Mark Zuckerberg announced plans to alter the Facebook algorithm to show more posts from family and friends and less from businesses, brands, and pages, via his Facebook page on Friday. The motivation for the change - as described in his post below - was to bring the posts from those that you're most connected with to the foreground and blur out the fuzz from brands.
The idea is said to be driven by research suggesting the engagement from friends and family makes one feel "more connected and less lonely" while the brand-guff may have the opposite effect. Zuckerberg goes on to say that "... I'm changing the goal I give our product teams from focusing on helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful social interactions".
Do you want Zuck determining what you consider to be meaningful?
After Zuckerberg's continues to express concern for your "well-being" he notes that "[he] expects the time people spend on Facebook and some measures of engagement will go down. But [he also] expects the time you do spend on Facebook will be more valuable".
Make no mistake: this alteration has nothing to do with your well-being and far more to do with squeezing even more out of business. While Facebook have said that the prominence or volume of paid posts or advertisements in feeds will not be affected, the fact a user will be spending less time on Facebook will ultimately affect your reach.
Some discussions I've had offline suggest that the reduced engagement is in itself a means of simply reducing costs and strain on an infrastructure that is starting to feel the digital-stress associated with global domination. Serving less content and having a user spend less time on their platform allows Facebook more time to rebuild their fragmented and very buggy services. Of course, the collateral advantage of this is forcing business to spend more to infiltrate their customers' feeds.
We have seen businesses invest hundreds of thousands building a committed page audience and even more with their advertising spend. Over the last couple of years their organic impressions have become lower and lower, thus forcing business to invest more into their reach. This latest update further relegates brands into the shame-corner where their only means of promotion is via a paid promotion. This is a serious blow to the big brands and small businesses that keep Facebook afloat.
If my own feed serves as any example, my friends rarely share anything of real value, and I'm not overly interested in most of what they have to say... especially since I barely recognise most of the people behind the majority of posts that fill my timeline. Much of the time my 'friends' share junk, they propagate false information, they share a 'fake' representation of their life, or they'll passionately advocate views that I don't necessary agree with. Quite frankly, I want to see less from my friends and more from the brands that I choose to follow. A brand is quality-controlled, consistent, and they'll generally share the information that I want to see. If I don't like what a brand is sharing I'll unfollow them.
While there's an option in Facebook to see a particular page first, or use the 'Hide post' feature (apparently forcing Facebook to serve less of those particular kind of message), it's simply not enough. A simple user option to provide weight against family, friends, groups, and pages should instead be used by our overlords instead of indiscriminately making decisions for us.
What does this mean for business? Facebook's message is wrapped up in a message of user well-being... and while the net effect of their change might be partially true (evidence suggests otherwise), the motivation behind Facebook's change is to have businesses pay more. If you want to reach an audience you can no longer rely on organic reach; you'll have to pay for it. Zuck does make the distinction between the passive and live experience; suggesting that engagement from live posts may not be affected in the same way. He also says that we'll see more from "family, friends, and groups"; the inclusion of groups pointing towards the needs for a business-based discussion forum. We'll have to play the next month or so out and see where Facebook takes us.
Having a single brand with no customer support continues to be a problem for businesses that reply upon the Facebook platform. Facebook will indiscriminately shut pages down for no reason, they'll moderate what they consider to be news contrary to their political agenda, they impose their own warped moral compass on what they determine is offensive, and now they want further control over how customers interact business - and vice-versa. The sooner we all migrate to a decentralised platform the better-off we'll all be.
Facebook's change has reminded us once again that a diversified marketing portfolio and strong mailing list are an intrinsic and necessary part of your business practices.