Climbing ladder
This is a post by Abbie Dubin-Rhodin

For all its claims to not be a media company, Facebook has picked up a few of the industry’s tricks. In last week’s announcement, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg outlined significant changes to the types of content the platform’s algorithm will begin favouring – shifting to more friends, and less brand. Anticipating the probable unpopularity of the move, Zuckerberg released this announcement just before noon on the west coast of the United States, meaning Australians didn’t even hear the news until they awoke Saturday morning. A classic use of the Friday News Dump, if ever there was one, but no one can hide from the brekkie-time barbs of the Today show anchors.   

We live in a 24-hour news cycle, so by the time we opened our laptops on Saturday, the news had already spawned thousands of think pieces. One of the big questions brands, publishers, and agencies are now wrestling with is how it will impact their ability to effectively engage with audiences on Facebook. To answer that, we at Edge looked no further than what we have charged ourselves with as an agency – to make brands relevant, relentlessly.

The feverish uproar that’s followed the announcement ignores the fact that, as advertising professionals, we set out to create people-centric brands, not platform-centric brands, and certainly not Facebook-centric brands. Facebook has the depth and breadth of data to ensure its utility in perpetuity, but how much value does a brand’s presence on the platform truly bring? Does it serve the end goal of making and maintaining the relevance of your brand to its audience?

A report from Buzzsumo tells us that, of late, the answer to that question is a leaning towards a ‘no,’ with engagement for brands and publishers falling nearly 20% in the first 6 months of 2017. It would appear that Facebook, as a content channel, became the victim of its own scale. The sheer volume of content on Facebook means that, on average, 1500 stories could appear on a person’s newsfeed. This increased competition has resulted in a stark decline in organic reach, with some 2016 surveys showing upwards of a 50% decrease for publishers, as there was simply too much content to digest for people to actively engage with it. While this change in algorithm may solve for the volume issue, it opens a new can of competitive worms. Rather than fighting for who can shout the loudest, brands will need to demonstrate their relevance and ‘engagability’ if they are to compete for the limited number of ‘brand’ spaces available on a given person’s newsfeed.  

While it sounds dreary, it actually represents a great opportunity for brands in 2018. As Adam Morgan and Mark Barden’s classic strategy book ‘A Beautiful Constraint’ laid out, little innovation, or even good work, happens when the sky is your only limit. For that reason, we’re not recommending a mass brand exodus from Facebook. On the contrary, really, it presents a unique chance to create branded content and experiences – under the pressure cooker of newsfeed constraints – that will result in real, meaningful engagement with our customers. No longer will it be enough to just have a ‘presence’ on the channel, it will require truly confronting what your target audience wants to engage with on Facebook and developing content that brings them that through the lens of your brand. It will require real consideration for what content is actually appropriate for the channel – what pieces keep you relevant and what just distracts from your message.

Just a few weeks out from the many predictions made about the industry in 2018, Facebook has thrown a curveball. It’s a good reminder that brands are more than a single media platform and relying on things to stay the same is a great way to make a brand quickly irrelevant. A late prediction for the year ahead, but those marketers who embrace this change and pursue ways to build a dialogue with the ‘customers who could be brand advocates,’ will find themselves well rewarded for the time and effort.