What the New Facebook News Feed Means for Brands

Earlier this week, Nick Bilton of the New York Times insinuated that Facebook was suppressing organic posts to his followers on the social network. He followed up a few days later, reporting that masses of small businesses were seeing similar issues with decreasing organic engagement on their Facebook Pages. He highlighted BikersPost, a small business in Florida, who had to lay off their only employee due to the dramatic business decrease.

Coincidentally or not, Facebook revealed their new design for News Feed today. Their announcement focused on three areas of improvement: Richer photography, choice of feeds, and consistency across devices. I couldn”t help noticing how Bilton”s criticism and the new design are connected.

The Erosion of the Value of a “Like”

Over the last year, Facebook has been trying to solve a problem they created on their own. The value of a “Like” on Facebook has eroded. Since the inception of the “Like” button on the social network, brands focused on ways to gain as many fans as possible, from like-gated?sweepstakes?to ?to cheap, poorly targeted Facebook “Like” ads.

The problem with using fan quantity as a success metric is that over time users unknowingly pollute their News Feed with updates from brands of which they may not actually be fans. The first part of the solution to this problem was to change the Facebook algorithm to focus on displaying content from brands that users actually might want to see, a change made last September.

Bilton provides evidence in his second column that BikersPost is suffering from this algorithm change when he tells us that “[BikersPost owner]?Mr. Olivera said he paid Facebook to acquire a large percentage of BikersPost?s 615,000 fans.” It seems unlikely that a business as small as BikersPost would have that many “real” fans. The lack of engagement is likely because those “fans” weren”t really fans to begin with.

The New News Feed

The biggest issue I”ve heard from brands about the new News Feed was that it hurts brands. I disagree with this, for several reasons.

  • Not only does the default News Feed still include content from brands, it also makes that content much more engaging. Photos and Events are exposed to users in much richer ways, and check-ins (remember, brand content doesn”t just come from Pages) are much more engaging and informative. This will take on a much bigger effect for brands when Timeline apps begin to get better at sharing real-world social actions.
  • Most users will stick to the default News Feed view that includes content from both people and brands.
  • The Pages only feed, called “Following” in Facebook”s new interface, will allow people to see what brands they”re following at a glance; they can now easily?unfollow the ones they don”t want to hear from again. Perhaps ironically, this is a good thing: Over time, the relationships between people and brands on Facebook will hopefully resemble something to real life. This will results in less competition for News Feed space per user, which means more space for the brands of which that user is a real fan. A brand might have less fans than they did previously, but they”re more likely to be relevant with the fans they have. Because relevancy is the biggest factor in organic reach given Facebook”s algorithm changes, that brand is more likely to reach more quality fans with each post.
  • The increased relevancy between people and brands on Facebook will make brand discovery through Facebook Graph Search much more effective because it will reduce false positive search results.

What”s Good for Facebook Users is Good for Facebook Brands

Perhaps the biggest reason why the change is good for brands is that it”s good for users. Facebook is, after all, about connections between people. Changes to its functionality affect one out of every 7 people on the planet today. Breaking the experience for people, their most valuable asset, would be just as devastating as alienating brands, which provide the bulk of their revenue. The erosion of the Facebook Like is a problem created over years of misguided usage of its products and, like Google”s constant battle to increase search results relevancy, will be a constant challenge to eliminate.