Should digital marketers be worried about Facebook’s News Feed changes?

///Four minute read///


FACEBOOK SEO Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement of an imminent change to the social network’s News Feed algorithm created a big splash – but just how big a deal is it?

The quote above is from Luke Kintigh, head of publishing for Intel’s iQ online magazine, so it’s probably worth reflecting on.

Some commentators have been predicting these changes for a while following Facebook’s limited trial of its ‘Explore’ Feed in some territories last year.

And the actual impact on individual users’ news feeds is yet to become apparent.

But despite being billed as a response to increasing concerns about FB’s impact on mental wellbeing – especially among children – this latest development looks like the most recent link in a chain that stretches back several years.

Since 2012, Facebook has been making it incrementally more difficult to get commercial content onto its platform for free and has pushed more and more brands and media properties into the sales funnel marked ‘advertisers’.

In the early days, advertising on Facebook was a bona fide bargain; today, less so. Tomorrow – as millions of SMEs slowly realise that their increasingly frantic efforts to engage their audiences via FB are failing – it could be the only option.

And it will be a gradual process, because unless their marketing departments (often a team of one overstretched all-rounder) are really on top of the analytics, it will take a while before they realise what’s happening.

The big brands, their agencies and sundry media players may just shrug their shoulders and ramp up their budgets for Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising, sponsorship and other forms of paid social media presence.

Whether this will actually work – especially among the savvy, cynical, increasingly impossible to reach millennial generation – is a moot point.

But it’s SMEs who may have unwittingly become over-reliant on Facebook to reach that prosperous Boomer audience who may need to have a major digital marketing rethink.

These 50- and 60-somethings are still pretty pleased with themselves that they’ve mastered such cutting edge tech and they have a) the time to spend hours scrolling through their feeds and b) the money to burn on stuff promoted therein.

If the thinly veiled exhortations to buy this, experience that and consume the other are displaced by their sisters’ sneezing kittens or their gap-year kids’ reluctant (and heavily redacted) snapshots from Australia/Thailand/India, they probably won’t notice and almost certainly won’t miss these covert commercial messages.

That raises questions about the real quality of these engagements in and of themselves, but SMEs who aren’t running fully formed inbound marketing/lead generation often struggle to measure the real world marketing ROI in any case.

What they WILL notice is an alarming drop-off in visibility, reach and engagement which may spook them.

For SMEs who direct as much effort into Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube, as they do to Facebook, this won’t be a disaster.

And SMEs who have maintained a well-curated website containing plenty of rich, useful, original content, may not even notice the changes.

But in the UK, there seems to be a raft of SMEs for whom Facebook is the only game in town. For the last few years, these businesses have neglected their websites and spent all their digital marketing resource with the little blue ‘f’. To these business, Facebook and digital marketing are one and the same.

If this sounds uncomfortably close to home: don’t despair. Facebook will almost certainly continue to be an important channel for getting your messages out there. But now, more than ever before, it’s time to cast the net a little wider.

It’s time to explore the opportunities presented by alternative social media platforms and maybe find fresh new demographic groups and hitherto untapped markets.

And perhaps even more importantly, it’s time to take back control of your content and invest at least as much time in creating unique, original, engaging and useful material for your website as you have in social media over the last five years.

* Feel free to get in touch for a friendly, no-obligation review of your social media and digital marketing strategies.

Author: Mark Sutcliffe

Freelance writer and editor specialising in the outdoors, environment, walking, cycling, food, travel and adventures.

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