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“Pages that post promotional creative should expect their organic distribution to fall significantly over time.”

No, you are not having a flashback or reading an old blog post about organic reach decline. The quote above comes from a post on Facebook’s business blog on November 14, 2014, about yet another change to Facebook’s News Feed algorithm. This update, by the way, will start affecting Facebook Pages in January, so let’s get right to the questions at hand:

Why is this happening?

In looking over their latest user feedback, Facebook researchers noticed a trend in people’s response to the content of their News Feeds. Facebook reports: “People want to see more stories from friends and the Pages they care about, and less promotional content.”

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It bears mentioning that this specifically refers to organic Page posts that feel too promotional, not to Facebook ads. The blog post specifically calls out three types of posts that fit this description:

  1. Posts that solely push people to buy a product or install an app
  2. Posts that push people to enter promotions and sweepstakes with no real context
  3. Posts that reuse the exact same content from ads

So what is Facebook’s response to these findings? Starting in January, 2015, they will be bouncing this type of content out of the News Feed. For pages that rely solely on these types of blatantly promotional posts to get exposure and drive leads, this is obviously very bad news. But what about Pages that use posts to promote their business, events, sales, and new products in a totally legitimate way? Well, that’s where things get a little hazy.

How will this affect my business?

Facebook’s blog assures us that the majority of Pages will not be impacted by this change, but it’s hard to predict what the outcome of an update will be when we’re talking about an automated algorithm. In the best-case scenario, the algorithm will be sensitive enough to tell the difference between pushy pitches and the types of promotion that fans actually want to hear from the businesses they follow. If this is the case, then the upcoming crackdown on promotional content will actually benefit smaller marketers on Facebook.

Once this change takes place, the News Feed should become more engaging due to the decrease in obnoxious sales pitches. The most obvious effect will be that with less competition, users will be more likely to come across your high-quality post. A secondary benefit will be that people who have become conditioned to scan their feed due to the high volume of posts that don’t interest them will eventually learn to slow down and pay closer attention to what’s in front of them, since it will stand a greater chance of being relevant.

There is, of course, also a worst-case scenario here that must be acknowledged. What if the algorithmic filters are too broad, and your informative posts get painted as promotional and therefore don’t show up in the News Feed? If your posts don’t get seen, then fans will not engage with them. And over time, a repeated lack of engagement signals to Facebook that your Page is lower quality and should receive even poorer organic reach.

Too scary? Let’s focus on what we can do to avoid this outcome.

What should I do next?

It might be tempting to throw up your hands and say, “if I can’t use a business Facebook Page to promote a business, what’s the point of having one?”

That’s a fair point, and one that Facebook actually addresses: “Businesses should think about their page as a cornerstone of their online identity, not simply as a publishing service.” Sure, that’s a great starting point. You should absolutely set up a Facebook presence that reflects your brand with a custom cover photo, a contact form so people get in touch with you, and all the relevant details about your business. But what about that “publishing” part? While it’s certainly not advisable to use Facebook to blast your message out indiscriminately, we also know that sharing engaging content is the bread and butter of many pages that don’t have the budget to bring in fans through paid advertising.

While this announcement does mean that brands will have to be more careful about the kinds of organic content they share, there is no reason to think that you can’t still reach the people who like your page with solid organic posts. You’ll just have to work a little harder to walk the line between providing valuable information, and being too promotional.

For help finding that balance, let’s take a closer look at the kinds of posts Facebook said will be filtered out:

  1. Posts that solely push people to buy a product or install an app
    The key here is to post something your followers care about, and trust that they will make the connection between that issue or passion and your products and services.
  1. Posts that push people to enter promotions and sweepstakes with no real context.
    We know that people on Facebook actually engage with contests very highly, so this is a tricky one. But note that what bothers people is actually the lack of context. So when you’re posting about contests (or really anything!) make sure that you make the connection for your audience as to why they would want to enter or engage, how it benefits them, why you are sharing this, etc.
  1. Posts that reuse the exact same content from ads.
    This one should be pretty obvious. Advertising and content marketing are very different things, and they speak to different audiences. The words, themes, and images that you would choose for a paid ad would feel awkward and impersonal in the types of organic content posts you should be sharing regularly with your followers. With easy post design tools readily available, there’s no excuse to recycle ad creative anyway. Spend a few minutes creating eye-catching visuals that support the content you’re posting and your engagement metrics are sure to improve accordingly.

We know these changes to Facebook’s News Feed can be frustrating, and even a little intimidating. But keep in mind that the ultimate goal according to Facebook is to make the experience of being on Facebook more enjoyable for users, and ultimately keep them engaged. And that benefits you as a Facebook marketer in the end, too. So stick to the posting best practices you already know, keep testing and adjusting, and we’ll do our best to keep you up to date with the latest tips for success.

About the Author: Sarah Matista is the Content Marketing Manager at Webs, where she also manages marketing for Pagemodo – a suite of social media tools. Loves social media, branding, whales. Get more from Sarah on Pagemodo’s Blog and Google+.

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