By Darla Palmer-Ellingson
Until 2018, using Facebook to advertise brands, products and services was one of the most affordable methods to reach a targeted online audience. On Jan. 11, Mark Zuckerberg made an announcement that could mean a major change in how effective future business campaigns will be.
Zuckerberg said Facebook would change its news feed algorithm because community feedback indicated “public content—posts from businesses, brands and media—is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other.”
Potential consumers are likely to see less content from businesses, brands, and media in their news feed, and more from friends and groups.
This doesn’t eliminate advertising and business opportunities on Facebook. However, businesses will need to work harder and increase ad budgets to gain their customers’ attention on the platform.
Some predict that with less diverse feeds, users may spend less time on Facebook. But the cost of quitting Facebook is too steep for many people, or entire countries, who rely on it as a vital way to stay connected.
It’s likely we will see greater regulation on Facebook and other social media platforms. This will mean more evolution, and businesses must continue to adapt to stay competitive. Participation in social networks is increasing at a rapid pace. According to Statista.com, there will be 2.77 billion global users by 2019, up from 2.46 billion in 2017.
So how do businesses continue reaching customers on Facebook?
Taking a cue from Zuckerberg’s playbook, businesses need to focus on “meaningful interactions.” Here are the top six ways to engage customers on Facebook.
1. Content is still king
Page posts that generate comments and prompt conversations are good; those that don’t likely won’t make the feed.
Zuckerberg wrote that “Pages making posts that people generally don’t react to or comment on could see the biggest decreases in distribution. Pages whose posts prompt conversations between friends will see less of an effect.”
Sparking a conversation is more easily said than done, especially if you do not yet have many followers. There are the traditional methods of including questions in your posts and writing about timely relevant topics. But sometimes you just need to go a little outside the box. Slip in a fun contest, such as posting obscure photos of area landmarks on a realtor’s Facebook page, asking people to guess where it is. Not only is it a really fun way to break up the flow of real estate listings and industry news, but the people responding are likely to comment on each other’s comments.
Another strategy is asking for input on a business decision, such as picking a company mascot or asking for ideas for new product flavors. The point is, think about how you can involve the community in fun and interesting ways, not just by asking rhetorical questions. When the community reacts and engages, your organic (unpaid) reach will climb.
2. Don’t blatantly ask for engagement
Asking people to comment on your post may not only get it demoted by the new algorithm, it’s kind of spammy, and users don’t like it. But there are ways for businesses to increase comments on a regular basis. Ask your co-workers, employees and friends, through another communication method such as email, to check out your page on a regular basis and like or comment on posts, as a way they can support the growth of your business.
3. Encourage customers to follow your Facebook Page
You can employ several avenues to ask customers to like and follow your page. This could be as simple as including a like icon next to the Facebook share button with your email signature. Also include it next to e-news articles delivered by email. When you set up an ad campaign, Facebook will ask you about your goals. Choosing “increase page likes” is a great way to build your fan base.
The new algorithm will still display posts from user’s favorite pages in their news feed. Periodically remind customers to follow your page on Facebook when communicating with them outside of the platform. Ask them to select the “See First” option (on the “Follow” drop down menu.) Give them a reason to follow you, such as “Look what you missed last month on the XYZ Facebook page—Tax tips that will save your association money; Benefits and pitfalls of joining your condominium board; Small space gardening that adds spice to your table.”
4. Increase your ad budget
Since Facebook is changing how it prioritizes content from businesses, organic reach will decline, making paid reach all the more crucial. A Facebook ad puts your post in the news feed of users with demographics you choose through targeting. Defining the right audience will help the response rate to your ad, encouraging users to take the action you desire (click through to your website, like your page, etc).
5. Make more videos
While it is essential to have an image in every post, we’ve heard for a while now that videos get even more action—views and clicks. Have you tried Facebook Live? Just as it sounds, you create a live, spontaneous video in support of your product or brand. Maybe volunteers from your company are doing a ditch cleanup on Saturday. Go live! Live videos were specifically called out in Zuckerberg’s announcement: “live videos often lead to discussion among viewers on Facebook—in fact, live videos on average get six times as many interactions as regular videos.”
You can double your video impact by creating a YouTube channel for your business, and linking videos posted to YouTube onto Facebook and other social media platforms. YouTube, which is now owned by Google, is the No. 2 search engine in the world, after Google.
Most current smartphones are adequate to make a good video. If you are not sure how to put one together, check out this quick lesson, “Shoot on Mobile” in YouTube Academy.
6. Invest time in Facebook Groups
There are a couple of great aspects about Facebook Groups. The group has already defined an interest area, and it’s free. Audience engagement in groups is something the new algorithm looks for.
Search for interest groups in your targeted geographic area, and also join large buy and sell groups. Once you have joined a group, you can share a post. If the post is set up through your Ad Manager, you can track the interactions. Combining a paid ad with posting to groups could take your posts from hundreds of interactions to thousands.
Look around in any public setting and you will see how many people are glued to a phone screen. We have evolved to a mobile first society, getting our news and social connection through networking sites.
When setting your advertising budget and hiring marketing help, make sure resources are dedicated to social media. These algorithm changes are a major shift, but Facebook and other platforms will continue to evolve, and you must be prepared to reach your customers with valuable, quality content and meaningful interactions.