By Matthew Klein

November 26th, 2014

Facebook announced last week that they would be making adjustments to their algorithm.

The changes, set to take effect in January, will affect how frequently some branded content appears in users’ News Feeds. Specifically, organic reach will decrease for posts that Facebook deems “overly promotional.” They cited:

  • “Posts that solely push people to buy a product or install an app”
  • “Posts that push people to enter promotions and sweepstakes with no real context”
  • “Posts that reuse the exact same content from ads”

This example illustrated the type of post that would be affected by the new changes.    

Facebook Algorithm Update

On-trend for Facebook

This is not really a huge departure for Facebook. Over the past year or so, the company has made a number of changes, some announced, others seemingly not, to the way brand posts appear in the newsfeed.

Changes were made earlier in the year discouraging “like-baiting,” posts of the “like this if you enjoy sunshine” ilk.

Another recent tweak decreased the number of memes that showed up in News Feeds. And most recently, Facebook made it easier to unfollow pages or people, which means you are still friends with or like a person or page, but you don’t see updates from them.

How will it work?

Beyond the few examples Facebook offered, brands are asking what, exactly, will count as overly promotional.

It seems like Facebook will base the changes on feedback from a user survey they’re currently running, available to some but not all users. If I click on the arrow next to the stories on my News Feed, I have the option to “take a survey to make the News Feed better.”

Blog-image-1-Facebook-algorithm-changes-800x400

The survey shows me a number of posts and for each one asks me “How much do you agree with this statement? This post feels like an ad.”  

The posts I see are varied: some are posts from friends that don’t resemble ads in any way, some are actual sponsored posts, and some are organic posts from brands.

Blog-image-2-Facebook-algorithm-changes-800x400

Presumably, ads that feel like ads are okay, but when people say certain page posts feel like ads in this survey, Facebook’s algorithm will use that information to decrease the reach of similar posts once the changes are made.

This pretty much squares with what Facebook has been saying for a while now. The company wants its 1.6 billion users to see content they like in their News Feed. And even when people like brands, too much promotional content from them turns them off their News Feed.

Impact on brands

Overall, it seems unlikely that this will have a huge effect on brands on the network.

First, the language Facebook used suggests that they are looking for the most obvious examples of salesy content: they cited posts that “solely push” app installs and purchases, or reuse “the exact same content from ads.”

And most brands, over the last year or so, have come to understand that organic content that performs well on Facebook is more about entertaining, engaging and conversing with their fans than selling to them.

But brands would still do well to take a look at the survey Facebook is serving users, and make sure that most of their content is not the type that people would be likely to flag as ad-like.

For a lot of posts, this may just be an issue of framing with copy. Take a look at these two posts. Both images are similar, both might make you hungry, but the copy in the first is geared explicitly towards increasing purchases:

Blog-image-6-Facebook-algorithm-changes-800x400 

This one encourages taco consumption without a specific push to purchase.

Blog-image-5-Facebook-algorithm-changes-800x400

With the new changes, brands should probably be shifting their organic posts closer to the second.  

Overall, if this does have an impact, it will be the increased incentive for brands to really silo posts for engagement (organic or paid) and sales posts (paid). Most brands were already doing this, but they may have to be a little more conscientious about it now. And, really, this setup should be better for users: the most engaging content from brands will still get organic traction, purely promotional posts will have their (paid) place, and, hopefully, News Feeds will be more engaging. 

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