Ep. 66 | Surviving Facebook’s News Feed Armageddon

Picture of Larry Kim for the Rethink Marketing Podcast where he talks about the Facebook News Feed

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In this week’s episode, we chat with the original unicorn, Larry Kim about the recent Facebook news feed change and what it means to businesses.

Kim is the founder of Mobile Monkey, a startup that allows you to build a chatbot for Facebook Messenger in minutes with no coding required. You can sign up for a free trial to learn more about it. We’ve chatted with Larry in Episode 27, where he shared tips on leveraging your unicorn content.  

Facebook News Feed

Nathan: You were one of the first people to track the recent Facebook News Feed changes. Can you tell us what happened?

Larry: It’s kind of a big deal. What’s happening is that Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook has announced that he’s going to be changing the news feed algorithm to optimize for meaningful conversations among your friends, as opposed to optimizing for engagement.

Basically, he’s turning Facebook news feed into more of a message board where you’re going to see the updates that generate a lot of interactions from your friends and family. And he’s trying to make it less of a television channel, where there’s just lots and lots of interesting publisher stuff in your feed, and you just end up staying there for hours.

What does this mean for businesses?

Nathan: How does this play out for brands and marketers?

Larry: Well, it’s kind of a death blow for publishers. A lot of websites like Buzzfeed, Washington Post, and all these places, were using – and including companies, like content marketers in general – were leveraging the Facebook news feed as a fairly reliable way of getting a good amount of exposure and traffic to their sites by just publishing updates to a company page, and then some small percentage of their fans would actually see those updates.

What Mark is saying is that more than 50 percent of the posts a typical person sees in their news feed is actually from publishers. And what he’d like it to do is to switch that so that the majority of the posts are just coming from friends and family.

Fake News?

Nathan: Is this a response to the criticisms Facebook received about the elections and these fake news posts?

Larry: Oh, it’s absolutely a reaction. There’s just so much risk for Facebook right now if they continue this path, if they continue this path of trying to become like a publisher, basically, like being a news venue. They probably have a lot of litigation risk already. But yeah, it was like an existential threat to the existence of Facebook, all the litigation of not policing the content that’s being broadcast over their network. So, I think what this change does is it really makes it less of a broadcast network and more of just a friendly message board among your friends and family. And I guess they’re thinking that this is a lot less risky from kind of a global damage perspective.

Facebook ad pricing doubles?

Nathan: But Facebook is out there to make money.  How does this change how they make money moving forward?

Larry: One of the things Mark said was he expects people to spend a lot less time on Facebook. Because people, you know how it is, you start going on to Facebook and it’s a little bit like you never know what you’re going to get. All sorts of stuff just appears. And you end up spending an hour there, all of a sudden, watching these dumb videos and stuff like this. So he expects with all the demotion of publisher content from the news feed, he’s expecting people to spend less time on the platform. Actually, he said he was certain of this. But he also said that he believed that the time that you do spend on Facebook will be more valuable. And this is not only true for users, but also for advertisers.

Because if people are spending less time in Facebook, then that means there’s less ad inventory to go around. So just think about this, like say one out of every 20 updates is an ad or one out of every 10. If people spend half the time on Facebook, well then suddenly your availability of ad space has kind of been cut by half. And then so we expect those prices to go up accordingly because that increases publisher competition.

Future Tactics

Nathan: And so as a publisher, as an advertiser, as a marketer, how does this change your strategies and tactics moving forward?

Larry: Oh, it’s a big change. I mean organic reach on Facebook, it’s been going down. But that’s per post. So when someone tells you the organic reach of Facebook posts is like 5 percent or something like that. Well what you can do to get around that is you can just publish 20 updates.

Basically, I think we need to rethink our relationship with these social media platforms. Previously using these publisher pages, it was just kind of a very easy way to drive social referral traffic to your site just by doing link posts. There’s a new blog post on blah, blah, blah. It’s a status update that just links to your blog or something like that. And so those are the types of things that are going to be eliminated basically or just rendered invisible by the news feed algorithm changes.

