Facebook and Instagram recently changed their content distribution with a tweak to the way they handle posts on their platforms. The algorithm updates have brands and creators up in arms about what it means for them.
It was the Facebook Update that caused international headline news. Announcing the changes through – what else? – a Facebook post, Mark Zuckerberg said the community had told them that business, brand and media posts were stopping them finding the "personal moments" they come to Facebook for. The desire to prioritize "Meaningful social interactions" over "relevant content" means we'll probably see less Buzzfeed Tasty video tutorials about making spaghetti in our feed, in favor of more videos of friend 192's new baby boy eating spaghetti.
Is Facebook's latest move really about putting social experiences back at the heart of its business? Some brands and publishers are not so sure and are re-calculating their budgets for the additional spend that will soon be needed to get eyeballs on their content assets. After all, Facebook will still be encouraging those content creators to boost their posts or take out an ad – for a fee.
The changes announced at Facebook, and others at Instagram, have exposed how brands have come to rely on social media for content distribution. These channels provide a convenient and easy-to-use direct line to their audience, and allow them to interact and gauge interest, building a loyal community around what they do and how they do it …
Work harder, pay more to get content views
On both sides of the social divide, these algorithm changes will absolutely affect the content we see in our feeds – and it's likely to mean brands have to work harder to get their essential content in front of the audience it's intended for.
In January alone, the reach of posts talking about these changes was 250 million, although the vast majority of posts were from industry experts and influencers either educating or lamenting the updates. Digital entrepreneurs and marketers were the top influencers to post about the changes. There was a mixed response; while some outrightly criticized it and saw it as causing the death of the publishing industry, some pointed out the purpose of sharing content is to create meaningful engagements.
Sandi Krakowski (1.4M followers) posted that the new Facebook algorithm does not change a thing at all. She said the platform's emphasis on 'building meaningful connections with people' was in fact in sync with marketers' goals to build relationships with people.
Meanwhile, some brands shared instructions on how to ensure your much-loved content still appeared in user feeds – even long-running institutions, such as this from TV soap General Hospital.
Publishers are turning their backs on Facebook; Brazil's largest newspaper announced in early February that they were pulling content from the platform, while others are re-evaluating their position. Rumors are that many will turn to LinkedIn instead, given that network prioritized useful shares and content.
All change at Instagram, too
Instagram users have had a little longer to get used to things, given the update came at the end of 2017, but that has not stopped a viral campaign by creators large and small calling for a re-think. Even big-name beauty brands such as Anastasia Beverly Hills shared content claiming the update was hurting the artist community.
Those creators are worried that two new features will alter the content in users' feeds: the ability to follow hashtags, and a "recommended for you" section to show posts friends have liked. Both changes will add increased clutter to Instagram feeds, meaning users must scroll further to reach organic content.
Social insights became more important in a world of changing algorithms
But are we really so surprised that these changes have come? Social media companies are, at the end of the day, businesses that must turn a profit. Changing the algorithms is a way of tinkering with how audiences interact with content, and helps the business by either making the user experience easier – and therefore more desirable – or by pushing brands to boost posts to get them seen. It's a business strategy, not a marketing one.
Disruptive changes like these highlight the important of a robust social media strategy that includes measurement at its core. It's not good enough to just share content for the sake of it, just as it's not best practice to recharge the strategy you created three years ago will still be relevant today. Even a well planned, forward-thinking content strategy needs someone to monitor performance, and the best way to monitor performance for social media is through examining social insights and research post engagement.
With algorithm changes having such big effect on marketing strategies, the ability to monitor and measure the fluctuations in engagement levels, reach and comparative analysis, pre and post-update become more and more important. Using these insights, you can test your strategy, learn from its performance, and amend your approach as necessary. Discover how social insights can guide your marketing and communications strategy.