How to Make Facebook’s 2018 Algorithm Change Work for your Business

As you may already be aware, on January 11, 2018, Facebook announced a major change to its News Feed algorithm that will profoundly impact brands’ ability to reach people on Facebook through organic distribution. The change prioritizes interactions between friends and family over company-generated posts, meaning that content consumed directly from business pages on Facebook will shrink and content that is shared & talked about between friends will grow.

In particular, posts that generate “interactions” such as comments and shares will be weighted more heavily than a post that generates just likes or reactions. In addition, posts with longer comments will be weighted more heavily than those with short ones.

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“Interactions” is the new “Engagement”

Many news organizations and blogs are decrying the move, using terms such as “apocalyptic”, “betrayal” and “nail in the coffin”. We here at Reshift Media are not quite as pessimistic as others about the changes. We believe that the reduction (or even the possible elimination) of the “engagement bait” posts that have been dominating Facebook’s News Feed for far too long is a major opportunity for high-quality organizations with strong customer engagement strategies to finally stand out from the crowd.

Declining organic reach is nothing new. Facebook has been decreasing the amount of organic reach brands are able to achieve for some time – from 50% to 20% to 10% to 5% and most recently down to around 2.5%, on average. Smart brands and agencies that have already been pursuing engagement strategies and building solid content to adjust for this declining reach should see less impact than brands whose Facebook content gets little shares or comments.

The changes to the News Feed are happening quickly, so we recommend brands and agencies adjust their Facebook strategies as soon as possible to minimize the impact to their reach. We have several recommendations that brands can pursue to not only survive, but potentially thrive, on Facebook going forward.

How Facebook’s News Feed is Changing

Facebook announced last week that they are updating the News Feed algorithm to prioritize posts that create conversations and interactions between people. In their definition, these are posts that people share and react to, and that “inspire back-and-forth discussion” in the comments.

“We’re making a major change to how we build Facebook. I’m changing the goal I give our product teams from focusing on helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful social interactions.”

– Mark Zuckerberg, CEO, Facebook

Mr. Zuckerberg also stated that people browsing Facebook will see more content from friends and family and less from brands and publishers. In addition, posts that generate comments, shares, and messages will be prioritized more than posts that only generate likes. Not only that, but Facebook has also stated that posts with longer comments will be weighted more heavily than those with short ones, as longer comments indicate a greater level of engagement with the content.

“As we roll this out, you’ll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media.”

– Mark Zuckerberg, CEO, Facebook

Of particular note is that Facebook has explicitly said that pre-recorded videos, no matter how entertaining or informative they are, will be de-prioritized in the feed as watching video tends to be a more “passive” exercise that typically does not inspire much conversation. This is a major reversal for Facebook, as video has gained incredible prominence in the News Feed in recent years and has been an effective way for brands to organically generate reach and engagement.

“There will be less video. Video is an important part of the ecosystem. It’s been consistently growing. But it’s more passive in nature. There’s less conversation on videos, particularly public videos.”

– Adam Mosseri, Head of News Feed, Facebook

However, Facebook has specifically called out live video as a continuing opportunity, citing that live videos tend to generate six times as many interactions as regular videos, which is the type of person-to-person interaction they are looking for in the updated News Feed.

A bit of a surprise to some people was that both Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook vice president Adam Mosseri have mentioned Facebook Groups as a growing opportunity for person-to-person interactions. In fact, Mr. Zuckerberg specifically mentioned Groups alongside friends and family as an area of content people can expect to see more of in their News Feed. This is something that has been in the works for some time, as Facebook has been recently increasing their focus on Groups and implementing several improvements. The company held its first ever “Communities Summit” in June 2017 where they announced a number of new features for Group admins to support their communities on Facebook, which looks to have been a precursor to this latest New Feed update. They also announced Groups for Business pages, allowing brands to create their own distinct communities and feeds.

“You can expect to see more from your friends, family and groups.”

– Mark Zuckerberg, CEO, Facebook

The timing of the update has not been specifically outlined, but Facebook has indicated that the philosophy of encouraging “social interactions” more than “popularity” will be rolled out across all of their products over several months. The News Feed is the first area that will see these changes, which are expected to be rolled out very quickly.

Why Facebook is Changing the News Feed

Although many people have speculated that these changes are being made in response to the issues Facebook has faced regarding “fake news,” the company is has indicated that the update is not aimed at their ongoing efforts to address this concern.

“It’s not about addressing false news or other forms of problematic content, though that is a continued area of focus and investment for us.”

– Adam Mosseri, Head of News Feed, Facebook

Instead, Facebook says that the motivation for the changes is to improve people’s happiness and well-being. Instead of simply spending time on Facebook, the company says that it wants the time to be “well spent”. To support this position, Facebook has cited studies conducted by academics and by the company itself which differentiate “bad” effects of social media when it is being passively consumed versus more “positive” effects when the person is actively engaged.

Here’s a brief summary of the rationale (as provided by Facebook in a December 15, 2017 post):

The bad: In general, when people spend a lot of time passively consuming information — reading but not interacting with people — they report feeling worse afterward. In one experiment, University of Michigan students randomly assigned to read Facebook for 10 minutes were in a worse mood at the end of the day than students assigned to post or talk to friends on Facebook. A study from UC San Diego and Yale found that people who clicked on about four times as many links as the average person, or who liked twice as many posts, reported worse mental health than average in a survey. Though the causes aren’t clear, researchers hypothesize that reading about others online might lead to negative social comparison — and perhaps even more so than offline, since people’s posts are often more curated and flattering. Another theory is that the internet takes people away from social engagement in person.

The good: On the other hand, actively interacting with people — especially sharing messages, posts and comments with close friends and reminiscing about past interactions — is linked to improvements in well-being. This ability to connect with relatives, classmates, and colleagues is what drew many of us to Facebook in the first place, and it’s no surprise that staying in touch with these friends and loved ones brings us joy and strengthens our sense of community.

A study we conducted with Robert Kraut at Carnegie Mellon University found that people who sent or received more messages, comments and Timeline posts reported improvements in social support, depression, and loneliness. The positive effects were even stronger when people talked with their close friends online. Simply broadcasting status updates wasn’t enough; people had to interact one-on-one with others in their network. Other peer-reviewed longitudinal research and experiments have found similar positive benefits between well-being and active engagement on Facebook.

Others have speculated that the update is designed to force brands to buy more advertising to reach their desired audience – essentially ending the “free ride” brands have enjoyed since Facebook’s inception. While we can’t say if this is indeed one of the motivations driving the update, there is little doubt that the change will result in brands spending more ad dollars on Facebook to reach their current and prospective customers.

Facebook has publicly stated that they believe the update may actually decrease the amount of time people spend on their platform, but that ultimately people will be happier with their overall experience. If the amount of time people spend does in fact decrease, this will likely contribute to the inflation of advertising costs, as there will be more brands attempting to buy ads in an environment of shrinking inventory.

“I want to be clear: by making these changes, I expect the time people spend on Facebook and some measures of engagement will go down. But I also expect the time you do spend on Facebook will be more valuable. And if we do the right thing, I believe that will be good for our community and our business over the long term too.”

– Mark Zuckerberg, CEO, Facebook

This blog post is the first of a 4-part series. Read what’s next:


Jen McDonnell

VP of Content and Social Media. Jen has worked in online journalism for a decade, most recently as the Managing Editor and Director of Dose.ca

Post first seen on Reshift Media. Click here for the original post.

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