Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes
(Turn and face the strange)
Ch-ch-Changes...

David Bowie

As an agency specializing in higher ed marketing, VisionPoint has been creating social media strategies for colleges and universities for a long time. Over the years, we’ve seen a lot of changes in the social media landscape as platforms come and go and adapt to evolving user expectations. If there’s one thing we can say with certainty about Facebook, it’s that the social platform embraces change on a regular basis. Now, it looks like it’s time for another Facebook change and this one is “bigger than the average tweak.” 

Late last year, in the face of mounting Facebook fatigue, fake news scandals and questions about how Facebook is impacting our health, happiness and general psyche, the social media giant announced it’s making some major changes. The NewsFeed is once again front and center as Facebook rethinks the value of content. In the words of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, “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.”

In practical terms, Facebook is revamping the way it is going to handle content in a user’s NewsFeed, focusing more on posts from friends, family and groups. As a result, according to Zuckerberg, “As we roll this out, you'll see less public content like posts and video from businesses, brands and media. And the public content you see more will be held to the same standard – it should encourage meaningful interactions between people.” 

Facebook Login Screen

What You Need to Know: RIP Organic Reach? 

In the eyes of some social media experts, this represents the final nail in the coffin for organic Facebook brand content (i.e., the content you post on your Page, but don’t pay to promote). As Mike Proulx recently wrote in AdAge, “Organic content from brands on Facebook is a waste of everyone’s time because virtually no one sees it anymore.” While there’s a lot of truth to that statement, it’s not time to bury your Facebook Page just yet! We’ll talk about some survival tactics you can employ to help you navigate through the latest algorithm changes. 

First, let’s answer the big question: what exactly is Facebook doing?

  • Facebook is putting friends, family and groups first in the newsfeed. In Facebook’s own words, that “means we’ll show less public content, including videos and other posts from publishers or businesses.”
  • Facebook is tinkering with its algorithms to change the way it ranks posts, videos and photos to predict what users want to see and engage with.
  • Not all organic Page content will be removed from the NewsFeed; but organic Page and publisher content will be demoted. In other words, Pages will likely see a dive in organic reach.

Interestingly, Facebook itself acknowledges that as a result, users will probably spend less time on the platform, but they believe the time users do spend may be more “valuable.” (In fact, there are already indications that Facebook has lost some of its mojo. Recently, Edison Research reports that Facebook usage in 2018 has declined across all demographic groups and, for the first time, has stopped growing.)

What You Can Do: Facebook Survival Tactics

What impact will this have on your higher ed marketing plan? Is it time to panic? No, not yet. We’re still in the early days and the algorithm changes are rolling out over several months. We won’t know the full impact of the changes for a while, but in the meantime, it is time to get more strategic with your Facebook content. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • This algorithm change is new, but Facebook has been downplaying organic content in favor of paid advertising and sponsored content for some time now. If you haven’t done so already, it’s time to bite the bullet and invest some media dollars in paid Facebook so your great content gets the attention it deserves. The good news is that Facebook offers many choices and price points for paid content and ads, as well as extremely robust targeting options to help you reach precisely the audience you want. The VisionPoint team can work with you to craft a social media strategy and find a mix of paid options that fit your budget and goals. 
  • It’s time to call out the loyal troops and encourage them to share your content! Posts that personal connections find engaging (i.e., content that friends and family “Like,” comment on or share) will get better treatment in the NewsFeed. According to Facebook’s Head of NewsFeed, Adam Mosseri, “Pages making posts that people generally don’t react to or comment on could see the biggest decreases in distribution. Pages whose posts  prompt conversations between friends will see less of an effect.” In other words, get your friendly forces involved. (According to Facebook, Comments are more valuable than Likes.)
  • Users can still take advantage of the NewsFeed Options tab on Facebook to prioritize the Pages and people they are most interested in. Don’t be shy about asking your loyal followers to check the “See First” option for your Page. A lot of Pages already have been posting and asking their followers to do just that.
  • Remember, content that is engaging and encourages conversation will get more favorable treatment from the algorithm. Ask questions in your posts, write about timely topics that your audience likely has an opinion on (or personal interest in) to spur the conversations. Use the coming algorithm change to test and deliver content that adapts to the new reality. You should already be providing relevant and quality content, but now it’s time to step up your game.  
  • Consider giving Live Video a try on Facebook; this is one type of content that Facebook acknowledges should do well when the algorithm changes fully kick in. “We've seen people interact way more around live videos than regular ones,” says Zuckerberg. (Ad videos, by the way, are not  affected by the ranking change.)
  • Do not fall into the “engagement bait” trap (“Can we get some CLICKS if you love our cheerleaders?!!!”) to increase your reach. Not only does engagement bait make you look cheesy and spammy, but Facebook has already said this tactic will be demoted in the NewsFeed. (BTW, asking followers to share your content in order to win a prize or some kind of reward is also a no-no and considered to be engagement bait.)
  • If you aren’t doing so already, try using Facebook Groups to engage with your audience; groups will be prioritized with friends and family under the new algorithm changes. That’s because they tend to prompt the discussion and commenting that Facebook wants to promote. Be sure to check out Facebook’s School Communities where students can connect with fellow students, teachers, classes and clubs. Make sure your school is maintaining a presence there.
  • It’s a good time to remember that all your digital eggs shouldn’t be in one basket. Optimize your digital visibility elsewhere. SEO drives traffic from the free, organic search results on search engines like Google and Bing. Getting SEO-smart and developing a great content strategy will help you minimize any loss of overall reach you may experience with the Facebook changes.

The Glass is Half Full: Seize the Opportunity

Brands and publishers are definitely in for an interesting ride as Facebook continues to recalibrate over the next several months. As with any higher ed marketing initiative, showcasing your institution’s brand on social media requires a clear strategy and smart planning. VisionPoint helps colleges and universities determine the best channels to reach their audiences and create brand-driven content that motivates and engages—on Facebook and across all marketing channels. Algorithm changes present a challenge, but they also create an opportunity to create great new content and to use paid advertising to support it and give it the engagement boost it will need. Reach out to us and we’ll be glad to brainstorm with you to find creative solutions.