Facebook’s announcement that it is prioritising posts from friends and family in the news feed has major implications for brand pages and partnerships with publishers. MercerBell’s Managing Editor Gary Andrews talks through the considerations for any brands who have Facebook as a key marketing channel.

It’s a sign of just how all-encompassing Facebook has become in our lives that a change to their algorithm becomes headline news around the world. But their decision to deprioritise posts from pages in their News Feed in favour of updates from family and friends is one of the most significant updates to land on the platform.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that some publishers who rely heavily on Facebook could face a threat to their existence. Meanwhile, brands who have heavily invested in content creation for the platform will need to substantially revise their strategies.

The old days of building your fans on Facebook while creating content that had the potential to go viral are now long gone (and have been for some time). While the announcement shifts the platform into a new era, it will take some time to fully understand all the implications. But for those of us who need to make immediate changes, here are the key areas to consider.

Paying to play on Facebook is essential

We’re not quite going to be at zero reach – some brands with a significant and engaged audience may still find they get a level of organic traction, although it’s likely to be substantially less than they were used to. But anybody who thinks they avoid paying Facebook to reach their audience will be in for a rude awakening.

So Facebook becomes, at it’s core, an advertising platform, albeit a unique channel where community management is vital. Facebook have said paid activity will not be affected, but it will be interesting to see if this changes when engagement bait is promoted. It’s likely the organic sharing from these type of paid posts will be quietly throttled while the cost quietly creeps up.

The key take out here: look at your media spend that’s allocated to Facebook and ensure it’s proportionate to your content production budget.

Facebook Groups will become more important

If there’s one big winner on Facebook in 2018, it’s Groups. Previously somewhat of an unloved hangover from the early days of the platform, last year Facebook seemed to realise that like minded communities drove a lot of engagement (and by default, site stickiness).

It’s no coincidence that notifications are now full of your most popular Groups, as the site pushes you to spend more time debating your passion, and publishers have been quick to leap on board. UK newspaper The Times has dedicated groups to films, books and even Brexit. For publishers with large, engaged groups, it may even provide another sponsorship opportunity for brands.

Where marketers land within Groups is another question. You can’t force engagement around a topic that nobody is that interested in discussing, and unless you’re a hugely popular brand, creating a Group solely dedicated to your brand is probably not going to interest people – and could become another forum for complaints.

Good brand-run Groups probably come from marketers that have a good sense of where they fit into wider conversations with their audience. For example, it wouldn’t be a stretch for, say, Bunnings Warehouse to create a group focused on DIY or home interiors.

The other interesting area for brands is Groups that already exist around their brand. To continue the Bunnings example, two Groups dedicated to the brand already exist: one on interiors inspired by Bunnings, and a smaller Group set up by mums who love Bunnings. I could easily set up a Group dedicated to Bunnings sausage sizzles across New South Wales. Groups run by a community are potentially more valuable than those run by the brand.

A word of caution: Facebook does provide group admins with analytics, but Groups themselves are notoriously difficult to track with social listening software, and there’s no hard marketing KPIs around Group value currently.

The key takeout here: pay attention to Groups, keep an eye on those relevant to your brand and if you can own a conversation, consider Groups as a tactic.

Community Managers and Customer Service agents are still vital

It would be easy to discard Facebook as a channel if your budget is small, you’re not creating content, and you baulk at handing more of your budget over to the blue behemoth. This would be a mistake.

Customer service and community management are two of the less glamourous elements of social media, but they also offer the best opportunity to really showcase your brand’s value and create word of mouth advocacy.

As long as Facebook exists as a channel, people will use it to complain. And if there’s no place to complain about the service, they’ll simply head to somewhere more public, like Instagram or Twitter. Facebook still has a bulk of Australia’s audience and it’s far better to be on a platform where you can fix a complaint than not.

Social customer service is a key part of the customer experience. It’s expected, it’s measureable, with the right formula you can even calculate the cost and / or savings to the business and if you get it right, a positive experience can be more powerful at coverting people to your brand through word of mouth than high reach.

On that note, if you’re doubling down on your advertising on Facebook, ensure you have a good community manager in place. The higher the reach, the more likely a paid post is to attract negative feedback. Having people in place to change sentiment is vital.

One final advantage of a community manager, that also provides a dilemma for brands. If you’re starting to invest in Groups, you’ll need to ask a few core questions.

Should your community manager become members of these Groups? Should they interact in these Groups using their personal profile as an brand employee? Do the admins even want them in the Group? And how do they monitor the Group if they’re not in the Group? For those of us who remember the days of brands interacting in forums, it all feels very familiar.

The key take out here: don’t neglect the bricks and mortar of your online presence. Ensure it’s as customer-focused as possible.

A bigger opportunity for selling

This may be a cynical view, but it’s in Facebook’s interests to elevate relationships on the site over news, as it helps build data points around what people are actually interested in, as opposed to commenting on news and brand posts.

Creating a cleaner understanding of the audience and how relationships work on the platform is a great sell to any advertiser. As Facebook starts to learn even more relationship data points, there’s an opportunity for smart data marketers to create clever targeting or emotional hooks.

Facebook themselves have advised marketers to be true to the brand objectives, and in some respects the News Feed update is no bad thing. By removing organic it should focus us, as an industry, to ask for better efficiencies and transparency.

The key takeout here: if you don’t already, take time to understand Facebook targeting and the data available to you to avoid losing ground to competitors.

Still need help?

The Facebook News Feed update is a major change. For some marketers, it may mean investing more into advertising. For others, it may be an opportunity to diversify into other channels.

If you’re struggling with your social strategy in the wake of Facebook’s decision, MercerBell has dedicated social strategists and creatives. We’d be happy to help.