Facebook has long maintained its status as an important marketing tool for small businesses because it puts local businesses on the same playing field as international conglomerates. In the past, million-dollar budgets were needed to produce advertisements and syndicate them across various media sources. Facebook transformed this traditional paradigm with its straightforward algorithm that simply ranked content higher if it had more shares and engagement. Today, however, Facebook’s new algorithm, which ranks content based on a proprietary formula that artificially shapes news feeds to individual users, is causing consternation among small businesses that thrive on organic social media activity.
Understanding Facebook’s Changes
The new Facebook algorithm was released at the beginning of 2016. Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, had talked for many years about a revolutionary Facebook update, but he was always quiet when asked to provide specifics. Even today, little information outside empirical evidence is available about the specifics of the new Facebook algorithm. However, Facebook has said publicly that its new algorithm is intended to leverage historical data about individual users to predict which content is most likely to be perceived as interesting. In a shift that is almost certainly related, Facebook updated its share functionality with emoticons that enable users to provide feedback about the emotions that drove them to share content. The new algorithm and features are intended to improve the relevance of results.
Punitive Measures Against Low-Value Tactics
Many social media experts have compared Facebook’s new algorithm with Google’s Panda updates, which used a series of propriety algorithms to detect and penalize low-quality content. Panda was widely perceived as effective; however, unlike Google, Facebook did not formerly have problems with widespread spam. Low-quality content rarely got shared on Facebook, so most spammers looked elsewhere when seeking to employ cheap tricks. While the prevalence of spam might not be as apparent on Facebook as it once was on Google, the social media giant may be combating a higher order of inorganic content. A Facebook business page that has thrived on low-value tactics is likely already witnessing impressions drop, but businesses should plan on incurring more severe penalties in the months ahead.
Increased Importance of Relevant Content
Early social media strategies relied on metrics that were poor indicators of success, such as measuring shares and followers. Businesses quickly learned to avoid quantitative metrics, but maximizing follower growth remained a secondary objective in many organizations. However, with the latest Facebook update, it has become clear that Facebook plans to deprioritize content posted by pages that are less relevant to individual users. The new environment will favor a Facebook business page that narrows the size of its targeted niche in accordance with its reach. While massive news organizations might continue to thrive with broad content, business pages with limited resources will need to focus on their specific niche to attract the relevant followers that will ultimately drive performance in the new relevance-oriented environment.
Facebook has not published much concrete information about the specifics of its new algorithm, and it probably never will. Much of the new algorithm’s value is derived from the inherent uncertainty it foments among the producers of low-quality content. In the new environment, content publishers that depend on anything besides the organic orientation Facebook seeks to nurture can expect to be penalized. Facebook’s new algorithm certainly creates challenges for small businesses, but entrepreneurs who learn to win with the new system before their rivals will thrive in the years ahead.