It’s official, Facebook is making big changes to the News Feed. The intent is to create a better, more social experience for users by giving preferential ranking to ‘meaningful interactions’ to enhance user well-being.

From now on, you should expect to see “more from your friends, family and groups” and “less public content from businesses, brands, and media”, says Zuckerberg.

As a result, brands and publishers are waiting to see how much the changes will  impact their Facebook activity with many expected to be demoted in the News Feed. Facebook's News Feed Head, Adam Mosseri, is anticipating that pages will “see their reach, video watch time and referral traffic decrease. Pages making posts that people generally don’t react to or comment on could see the biggest decreases in distribution.”

There’s no question that this update is going to significantly change the experience for every individual and organisation on the platform.

In many ways it marks a shift back to the early days of Facebook when Zuckerberg promised that social was a unique opportunity to build relationships of value through two-way conversations. And - assuming that the end result matches the intention - these new changes should be positive for everyone, both advertisers and individuals.

As is often the case, the announcement has been light on detail, so  we have analysed Zuckerberg’s and Facebook’s announcement, interviews given by Facebook's News Feed Head Adam Mosseri and much of the commentary that surrounds the news so as to shed some light on how it will work and how brands can optimise for the change

Here are what we believe will be the key implications:

What we know as 'engagements' will fundamentally change

The value we once placed on things like the humble ‘like’ or ‘reaction’ will be superceded by posts that ‘spark conversation’. This means that posts that prompt or facilitate a large number of ‘back-and-forth discussions’ and include long comments and a large number of ‘comments relative to video watch time’ or (dwell time) will be prioritised in the new Feed. The new ranking system will demote shallower engagements such as likes, short comments and passive video views. In short - conversation trumps clicks. Genuinely caring trumps merely liking.

“Content that facilitates or inspires more meaningful conversation or meaningful interactions between people will get more distribution, and content that does so less will get less distribution.”

Adam Mosseri, Head of News Feed, Facebook

We expect this new system will bring its own set of challenges in the realm of uncivil and abusive content (heads up, customer service teams) and it will certainly encourage some to try gaming the system by inviting controversy and hostility. Needless to say that Facebook, as always, will be on point evolving and adapting the algorithm to counteract the sternest of these efforts.

Implications: Conversation, conversation, conversation (no surprise there). Prioritise conversations and community focused content. Create stories that your audience will want to talk about and comment on. Aim for deeper conversations to drive comment length. Encourage back-and-forth discussions to drive reply rates. Mobilise community managers to stimulate and moderate conversations. This isn’t new… but for brands it has perhaps been deprioritised as a purpose of the channel over the past few years.

Paid media won't walk away unscathed

In the initial announcement, there has been  little mention of the future of paid media on Facebook (other than a cursory brush off) but  it's inevitable  that we’ll see some big  impacts. Even Wall St seems to think so. With the reduction in organic reach, paid media will need to work harder for its money and with limited inventory in a marketplace such as Facebook, it’s likely that the cost of this organic decline will be felt by the advertiser, not the shareholder.

“Ads is a separate system. So in terms of this ranking change, it doesn't apply.”

Adam Mosseri, Head of News Feed, Facebook

Implications: Be prepared to pay more to reach audiences as organic reach declines toward zero. Ads that drive conversation will benefit from increased distribution but may not align to your brand objectives (if for example, you’re driving for conversion or subscription).

The solution to managing this shift is creating a paid strategy that takes advantage of the ad platform targeting possibilities, including pixel retargeting and custom audiences to drive better results. Also, evaluate other methods of distribution for video and web traffic, such as Instagram Stories, Facebook Watch, Messenger and other social platforms.

Their House, Their Rules

As part of the recent changes, Facebook are taking a close look at the type of content that doesn’t necessarily spark either the right conversation or perhaps any conversation at all and looking to demote its ranking from user’s News Feeds.

With the shift in focus on the right type of engagement there are a few key principles to be aware of (and, in many cases, celebrated):

  • Clickbait will be demoted

“Using “engagement-bait” to goad people into commenting on posts is not a meaningful interaction, and we will continue to demote these posts in News Feed.” - Adam Mosseri, Head of News Feed, Facebook

  • Video will be demoted

“There will be less video. On average video content tends to facilitate less interactions because it's passive in nature. Shorter video watch time will also free up users to read more stories and comment.” - Adam Mosseri, Head of News Feed, Facebook

  • Unique, authentic content will be promoted

“If a publisher posts something that is valuable, that credit should accrue to the publisher and having a more prominent brand would help that happen. And if a publisher shared something on the platform that is upsetting or problematic in some way, they should also be accountable.” - Adam Mosseri, Head of News Feed, Facebook

  • Influencers and groups will be promoted

“Star social media creators, celebrities, Groups posts, local business events …. should get a boost.”  Adam Mosseri, Head of News Feed, Facebook

Implications: Avoid engagement-bait tactics such as asking users to vote, react, tag, comment or share. Reduce passive video and link content. Create unique, authentic content to increase page level distribution. Use influencers for distribution. Create groups for super-fans to share their passion.

Live/Real-time Content

Context is still king, and soon to be even more so on Facebook. Priority will be given to the timely delivery of content with a greater emphasis being placed on live content as well as a better alignment to major events taking place in the News Feed. Context plus conversation is a winning formula in the new world order.

“We will predict which posts you might want to interact with your friends about, and show these posts higher in feed.”

Adam Mosseri, Head of News Feed, Facebook

Implications: Be relevant in the moment. Tap into trending topics to drive conversation. Utilise new live formats such as Facebook Live Video to promote real-time conversations.

Influence has gained a big promotion

An interesting move by Facebook - although not entirely unexpected - is the prioritisation of content from friends and family… and anyone who isn’t a brand or publisher we may soon come to learn. However, this doesn’t mean we should pack up and go home. In fact it opens up a whole world of opportunity to engage with individuals and organisations that have influence on Facebook because this is what the algorithm will prioritise. Good for them, good for us.

Implications: Get better at earning conversation beyond your brand profile. Mobilise your advocates, ambassadors and employees to represent the brand in person-to-person interactions. Harness word-of-mouth.

Change is imminent. We’ve already seen some come into effect, and it will be a while before the full implications are realised. It’s  expected that there will be some adverse reactions to brand-based activity, but we remain optimistic with new avenues of opportunity, especially around building meaningful interactions with audiences.

This post courtesy of Michael Batistich, Head of Insight and Analytics at We Are Social Sydney