The stuff that’s going to survive includes things like Facebook groups. So groups, it’s like a discussion thread. I think companies should be thinking about creating groups rather than pages. Because there’s still a ton of engagement from groups. In fact, if you’re in any groups, one of the things I’m sure you noticed is if there’s a lively discussion happening, you actually get notifications in your notification bar about this lively discussion, which results in a tremendous amount of exposure. Now that’s not the same thing as link clicks. Because with a link click you can then drive them to your website, and you can try to convert them into a lead or a sale, or you can tag them with a remark, and try to convert them using ads or something like this.

The discussion group, first of all, this is not new people. They have to be in your discussion group to begin with. So it’s more like increasing brand affinity among your existing user base, as opposed to reaching new people through the feed. So it’s a little different strategy. I still think it’s valuable. But it’s a different type of benefit being offered.

Marketers migrating to other platforms?

Nathan: Do you think publishers, marketers, and others, will move to other networks? It seems like I’m hearing a lot of conversation about people jumping over to LinkedIn to kind of do what they had been doing on Facebook. Any thoughts on that?

Larry:   So, LinkedIn, it’s definitely better than Facebook. But they still have the same challenges around – LinkedIn also diminishes the reach of link posts. So those status updates on LinkedIn, if you include or remove the link, like if you just do an experiment, one thing you’ll notice is that you’ll get two or three times more exposure if you just remove the link than if you keep the link in the post. So I think all of the social media companies and platforms are kind of moving in a similar direction of trying to keep the engagement on their platforms as opposed to sending them off platform.

But yeah, you’re right, there’s just really more – I mean, LinkedIn is kind of a dinosaur. They’re kind of like this – they’re not really at the cutting edge of social media, if you will. They just introduced video a few months ago, like 10 years after it was a thing. And so their algorithm is actually pretty primitive. They don’t have all the filters in place that Facebook does. And so your reach for your link posts are still a lot better than Facebook, although it’s to a smaller audience.

Nathan: What else should marketers be thinking about, as they just try and build and grow their audiences or just reach their audience? They had been trying to do it through Facebook and different posts, whatever it might be. What should they be doing?

Larry: Sure. Well, Facebook Ads aren’t impacted by this change. This is purely just the organic component of the news feed. And I was bullish on those before. And I think they’re very much even more valuable if the organic publisher content is going to be significantly diminished going forward. Beyond that, Facebook – and we talked a little bit about Facebook groups, there’s Instagram.

Instagram has a tremendous amount of organic reach if you are in certain verticals, like healthy and beauty, travel, fitness, food, all the kind of Instagram-y, photogenic verticals. You absolutely need to be on Instagram. Because there’s only about single digit millions of publisher pages on Instagram, as opposed to like 100 million publisher pages on Facebook. So publishers haven’t infected Instagram to the extent that they had on Facebook. And so they haven’t really been killing off the organic reach in such draconian ways.

Beyond Instagram groups, there’s messaging. So over a billion people use Facebook Messenger every day. And not a lot of marketers are actually using Messenger to collect customer contacts, and be able to send notifications, and interact with customers one on one through Messenger Chat on Facebook. But I think that’s like a really interesting growth hack for companies looking to kind of bypass the news feed and just talk to them directly. That’s pretty interesting.

Nathan: How would that happen?

Larry: Well, basically what it is, Nathan, like say you visited my Facebook page and you messaged me, you messaged Larry through my page. Well, then we’ve now started kind of a conversation channel that we can just go back and forth forever. Just like how I collect your email, and if I’m a company now I have your email, I can subscribe you to all my podcasts, and all my product updates, and marketing updates. And so that’s kind of the same idea with Messenger. You just got to get people into this messaging channel so you can then develop a one on one conversational relationship with these prospects.