The digital king maker: identifying the content casualties of Facebook’s algorithm changes

Abe Smith, president EMIA, Cision, examines how the recent Facebook changes will impact marketers.

It is a new world order at Facebook. The recent impact of an algorithmic change is a shot that has been heard around the world, and anyone who deals in online content has had to take a step back to re-evaluate the lay of the land.

Given the current data scandal unfolding around us, it is safe to say that this period of change is only just beginning. Mark Zuckerberg recently broke his silence on the Cambridge Analytica news, admitting that ‘[Facebook] has a responsibility to protect your data, and if it can’t then it doesn’t deserve to serve you.’

Changes on the horizon

The tech company has subsequently promised to ‘further restrict’ the way third parties access and store user data. With the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA) applying pressure on Facebook on behalf of the advertisers it represents, the online community can expect significant changes on the horizon.

In light of these rapid developments, journalists, marketers, advertisers, community managers, influencers and publishers are adjusting and coming up with a game plan for a world where Facebook is not built for them. As each day brings more news, it is important to look at the cause and effect and consider the way forward for those who deal in content.

Up to this point, the industry had been much more accustomed to changes in favour of marketers, not users, and was simply unprepared for a shift of this scale. With organic reach on Facebook essentially dead, it is a blow to many brands’ marketing and comms strategies, and already we have seen smaller content publishers close their doors as their business models buckled. Any brands whose strategy is not entirely paid has been forced to adjust and there is a wide belief in most agencies that brands will have to increase their spending significantly to get their content onto newsfeeds and get the same level of reach they once got for free.

One of the first victims of the algorithm changes was the lifestyle blog, ‘Little Things.’ The business has closed its doors after four years publishing content, a move that comes at the cost of 100 jobs and one that has been directly attributed to the recent newsfeed changes. Traditional publications have already struggled as falling print readership has pushed them from print to online, and now they’re having to contend with being further marginalised on the internet. It begs the question, will Facebook’s quest for user-generated content improve the content on your newsfeed, or diminish it?

Social is changing in other ways too, with new competitors offering an alternative to the big platforms Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. A new kid on the block is Vero, which has been taking the internet by storm as users clambered to sign up to become one of the first million users to be gifted free membership for life. The platform went from 150,000 to 3,000,000 downloads in a matter of weeks, a rise that spokespeople from Vero attribute to social media users being sick of algorithms and advertising. If Vero is more hype than substance remains to be seen, but this is yet another brave move away from branded content and is likely to completely shake up the way we consume online content. What this means for marketers is a shift in how they deliver content to would-be consumers within the new social world order.

These changes have come at a time when the wider landscape is moving across online earned media, with publishers taking more risks to safeguard the future of their businesses and using technology in ways we haven’t seen before. Reuters recently announced that it would be introducing an automation tool that trawls and collates information for its reporters. Called Lynx Insight, the tool is intended to create a “cybernetic newsroom, marrying the best of machine capability and human judgement to drive better journalism” and will analyse data sets to identify interesting story ideas to journalists and even form some sentences. Additionally, Google’s Newsroom Initiative just officially launched casts a view on how journalism will be shaped going forward powered by technology. While a few years ago most reports insisted that AI would never find its way into journalism, it seems that this level of digital assistance is being welcomed as margins have eroded and editorial staff rosters have shrunk.

Authentic connections

It is in journalism and earned media that marketers will find more stability in the marketing mix and the promise of the organic, authentic connections between brands and audiences they so crave. The original influencers, journalists at credible publications are – even in the age of fake news – trusted and believed by their readers and able to convey brand stories in a way that is now very difficult to achieve on social media.

PR and the pursuit of earned media results is a decidedly different discipline to lower-funnel digital marketing, but there are increasing parallels between the two that mean it is becoming more measurable – which for marketers accustomed to reams of metrics is absolutely essential. For marketers who have spent the last 10 years being served meticulous data on ad performance, a coverage report just is not adequate. We now have the technology to see the true impact of a single piece of coverage or a long-term campaign beyond anecdotes and ‘finger in the air’ guesstimates, and is now proving its value by the numbers.

While the changes in the past few months have sent many marketers back to the drawing board to come up with a new strategy for their brands, this is an opportunity to re-evaluate the marketing mix and find new ways to connect with audiences. A more diverse and balanced mix of paid, earned and owned content will insulate brands from wider changes and mean we do not lose out on meaningful organic engagement.

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