I’ve had a lot of questions from partners and customers alike about Facebook News Feed algorithm changes recently announced and due to hit in January 2015. Facebook is going to tweak its algorithm to reduce exposure of “overly promotional posts” — examples of which are below. I thought I’d take some time to clear up misconceptions, put this in some historical context, and explain the likely impact as we’re advising our companies/clients today.

According to Mashable, Facebook has defined “promotion” in three ways.

  1. Posts that solely push people to buy a product or install an app. So here they’re trying to make it harder for brands to jam “spammy” content in to the News Feed, suggesting a user pay attention to them. I see this one as a win-win — consumers don’t like seeing spammy promotional content with no relevance to them, while brands really *shouldn’t* want this either. The data suggest these posts don’t really perform well and have not for several years — so it isn’t like this will be a big loss for companies that have built a large audience. Facebook has wanted the News Feed to be relevant for a long time as have consumers, so anyone who feels blind-sided by this quite frankly hasn’t been thinking about how Facebook will inevitably evolve. And these types of posts really should be paid media anyhow — as they’re truly advertising and not “advertorial”. Be a little more clever, folks, or pay for it!! :)
  2. Posts that push people to enter promotions and sweepstakes with no real context. This one to me is a little more of a gray area to me. A sweepstakes giveaway or contest, especially one meant to be some reward for loyal fans, seems to be fair game. Data are a bit more mixed on this — some get great engagement while others do not. That said, let’s say a sweepstakes requires users to “Like” the content — the motivation of the brand would be to game the News Feed algorithms to give other Page content more exposure. Earned/owned media agencies focusing on the social channel likely use this tactic to “improve results”, and it’s being shut down. So I don’t really mind this either — it’s illegitimate.
  3. Posts that reuse the exact same content from ads. This one is pretty insidious — but I’m sure some actors in the system have been doing this to the detriment of the News Feed overall. Otherwise, this wouldn’t be included in the policy. :) Place an ad unit, then run the same content as a second “unsponsored” Facebook post. Clever, no doubt. But this is clear abuse of the system and shouldn’t be tolerated at all.

Overall, when I review these changes, I don’t think this should alarm reasonable, legitimate actors in the slightest. At least not right now - more on that in Part 2. Each of these changes in some way helps Facebook use the News Feed to get “genuine” consumer feedback on content. Using machine learning (most likely), Facebook has determined they can effectively exclude these types of content and count only legitimate Facebook posts to make determinations for Edgerank… er… News Feed relevance. This is a good thing.

In Part 2, I’ll talk about the impact of past changes, what we should expect in 2015 and how I’d adjust my thinking if I were a CMO in a major consumer brand.