What Facebook’s new algorithm means for content marketing

In 2013, Facebook started seriously slicing up the organic reach of their brand pages. The plan was to go from 16% to 1-2%. Why did they do it?

The most obvious reason is that limited organic reach pushed many companies into paid reach. But was it really just business as usual for Facebook? Probably not.  It’s clear that Facebook wants to move from a lot of content to relevant content.

And the new algorithm does just that. It unclutters your newsfeed so you see less spam and low-quality data.  Click baits? Forget it. Random posts and “meh” memes? Away with them. “Like this if you [insert random phrase]?” No more.

So what kinds of posts get more visibility? According to Newsfeed algorithm, a formula for organic reach means publishing timely, interesting/relevant posts that are popular with the audience. And it’s not just the content, the format matters too. Sounds like good news for Facebook’s 1.3 billion database of users.

The corporate world, however, wasn’t impressed by Facebook’s move. Influencers have criticized and complained, brands have deleted their Facebook pages and screamed in one loud and disappointed voice: “But… What about me?” Brands felt cheated, especially those who invested into growing their fan database. Will they now have to pay to talk to them too?

This outcry was expected and perhaps partly justified, even if the latest Socialbakers research does show that brand engagement actually increased by 30%. It is unclear though whether this is because of organic or paid reach.

But before criticizing Facebook’s decision to limit organic reach, we should consider visibility in terms of audience and storytelling.

  • Greater visibility doesn’t automatically lead to bigger engagement. Paying to grow your audience has many disadvantages. Firstly, it can generate a fake audience as Derek Muller showed in his Veritasium’s experiment. Secondly, it can generate an apathetic audience (and it usually also does).

    You talk to them, nothing happens. You ask a question, nothing happens. You run a campaign. Guess what? Yup, nothing at all. So not only will you need toINVEST in engagement, you will first have to get to know who your fans actually are. Are they people you targeted? It’s quite likely they aren’t. And in the end, what is more important – to tell your story to masses of people or to tell it to the right people?

  • Talking doesn’t equal connecting. It seems that many brands take their audience for granted. Liking a page doesn’t always imply interest. And people tend to avoid talking to brands that see things only from their perspective. Not all brands take enough time to develop and offer quality content. And this brings me to my last point.

  • Paid reach won’t substitute for great storytelling. While paid reach might get more visibility and engagement in the short term, it isn’t a sustainable strategy. The other and better approach is investing in great stories, the kind of content that will speak to people and relate to them, stories that will emotionally connect with their values and life.  Not only does it pay off, it also goes far beyond social media. It touches people’s hearts and inspires them to share and “own” the stories.

So in the end, what Facebook did, is made companies rethink their social media strategies and reflect about their audiences. They forced them to ask uncomfortable questions: Do I have something meaningful to say? Who is going to care about this? Is this the right format for my story? Is this the right platform for my audience?

And while everyone is anticipating Facebook’s next move, there is one thing anyone can do to increase their organic reach: Keep calm and tell stories that matter.

I originally wrote this piece for ZN blog.