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Thursday, 15 November 2012

How do we solve a problem like Facebook...?

Last week I gave a presentation at the Tessitura UK conference on my home turf at the RSC. I was given the title of  "Trends in Social Media" which filled me a small amout dread as I'm not really a trend watcher/setter (most definitely not a setter!).

After much contemplation about what to include in a presentation which would ideally provoke discussion, I decided to lead with the changes that have recently been made to Facebook - namely promoted posts and the Edgerank algorithm.

Both of these things entered my radar a few weeks ago via an excellent online seminar with Katie Moffat, run by the Arts Marketing Association. As a Facebook user, I was becoming more frustrated as to why my feed was increasingly being filled with the things that Facebook thinks I'm going to like, rather than the updates from friends and brands that I have actively "liked" and who's updates I want to see. I didn't like that Facebook was making assumptions about the "news" in my News Feed.

At the same time, as an Admin of Facebook Page for a cultural brand, I had started to notice that the number of people seeing our posts was declining (we have 35,000 fans, but between 1.5 - 4K were seeing posts).

Over the past 5 years, we've worked hard at creating and maintaining Facebook Pages, building the number of Facebook Likes organically, and Facebook has proved an invaluable communication tool for many arts organisations. However, the introduction of promoted posts and Edgerank has meant that extending the reach of our Facebook posts is now increasingly difficult and potentially costly, especially when you consider the costs associated with using Facebook's promoted posts function. A quick calculation shows that the RSC's annual spend could be up to £78,000, to reach our existing Facebook audience - (crazy money for any organisation that's a registered charity).

The "Sponsored Posts" on Facebook, are becoming increasingly prominent, and from what I've seen in my own Facebook Newsfeed, being dominated by big brands (I keep seeing Amazon and Hotels.com).

What should we do?

Since learning more about Edgerank, I've actively changed the way that we use Facebook at the RSC - the main change being posting a lot more photos with status updates, making them more "share-able" and sticky - in an attempt to increase the number of people seeing each post. Although I'm struggling to figure out an exact science to this, and the only true way of now extending our Facebook reach is by allocating Marketing spend to promoted posts - which I'm hoping to do in the next few weeks.

The future of Facebook

I would hope that Facebook will listen to its users, who are becoming less happy with what was once a social platform with a little bit of advertising, to an advertising platform with a little bit of social.

Are Facebook users going to vote with their feet and move to using other social platforms (namely Google Plus). There was some talk about Google Plus at Tessitura UK, but are our audiences on there yet? (that's a discussion for another blog post).

We could look towards collectively lobbying Facebook to consider the non-profits and small businesses that have been using the site, sharing creative and interesting content for many years. Are we drowning in the Facebook noise, being forgotten in favour of big spending advertisers? Google have Google Grants, YouTube offers non-profit channels, Facebook really needs to follow suit if it wants us to stick around.

3 comments:

  1. To an extent, this isn't a huge change as I don't think it's ever been the case where all your Facebook fans would see your post, though the % has decreased. If people engage with your posts, they will keep seeing the posts of the organisations they follow. Though this is a challenge to reaching those people who don't engage and reach new audiences and can be a bit catch 22!

    The challenge is for organisations to create the most engaging posts that will be shared and commented on, rather than using it as a 'marketing' channel. Arts orgs ARE doing this and RSC does, but I still so so much sales-y content across pages everywhere (not just the arts). This is also what I feel I still have to post on the page I help to manage, as well as all the fun stuff. Because organisations do need to get people in and sell tickets!

    Ultimately, it can be only a good thing if orgs are being challenged to really think about what will be engaging, ie photos, videos, behind the scenes, asking questions etc.

    Interesting point about Google grants, I definitely think Facebook needs to go down this route!

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  2. Very interesting post. I've been reading lots about this recently and coming across various different opinions on whether Edgerank is actually affecting page reach/engagement. This is an interesting blog with a different take on things:

    http://www.jonloomer.com/2012/11/16/facebook-pay-to-play/

    My suspicion is that the Edgerank algorithim change has had some impact on reach, but not as much as people seem to think - as Leanne says and as the other blogs I've seen indicate, nobody ever reached 100% of their Facebook fan base. In the case of the page I manage, I noticed a huge drop in reach in September which fits in with the reports on the algorithim changes, but since then I've seen things improve. My most popular post is from July and none of my recent postings seem to get that high anymore - but some aren't that far off and I hope that this is partly because of some of the changes we've made to our posts. Things like you describe, making posts 'stickier' and using images (although recent postings I've seen suggest status updates perform better in terms of reach than pics!) and so on. But the main change we've made, and the one that has helped me the most, is in the timings of my posts.

    Our page represents a UK cultural figure and we're based in the UK but actually the majority of our fan base is in the US, which surprisd me. Since noticing the dip I've been timing posts to reach this larger audience, setting them to go out at US-friendly times (as well as my usual posts for UK and other European fans). I've seen such a better response since I started doing this, it has really made the difference for me. There are also lots of reports out there on what times to post to perform the best within your industry (BuddyMedia is one) which have also been helpful to me in trialling different timings etc.

    Anyway I defnitely agree that making organisations think about creating engaging content is no bad thing - but I also hope that things on Facebook aren't quite as bleak as I initially thought when I started seeing these reports!

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