So Let’s Talk About That Facebook Algorithm Change

It’s time for another episode of of “Everybody goes nuts when Facebook makes a sweeping change” with this iteration focusing on its algorithm. Facebook recently broke the news that it plans to make a series of algorithm changes that will prioritize the content posted by the family and friends of Facebook users over and above that of publishers and businesses using pages.

In lay terms, if you manage Facebook pages you can expect your content to show up less frequently in newsfeeds, subsequently resulting in fewer website click throughs and lower levels of engagement.

The news has been met with the usual uproar echoing the algorithm change that reduced promotional content in the news feed back in 2015. Various headlines have declared that the algorithm changes of both Facebook and Instagram are killing small businesses, questioning if the algorithm will kill diversity of opinion, and even labeled this the apocalypse of reach.

So here’s what I think about what people have been labeling “Facebookgate” because of course they have.

As it stands I think it’s way too early to decide how adversely reach on Facebook is going to be affected – at least for right now. Journalists are reporting that that publishers have been seeing major hits to their traffic but let’s remember that traffic was likely to be lower on the Friday of a holiday weekend anyway. It’s also worth noting that during any holiday week there tends to be a massive blitz of promoted content that further push organic content down in the newsfeed.

The other issue, as someone else pointed out, is that even at major publishers – let alone small businesses that the algorithm is allegedly killing – engagement tends to not be that great. That’s because by and large, most publications treat Facebook as a syndicated outlet for news stories. As Alex Fitzpatrick of Time Magazine puts it, Facebook publishers are going to need to start compelling shares rather than clicks.

I can’t help but wonder how many of these algorithm changes are partially a result of Facebook publishers reaping what they sow, especially as Facebook has made more of a commitment to snuff out clickbait and brand junk from its timeline. I’ll be candid from an anecdotal perspective: The vast majority of Facebook pages from small businesses to big publishers produce vapid, shallow stock content.

In my own experience, marketing companies are notorious for posting endless repetitions of “What [Insert Celebrity/Profession/Whatever’s Trending on Google Here] Teaches Us About Marketing” and unknowing small businesses tend to hire “pay to post” marketers who post interchangeable, “evergreen” content that makes as much difference as advertising on a billboard for an abandoned highway.

I’ve written about how the amount of junk in my timeline caused me to do a massive cleanup that substantially improved my Facebook experience. That’s the question more Facebook publishers (as well as their marketers) need to be asking themselves: Is this content that people are going to be happy to see in their newsfeed? More importantly, ask yourself if you’re contributing to a positive news feed or you’re turning yourself into the type Facebook page people go out of their way to unsubscribe from (provided they see your content).

I’ve brought up this comic from The Oatmeal before; he certainly doesn’t seem to mind the algorithm changes, likely because he puts efforts into making his content likable and enjoyable enough that people go out of their way to view his content or subscribe to his Facebook page directly.

If anything, the power that comes from algorithm changes stems directly from how many Facebook publishers rely on their reach statistics as a way to reach customers directly and subsequently how terrified these publishers are of losing the level of access to their subscribers they’ve gotten used to.

We’d have a better Facebook overall if algorithm changes weren’t treated as a scary prospect and if people just focused on their content. Some outlets consider algorithm a mere cost of using Facebook’s platform and find other ways (or other social channels) to reach their audiences. That’s the right approach, in my opinion, because it removes the perennial fear of algorithm tweaks.

You should be doing something original, unique or likable like The Oatmeal. When you render algorithm changes on Facebook meaningless to you you’ll find yourself breathing a lot easier and you’ll probably find yourself with more of those Facebook fans you’re coveting. Yes, it’s hard, but as Tom Hanks once said, “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”

I’m not trying to act as a PR representative for Facebook either. I agree with Alexis Sobell Fitts that Facebook stands to benefit greatly by encouraging people to spend more time on Facebook. It’s no secret at this point that Facebook sells personal information to its advertisers; that’s the tradeoff of being able to use Facebook for free. So it’s not as if Facebook is being entirely altruistic, even though users stand to benefit from less cluttered timelines.

It’s still worth remembering that Facebook publishers aren’t owed instant access to their subscribers and Facebook does have a right to modify its algorithm at its whims. No publisher is owed access just as no user is obligated to see your content, especially if it’s really nothing getting excited for or you’re just begging people to like your page. Talk when you have something to say, because that’s what will make people want to listen.