The Changing Rules of the Facebook Game

rules-shutterstock-105825518With the increasing importance of imagery and visual content across many social channels, most of the mainstream social properties are facilitating and rewarding the use of visuals and images in both paid and earned content streams.

Recent Facebook changes reflect this heightened response and engagement seen with visual posts and ads. This trend leaves brands with increased costs to create those compelling images, as the bar is continually raised against the overwhelming competition for a user’s time and attention. At the same time, Facebook has all but guaranteed that marketers need to pay to play, with recent algorithmic changes that drop organic content views down to the low single percentage points. In making these and other recent changes, Facebook is exerting increased control over the conversation and the marketing plan.

Facebook’s own news releases outline their plans to favor visual content with link sharing (presumably to better compete with Twitter), while other sources add that popular content streams like Upworthy or BuzzFeed with a sensational or meme-driven bent can expect to be labeled lower-quality content providers and find themselves only trickling into the average news stream. In other words, Facebook is deciding for users which content has more value (i.e. what will be shown) and for advertisers how to talk to consumers (i.e. what will be shown without paying for ads).

Facebook is a commercial enterprise with every right to control their environment to their own liking and brands have many choices of where to spend their marketing dollars, but these changes have far-reaching consequences. Consumers that harbor the notion that their newsfeed should reflect their own networks, preferences, and behaviors need to understand the implicit deal they struck for their use of this free platform. They are first and foremost a source of revenue to be mined by Facebook. The changes the business enterprise makes will push the money-making machine as far as the pendulum can swing without starting to lose an uncomfortable percentage of the consumers that enable that machine.

Advertisers, for their part, are going to have to learn to keep up with constant rule changes if they want to continue to play the Facebook game, but they have to also expect higher costs. Facebook’s power lies with its access to huge numbers of receptive consumers. This is not a new situation for online marketers. Consider the direct corollary of SEO efforts and their relationship to paid search ads. Optimizing organic Facebook content can only get you so far as long as Facebook controls viewability according to its own (and changing) algorithm.

For now, advertisers who have committed years and dollars to building a Facebook audience are advised to choose images over text and include links where possible in order to help create “high-quality content” as defined by Facebook. Stay on top of the Facebook changes, as their definition of high-quality content will continue to shift over time, but keep your checkbooks handy, too, as the balance of investment between content creation and ad placements has definitely tipped in Facebook’s favor. With the decline in organic reach on Facebook, if you want your message delivered you will have to craft the message with Facebook guidelines in mind and should plan to pay to have it delivered.

Some will see these changes as inevitable business reality while others rail against the unfairness of it all. But Facebook is a public company in a highly competitive advertising environment beholden to its stockholders to make decisions in its own best interests. Whenever brands engage or advertise on a platform they don’t own, they do it under the house rules and no amount of whining will change that. Ask Google. Play the game as well as you can by learning the rules but also look to support the new upstart social platforms as they become viable plan options to diversify marketing investments and leverage those opportune but fleeting timeframes while they are building audience scale but don’t yet have the power to wield it like a weapon.

Image via Shutterstock.

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