Brands Have Adapted to Every Facebook Evolution: Here’s How

With more than 2 billion active users, Facebook is still the top dog in social media platforms. And as it constantly evolves to show users more of what it thinks they want to see, marketers constantly update strategies to create that content.

Facebook rewards topical content? We post more about current events.

Facebook rewards engaging posts? We prompt users to “Like,” “Comment” and “Share.”

Facebook rewards time spent on posts? We create longer content.

Facebook’s latest move in this ongoing dance is to prioritize content from friends and family over content from brand pages. There’s the usual panicked scramble – one content publisher is even blaming the change for their shutdown – but it isn’t the first time Facebook has made this move. Here’s a quick look back at the biggest Facebook algorithm changes over the years – and how brands have continually adapted.

2004 – 2012 | Brands in Facebook’s early years.

Branding opportunities were slim at first, confined to sidebar ads called “Flyers” in 2004, and then banner ads in 2005. It wasn’t until late 2007 with the launch of the official Facebook Ads platform that brands could create their own pages and their own content. Then shortly after the 2012 launch of Facebook Exchange – which encouraged more relevant ads through real-time bidding and retargeting – Facebook took a hard look at branded content.

“It isn’t the first time Facebook has made this move.”

2013 | Rewards high-quality content.

Facebook surveyed users to determine the difference between content they really liked, and content that was just trying to game the system, then prioritized the preferred content in News Feeds.

Brands adapted by:

  • Creating more timely content
  • Creating content users are likely to share

2014 | Punishes engagement baiting.

Facebook specifically went after brands trying to game the system through posts that prompted users to engage with the post (e.g., asking users to vote on a favorite animal and using likes, comments and shares). It also punished text-only updates from brands and posts that heavily pushed viewers to buy things. Videos uploaded directly to Facebook got preference over YouTube videos shared on Facebook.

Brands adapted by:

  • Including a graphic or video with every post
  • Moving hard-sell content to ads
  • Uploading videos to Facebook instead of (or in addition to) YouTube

2015 | Prioritizes friends/family and time spent with posts.

Facebook realized people don’t always like or comment on posts they find interesting, so it started taking time spent with posts into consideration. It also gave users more control over what showed up in their News Feed by giving them a “Preferences” option. And it fought the spread of hoaxes by punishing flagged content.

Brands adapted by:

  • Making posts more interactive
  • Creating more video

2016 | Prioritizes friends and family posts even more.

Brands got bumped even lower, while informative posts were boosted. Facebook also introduced “Reactions” (which acted as likes even if they conveyed negative emotions) and Facebook Live, which ranked higher than other videos.

Brands adapted by:

  • Creating more content users are likely to share with friends
  • Creating more educational and entertaining content
  • Using reactions to prompt engagement

2017 | Punishes engagement bait again.

Facebook cracked down on brand posts that asked for reactions. Longer videos got more weight than short videos if viewers watched all the way through. Pages that shared fake news (as identified by third parties) and click-bait headlines (that withheld or exaggerated information) took a hit.

Brands adapted by:

  • Removing explicit engagement bait prompts from post text (still including visual prompts in graphics, but not outright asking users to “Smile for X, Love for Y”)
  • Adding closed-captioning to videos
  • Checking sources before sharing stories

2018 | Prioritizes family, friends and groups even more.

Now, Facebook wants to boost posts that spark conversations and meaningful reactions – which you can interpret to mean “gets Likes, Comments and Shares.” Seems like the same-old, same-old, but specifically, they want to see more back-and-forth discussion. And of course, they’ll still be cracking down on engagement bait.

Brands adapt by:

  • Focusing on quality over quantity: publishing fewer posts, ensuring those posts inspire high engagement and boosting them all (or most of them) with ad dollars
  • Creating content that prompts conversations between friends
  • Livestreaming via Facebook Live

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read)

This latest update confirms that marketing via Facebook is now pay-to-play. Brands can no longer expect to reach users organically; they’ll have to pay to promote posts if they want to be seen. But ad dollars aren’t enough: Content has to be truly engaging to be worth the investment.


Tags: Web & Digital, PR & Social Media

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