Facebook is tilting towards influencers in 2018. Here’s what marketers need to know.
In early January, Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook was making changes to its algorithm to reduce content from brands and publishers in the news feed:
“[R]ecently we’ve gotten feedback from our community that public content — posts from businesses, brands and media — is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other. The first changes you’ll see will be in News Feed, where you can expect to see more from your friends, family and groups. As we roll this out, you’ll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media.”
Cue the collective gasp and subsequent hand-wringing from the social media marketing community.
Algorithm changes are almost always a Facebook marketer’s worst nightmare. In recent years, Facebook has been on a continual push to remove branded content from the News Feed. The main motivating force behind these changes was Facebook’s desire to force brands into becoming Facebook advertisers – you needed to pay to play in order to appear in your customers’ News Feeds.
Since the 2016 election, Facebook has received a lot of pressure to minimize the propagation of fake news in the main feed. These latest changes help them on that front, too.
Regardless of Facebook’s motivations, this is a trend they’ve been following for a while. This latest announcement is just the latest in a series leading up to the ultimate death of Facebook organic reach for businesses.
However, there is good news. Influencer marketing offers brands an effective way to break through the News Feed, despite this latest set of changes. Brands who wish to prevail should be expanding their influencer marketing efforts, if they haven’t started to already.
Creating “meaningful interactions”
In his statement, Zuckerberg emphasizes that the focus is to transition Facebook back toward a place where people actively engage and connect with each other, rather than sitting back passively consuming content:
“Since there’s more public content than posts from your friends and family, the balance of what’s in News Feed has shifted away from the most important thing Facebook can do — help us connect with each other…Based on this, we’re making a major change to how we build Facebook. I’m changing the goal I give our product teams from focusing on helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful social interactions.”
“Connections” and “meaningful interactions” are two themes Zuckerberg repeats multiple times throughout his post.
Influencers provoke enthusiastic discussion and reactions in their posts. Brands, on the other hand, often have to explicitly ask for engagement: “Like if you love our blog!” or “Tag your friends!” The interaction is not meaningful; it’s gamed and forced.
Facebook’s caught on to these desperate attempts at “engagement bait” and actively demotes offending posts in its news feed. Influencers aren’t desperate to sink to those levels like brands. They know how to generate engagement without begging for it.
Personal vs. impersonal
Too many brands have continued to persist in the decidedly deluded mindset that social media is for promoting your content and driving traffic to your website, not for actually engaging with your customers.
Facebook has deemphasized posts with links for years, and Zuckerberg explicitly calls out videos and articles in his statement. With this latest algorithm update, Facebook is finally saying “enough.”
Influencers, on the other hand, have always operated as individuals. They’ve got business savvy and understand the importance of having a personal brand, sure. But they’ve always used Facebook and social media to share and connect, rather than measuring the CTR and revenue generated by each post.
In other words, they’ve focused on “meaningful interactions.” Influencers have a knack for authenticity that brands, by virtue of being a for-profit faceless corporation, simply don’t.
Influencer posts look like posts from your friends, only with way more likes and engagement. Of course, they occasionally use social media to promote their blog or YouTube channel. But for many of them, their posts are the main event in and of themselves, rather than a teaser for content that lives elsewhere. These types of posts are the kind social networks love to promote, because they keep users on their platform.
This is the key distinction between influencers and brands, and why one enjoys much more success than the other. Influencers inherently get how to get people interested and engaged, and that holds true even under these algorithm changes.
The reign of the micro-influencer
In 2017, Facebook pushed many larger influencers on Facebook and Instagram to convert from “public figure” profiles to pages, essentially setting themselves up as business accounts.
Until and if (and that may be a big “if”) Facebook adjusts the algorithm to pointedly favor influencer content versus business content, influencers big enough to warrant brand pages won’t be able to do much to help out the brands who sponsor them – unless the brand pays to boost their posts.
However, smaller, micro-influencers absolutely will, as long as they’re still set up as regular profiles with public posts. This is good news for brands, anyway, since micro-influencers boast 2 to 4 times higher engagement rates than larger influencers:
A renaissance for groups
In his statement, Zuckerberg acknowledges that “there are many tight-knit communities around TV shows and sports teams.”
You know who operates in those “tight-knit communities” he’s talking about? Influencers, and the communities he’s referring to are Facebook groups. Fortunately for brands, Facebook groups cover a variety of topics, from SaaS technology to fan fiction. No matter your industry, there’s at least a few Facebook groups talking about it.
Businesses should be seeking out relevant groups to their niche and noting the big names that pop up over and over again. The people starting discussion threads with lots of comments and reactions are the influencers that brands need to be working with. Brands should also encourage any influencers they’re already working with to engage in groups.
Brands can also create their own branded communities, but for these to be successful, they can’t seem overly promotional. Work with prominent influencers to start discussions and inspire people to join. The goal should be to provide “meaningful interactions” in your group, which may or may not always prove directly beneficial for your brand’s bottom line.
Vlogger exodus from YouTube
Influencers have flocked naturally to Instagram and YouTube. Facebook, not so much.
However, at 1.3 billion daily users, Facebook still demands the biggest audience. Brands have to be on Facebook if they want a chance of connecting with their audience on social. But now, they’ll have to double down on influencer marketing in order to do it. Brands with existing influencer relationships may encourage their influencers to do more on the network, driving wider adoption by the influencer community.
Helping adoption is YouTube’s recent changes that significantly restrict the money-making opportunities for creators on their platform. While the purse strings are tightening on YouTube, they’re loosening from brands on Facebook, so it’s likely Facebook will witness an influx of vloggers.
Facebook itself partnered with influencers to launch Facebook Live, and it worked. Since live video is so successful (it has 6 times the engagement of regular videos), Facebook is finding ways to make traditional video feel live.
A week after this algorithm update, they announced the new Watch Party feature, which allows users in groups to simultaneously watch videos and comment. It’s a way to make pre-recorded video feel live, since you’re watching it with friends. These videos offer brands another opportunity to get in front of customers in a way that feels organic and “meaningful,” especially if influencers are the ones posting the videos.
Influencers: your brand’s path to success on Facebook
Customers have already been tuning your brand out for years, opting instead to listen to social media influencers and friends over your marketing materials.
The time to engage with Facebook influencers is now, and don’t delay. These recent changes only mean influencers get to be more choosy about which brands they work with, so, in the words of Mark Zuckerberg, “connect” with your influencers and get to creating “meaningful interactions” pronto.