At the beginning of the year, social media institution Facebook caused panic among companies and publishers when they announced impending changes to their newsfeed algorithm. The plan: to give friends, families and local content a greater platform in the future. In an interview, social media expert Torsten Enders explains the specific significance of the adjustments for start-ups, gives helpful tips and reveals how, in his opinion, some brands will be able to handle the changes better than others.
Mr. Enders, can you briefly explain the motivation behind Facebook’s current steps?
They’ve done it before and now Facebook has adjusted the filter mechanism behind the newsfeed again. As a result, organic input from companies and media will generally have less visibility in the future. The object of these changes is to place greater focus on relevant private content and ultimately make the Facebook of the future a relevant platform for users. This is important because the younger generations are no longer as Facebook-frenzied as previous users in the same age groups – and in the long-run, Facebook would risk winning new users and losing existing users if they didn’t make adjustments. And if Facebook loses relevance, the companies advertising also lose because their audience declines. In this context it is a plausible and overall positive step, whose potentially damaging effect still remains to be seen.
In your opinion, what does this step by Facebook mean for brands – especially for companies that are just starting to build their brands?
There will continue to be good visibility in the newsfeed for relevant content that encourages “meaningful interactions”. Companies that are just starting to present their brand on Facebook can take this into account from the outset. They should avoid exploiting organic content, whose purpose primarily serves coverage/visibility without also considering the relevant target group in the process. It is of greater importance to embed specific core messages in the message, the brand or the product with the corresponding audience – that is the only way to address those who you really want to reach. This works perfectly with paid social.
Is it still possible for companies to increase their organic visibility or at least consistently maintain it despite these changes – and if so, what are the options?
Brands, companies and organizations have various opportunities to stand out in the newsfeed: if their content is relevant for the user beyond a purchasing intention – for instance, this applies to many publishing media and organizations – then they can encourage their users to activate the setting “see first in newsfeed”. This ensures good positioning. Of course this also applies to other brands, which are able to activate their fans accordingly. In addition, it is possible to link a group with an existing page. Since the intention is also to increasingly exploit group content in the newsfeed, this could be an option to stabilize or even generate increasing visibility in the feed. Otherwise I would recommend companies that are already pursuing a strategy and know their KPIs, to hold off from doing anything at first and watch the types of changes that take place and which conclusions can be drawn from them. Countermeasures can be quickly put into place on Facebook once actual problems arise and are recognized.
Do you think that there are brands that have better positioning than others with their Facebook presence and will therefore suffer less due to the changes? If so, can you give us some examples and tell us what differentiates these companies from the rest?
There are numerous examples of brands that have boldly taken a step in the direction of paid social years ago – and now, at the latest, are seeing that it was a wise decision. Please don’t get me wrong: a brand that cultivates a lively community and interacts with it is great for the fans. But a brand that cultivates their community of fans with content pieces that are relevant for the various target audiences in paid social is not doing a poorer job – it is simply addressing a different fan requirement.
Many companies, especially international brands, achieve both. But it doesn’t matter which path a brand prefers to take: it always needs a whole range of user interactions until a stable and “personal” relationship to a brand is created – or a purchase is made. Facebook is thereby only one of many components in an online strategy, regardless of whether organic or paid content is used. As a result, the current adjustment of the newsfeed will have less of an impact on a brand like Adidas, because strong brand messages relayed via paid social are already an integral part of the program and there is probably no real need to achieve the same organic scope that other website operators need to cover.
Which marketing strategy should young growth companies follow on Facebook? Performance or branding or coverage? Which approach is most efficient?
Well it actually isn’t a question of “either/or”. The brand is the most important differentiator; it is key. To give my performance measures a good basis, my brand should start off with or develop a certain amount of coverage and visibility. I would therefore usually suggest first establishing a brand. If my product has to survive in a competitive environment, for example alongside other Google ads, and nobody knows my brand, it will be difficult to achieve a good result with performance measures. The question we should actually be asking is: In which channel should I be doing what?
What strategy would you recommend to start-ups?
They would be wise to take a closer look at the target group, think in user journeys and look at the touchpoints. Where do the contacts take place, for which I can use brand messages to achieve good results? Where can performance measures be appropriately applied to have my specific offer placed in the digital shopping cart? If my portfolio is restricted to a single service or a limited amount of products, it is easier to drive my sales by exploiting more brand-relevant messages than if I have a large portfolio. There are loads of options on Facebook, but I doubt if a purely performance-related strategy without a visible brand will lead to excellent results in the mid-term.
What does your crystal ball tell you: Will other platforms follow and implement similar changes? Is this what you would call an emerging trend?
The “big” trend is really to secure the most stable possible access to the user within the attention economy. This directly applies to platforms as well as the advertisers who use them. Given the rampant content congestion on most channels, it is by far no easy task.
But platforms and technologies are rapidly developing: in a couple of years we may even have far more audio content than visual content – due to the fact that the interaction of screens and videos has developed to some extent in the direction of language – meaning Question vs. Answer or Content Stream vs. Command. Then it is quite possible that we will just listen to our feed and only when we hear something of interest to us, will we actually view it. In this case I can’t wait to see what kind of screen we will use to do this.