First of all, the Facebook News Feed update is good for Facebook users, so it ultimately serves brands and publishers.
Facebook's Nov. 14 announcement that it would be changing the rankings for overly promotional page posts in news feeds beginning this month has media analysts speculating how brands will be affected.
Let's look at the ecosystem of Facebook itself, in which quality content must always come first. Facebook is first and foremost a place for people to connect with friends and loved ones, and any surrounding content must add value to, and never detract from, this core function.
We already knew this implicitly. Facebook is merely making this explicit in order to ward off offenders. Without valuable, relevant and entertaining content to complement the core "friends and family" experience on the platform, Facebook loses much of its value for consumers and runs the risk of harming their experiences (and their time spent on the platform, ultimately).
That would be bad news for the brands and publishers who have spent massive time and resources building up their social communities.
This means that, for brands and publishers who are already publishing engaging content, they can attract attention for, and offer more of, the kind of content their audience wants to see. It's business as usual.
2. Engagement, Impressions and Reach are Higher Than Ever (See Chart) - But it's Time to Diversify
In the past year, even as Facebook has made continuous updates to the news feed, U.S. brands have seen positive returns on the platform and social engagement has more than doubled (refer to the chart in the media player).
Particularly, for the media industry that has registered the highest increase in engagement YTD with a 99 percent growth, this change means that more and more brands will explore innovative ways to partner with media properties in order to expand their social reach and diversify their communities.
But what's also clear from the chart in the media player is that it's important for marketers to look beyond a Facebook-only approach. As audience attention continues to fragment across multiple touchpoints, diversifying a brand's social presence will ensure coverage, new reach and sustainable ongoing results—without the risk of having all of one's eggs in one basket.
3. We're (Un)blurring the Line Between Ads and Content
Whenever an emerging media matures, there is a natural leveling out of best practices, and some clearer definitions are made so all stakeholders can monetize. For example, there are some terrific TV ads, but they're never confused with a primetime show. Similarly in online video, ads and content reporting are kept separate. Yet, in social media the line between ads and content has been intensely blurry to-date.
In TV, there is a clear delineation between commercial breaks and the "main event," even though those spots make the programming possible. Infomercials, product placement and sponsored content walk the line. And right now in social media, we're similarly having to think about where we draw the line between ads and content.
Brands have gotten smarter about creating and posting content that drives quality activity and interactions with their communities, and this is further reinforced by the increase in engaged audiences.
While it is still unclear exactly what constitutes "promotional," the message is clear: If your organic Facebook post reads more like a 30-second spot, then it's an ad and won't be allowed to be classified as content.
The more interesting question, and one that we will continue to closely monitor in partnership with the industry, is exactly where that line is drawn—both from the consumer perspective, as well as in terms of social marketing best practices. Open questions to be monitored in the future include the impact of tune-in messaging, "soft-sell" messaging, product placement, presence of logos in image, etc.—but for now, these are beyond the scope of the definition of "promotional."
Having a content strategy that is backed by audience-centric metrics shines a light on the content that produces the highest reach, impressions and engagement for your brand. Facebook's News Feed update only reinforces the belief that embracing audience-quality metrics—especially engagement frequency, and audience loyalty and affinity to your brand—should be one of the building blocks of a successful content marketing strategy.
In fact, all of our clients continue to see dramatic growth in social reach across Facebook, with some of our partners reaching their highest levels of engagement this year. This is encouraging, as it illustrates how intelligent data can inform the creative process across social media marketing.