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Seven Facebook Changes That PR People Need to Know About

(frustrated laptop user) Well, that was a total waste. I just thought of an idea that's too long for Twitter, too short for Google+ and too smart for Facebook
Noise to Signal Cartoon

It's heading into summer so maybe we'll catch a break. Keeping up with Facebook tweaks, algorithm manipulations, and refinements to privacy functionality is fatiguing.

From my perspective as a user, most are fine in that they are made in the interest of improving the quality of stuff in our news feeds which is a good thing. (Okay, I know it is really to boost Facebook ad revenue, but the value corollary to me as a user is propitious.) Others are evidently meant to push 'brands' to pay for their use of Facebook to sell us stuff, which may also be a good thing if it focuses attention on providing meaningful, story-like content. 

Since I look at social from a public relations rather than marketing perspective, I thought I would list seven changes that we PR people should be looking at:

Killing Repetitive Content

Organizations that share content only marginally dissimilar from other content they've been posting may find their pages disappearing from news feeds. To the extent that PR teams are responsible for creating posts, they will have to become more creative and disciplined in what they write and show.

Trashing 'Like' Baiting

Facebook will be putting a stop to 'like-baiting' — the act of asking for shares or likes as a way of boosting apparent engagement. Requests like this are annoying enough when people do it, with brands it seems simply desperate. Make what you provide relevant enough to me as consumer or citizen and it will be shared and liked.  

Brand Photo Tagging

I haven't seen much written about Facebook's brand tagging tune up. Here's how Kurt Warner at Mashable explains it

(I)f a brand tags another brand in a post, their content can now reach fans of both brand pages. For example, if McDonald's mentions its partnership with NBA star LeBron James, and tags him in the post (as they did below), that post may now appear in news feed for fans of either McDonalds or LeBron. It's a simple way for brands to expand reach, and may mean more brand content in your feed.

An obvious consequence is that it encourages brand partnerships and celebrity-related campaigns. Although interestingly — and to the contrary — recent research suggests that featuring celebrities in ads may NOT increase shares and in fact could depreciate brand equity. 

Wiping Out Digital Astroturfing

Facebook will come down hard on what I think I'll call 'digital astroturfing'. According to Facebook, " Some stories in News Feed use inaccurate language or formatting to try to trick people into clicking through to a website that contains only ads or a combination of frequently circulated content and ads."

PR professionals have seen the danger in astroturfing in other spheres, so why we would ever counsel clients to do it in digital?

Declining Organic and Juicing Ads

Much has been written about the declining value of organic reach on Facebook. Reaching fans may become a function more of paid posts than creative content. And yes PR professionals will have to dive more deeply into ad opportunities — dark posts anyone? — and trends, and understand and manage better the wealth of data Facebook makes available for targeting ads.  

However, there is also evidence that brand pages with higher per post engagement rates have been much less affected by Facebook counter-organic algorithm changes. The implications? Back to the recurring theme: Make page and post content relevant and you can still build reach and engagement organically.

'Premium' Video Ads

These are the auto-play video ads you may have heard about (accompanied by gnashing of teeth). Facebook is taking a risk that Facebook dwellers won't rebel against having posted videos start rolling as we scroll our news feeds.

A couple of obvious suggestions here:

  1. Auto-play videos will have to be of the same or better quality than what currently pops up in news feeds, something like those storytelling videos that only peripherally relate to the brand financing them. Chipotle's The Scarecrow video is one of the best-in-class (with 12 million views so far). Besides, it's in Facebook's self-interest to ensure only the best video ads get posted so that users keep logging on. 
  2. Related to storytelling, PR people will have to upgrade their counsel on all fronts to point out that self-promotion in social, even if it is in advertising, is just not going to cut it anymore.

FBNewswire

The launch of FBNewswire which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago is of consequence for PR people for a couple of reasons. It's another signal of Facebook's desire to find a better balance between brand content and improving the quality of stories, information and news in Facebook user news feeds. And it proves again that Facebook wants to be seen as news source.

What this means for media relations is that, to quote myself, "well-told, valuable and truly newsworthy stories from brands posted on Facebook could become part of the aggregated content sifted through by the media." 

Conclusion?

Facebook will never stop tinkering with its model to find the right balance between getting rid of the stuff we didn't want to see in our news feeds, and financing its business by the only people able and willing to pay — brands. 

For the practice of PR this means learning everything we can about creative storytelling, challenging programs based on naked self-promotion, going to school on Facebook ad choices, diving deeply into the data Facebook makes available for audience targeting and avoiding things that never really worked in the first place — astroturfing, repetition and disingenuousness. 

Community Management in 2014

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