Thursday, August 18, 2016

Is Facebook Still a Viable Marketing Tool for Brands?

Facebook has been working hard to improve the News Feed. In June, the company announced sweeping changes to its algorithm, diminishing the appearance of content posted by publishers and promoting content posted by friends and family.

As Facebook announced on its blog in late June:

"Facebook was built on the idea of connecting people with their friends and family. That is still the driving principle of News Feed today. Our top priority is keeping you connected to the people, places and things you want to be connected to — starting with the people you are friends with on Facebook."

Although Facebook did not explicitly refer to publishers in this blog post--the company actually said "we don’t favor specific kinds of sources--the implications were made clear elsewhere.

The New York Times reported that "the side effect of those changes...is that content posted by publishers will show up less prominently in news feeds, resulting in significantly less traffic to the hundreds of news media sites that have come to rely on Facebook."

At the time, publishers from The Times to smaller outfits like Vox and BuzzFeed would have been justified lamenting the changes as a sort of "Facebookpocalpyse."

After all, in April of the year, the analytics company, Parse.ly, reported that Facebook dominates news referral traffic, besting even Google:

"In our most recent Authority Report," Parse.ly reported,"we saw that Facebook is still driving a higher percentage of traffic to news sites (41.4 percent) than Google (39.5 percent)."

Yet in a recent report, cited by NiemanLab, the Facebookpocalpyse has seemingly been averted: "New data from analytics firm Parse.ly finds that Facebook traffic to its network of publishers has been flat or even slightly up since the June 29 announcement."

Even then, in early August, Facebook announced another change to the algorithm, minimizing stories it considered to be "clickbait," yet as NiemanLab notes, "There hasn’t been any noticeable change after Facebook’s August 4 announcement it was clamping down on clickbait either, although it may be a little early to know the full impact of that change."

The operative phrase here is likely "a little early to know."

These algorithm changes point to an ongoing emphasis by Facebook to make the user experience more "authentic."

"The strength of our community depends on authentic communication," Facebook says. "The feedback we’ve gotten tells us that authentic stories are the ones that resonate most."

In an attempt to provide a more authentic experience,
Facebook plans to marginalize clickbait. [Image Source]

Despite the emphasis on publishers specifically--and the news that traffic to publishers has not diminished--Facebook's stated goals should ring a bell for all savvy brand managers.

Facebook is still one of the most viable marketing venues online. To compete, however, your brand will need to evolve with the algorithm.

Here are three simple tips for keeping up with the changes.

1. Provide Content Relevant to Your Users

Search Engine Journal rightly noted that these recent changes may strike another nail in the coffin for the organic reach of brand Pages: "Organic reach was already on decline over the past few years, the site wrote, "and even before the latest algorithm change, SocialFlow observed a drop of 42% from January to May."

If organic reach is still available--for the time being--a brand will have to work hard to connect. In its post about the changes, Facebook said the News Feed should "inform" and "entertain" with "authentic" stories.

Translation: Try to connect to your audience on an emotional level.

For inspiration about connecting to your audience on an emotional level, follow the advice of The Law of Attraction, and Kelsey Libert and Kristin Tynski who reviewed 30 of the top 100 images from imgur.com "to understand the best emotional drivers" of viral content: "Think carefully about how your company, product or service is related to a topic or topics that taps into deep-seated human emotions within your target demographic."

Connecting on an emotional level--with informative, entertaining, and authentic posts--you might grab a share of organic reach; yet you also might inspire a few shares, which can increase your visibility exponentially.

2. Pay to Play

Simply put, if you want to compete for visibility you will need to pay for visibility. This is nothing new for brand pages, who were hit with algorithm changes three years ago. But this recent news about publishers just emphasizes Facebook's evolution.

Unfortunately, as more people vie for ad space, the costs of ads are rising. To make your money worthwhile see the first tip above: Make sure you promote only your best content--and make sure it is relevant to selected audience.

3. Promote from Your Personal Page Tactfully

For the most part, we advise against marketing from your personal page--all too often, marketing from your personal page alienates friends and family, which is the exact opposite goal of Facebook's new algorithm.

However, you can still market your business from your personal page with tact and authenticity. For example, instead of merely inviting people to like your brand page, send a personalized message to the group. Tell your friends about your business in your message, and make an honest plea for support and/or feedback.

You can also post status updates about your business. Do not market explicitly. Instead, write meaningfully about your experience as an owner or employee, and what your brand means to you and may or may not mean to your friends.

Kissmetrics posted a helpful list on this subject: 8 Tactful Ways to use your Personal Facebook Account as a Marketing Tool.

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