah well. Just means you have to get creative.

    • Jackie Johnstone January 18, 2014 at 15:49 #

      Yes! The whole GMail freakout also left me bemused because I actually found I LIKED the tabbed view. And it didn’t make me less likely to read newsletters I subscribed to, just easier to find them and save them until I had a good time to dig in.

      I can understand feeling like it’s a Catch-22, especially when you are new, to get enough exposure. The key is getting new people who like Like to interact with you ASAP because when they first ‘like’ you, you are going to be showing up in their newsfeed.

  2. Carolan Ross December 16, 2013 at 14:35 #

    Thanks for shedding light on this issue, Jackie. Yes I’ve seen an avalanche of complaints about recent changes on Facebook that result in a much lower reach.

    The issue is similar to recent Google algorithm changes like Panda and Penguin, then the more recent Hummingbird. While the changes are frustrating, more is going on behind the scenes than meets the eye. Most of the complaints are about that facebook (and google) want us to pay for advertizing in order to be seen online.

    The sheer numbers of internet users is hugely significant. We live in a time when internet use in general is growing so dramatically that it is difficult to fathom. The statement from facebook above…”without this algorithm filtering the typical user would receive approximately 1500 stories per day in their News Feed” is evidence of that. Who wants 1500 stories a day in their newsfeed? Certainly not me. The constant input is already enough to make my eyes cross.

    Those who control the algorithms at facebook, google and the like are like traffic cops. At any intersection, there’s only space for so many vehicles at a time. As this traffic increases like an avalanche, algorithm changes are inevitable. These changes are simply inherent in the ever-changing and lightspeed growth of the digital age we live in.

    Seems the simplest solution to making sure X input appears in your feed is to simply ENGAGE there. The more one ‘likes’ and comments, the more likely to see more in the feed from that source. So much talk about numbers, when numbers without engagement mean nothing in the end.

    • Jackie Johnstone January 18, 2014 at 15:46 #

      “Numbers without engagement mean nothing in the end”

      You hit the nail on the head here, Carolan! Honestly its true on every social channel but paramount on Facebook because of the way the algorithm works!

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