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Ever since Facebook first rolled out its newsfeed algorithm back in 2009, the company has been consistently tweaking, adjusting and fixing it in order to maximize the one key variable that every social media company seems fixated on these days: engagement. Facebook’s goal, at the end of the day, is to have as many users as possible reading, viewing, linking, sharing, commenting, liking and reacting throughout the course of the day. The more time people spend on Facebook, the more ads the company can show – and the more ads that Facebook can show, the more money that it can make. That might sound a bit cynical, but it’s essential to know this if you ever plan on making Facebook an essential part of your overall digital marketing strategy.
What marketers need to know about the Facebook algorithm
First and foremost, marketers should realize that any content they create for Facebook must have the potential to spark conversation or debate. Otherwise, quite frankly, it might never be seen. According to one estimate from HootSuite, for example, Page followers see only 5.5 percent of Facebook posts that are created by brands. Think about that for a moment – even if a customer absolutely loves your company and your products, and has signed up to follow you on Facebook, there’s still only a statistically small chance (about 5 percent) that he or she will ever see your new Facebook content.
Put another way, 95 percent of all the content that you currently create for Facebook – all the daily inspirational quotes, all the updates on new sales and promotions, all the photos of your smiling team in the office, all the videos from expensively-produced events – it’s never going to get seen unless you spend some marketing dollars to promote it (i.e. boost it) via Facebook. That’s why so many marketers are getting frustrated with what they see as a “pay to play” model at Facebook – in order for their content to be seen, they increasingly have to pay to get it seen.
The problem with organic reach
And the numbers keep getting worse and worse in terms of purely organic reach – in 2019, the average reach for a Facebook post declined by another 2.2 percent. So it’s getting harder and harder to find “stuff that works” on Facebook. It’s no wonder that social media content as a whole is getting more divisive, more controversial and more radical – it’s literally the only way to cut through the clutter and get your content seen on social media platforms like Facebook. You absolutely need to get people talking and commenting online, and the way to do that is with content that is guaranteed to push a few buttons and pull a few triggers. Headlines need to be borderline scandalous or salacious, and everything you create needs to have the potential to super-charge your base to take action.
How to beat the Facebook algorithm
Well, it’s not all bad news if you’re a marketer. Simply understanding some of the tweaks and adjustments to the Facebook algorithm can help you to avoid losing valuable time. For example, in 2016, Facebook tweaked its algorithm to promote content from friends and family. In 2017, Facebook announced that it was weighing “reactions” more than “likes” in determining how popular a post really is. And it also announced that it would make “video completion rate” a more important variable than simple “video views.” And in 2018, Zuckerberg dropped the real bombshell and announced that all content – if it ever wanted to be seen – should be used to “spark conversations and meaningful interactions.” If you were keeping tabs on the Facebook algorithm during this time, you were far ahead of your marketing rivals.
So what does it all mean if you’re a digital marketer entrusted with drawing up your company’s new social media content calendar for the remainder of 2020? Well, the first big takeaway from all this is that a simple “20 percent off sale for all fans and followers” type of promotion is never going to make any meaningful headway in the ongoing battle to defeat the Facebook algorithm. What’s so controversial, newsworthy or emotional about a new sale? If you’re going to run traditional promotions on Facebook, look for ways to make the content really controversial. How could you tie in the whole BLM movement to make a promotion really spicy? How could you tap into deep, dark emotions people might be having about COVID-19 to make a promotion really newsworthy? And how do you create content that you know your friends and family are going to spread far and wide?
Ideas for Facebook content with organic reach
That’s not to say that you should really go off the rails when developing social media content, but do keep your eyes out for ways that some companies have courted controversy and generated a lot of buzz in the process. If you’re a big crypto fan, for example, you’ve probably heard that Coinbase – one of the most popular platforms for buying and selling crypto – has generated enormous controversy about its new corporate culture policy. Or, if you’re a big Elon Musk fan, you’ve probably heard how Tesla has courted its own share of controversy by deciding to move operations from California to Texas (where it won’t have to shut down operations due to onerous COVID restrictions).
Like it or not, that’s the sort of content that’s fantastic for garnering the attention of the Facebook algorithm in 2020. Until Zuckerberg introduces new changes next year, that’s how you should be thinking about creating marketing content for Facebook if you don’t want to “pay to play.”