Facebook Set to Clamp Down on “Promotional” Posts

Please excuse what may be an unwelcome reminder for Facebook brand page owners: Organic reach, increasingly elusive as users’ feeds fill up with ever-more content from friends, pages and advertisers, is about to become even more endangered.

Changes announced by Facebook in November are getting set to take effect: starting in January, posts that are “overly promotional” in nature – for example, solely pushing a product or sweepstakes – will see their reach greatly diminished. Facebook didn’t mince words about this as the announcement indicated pages that post this kind of content “should expect their organic distribution to fall significantly.”

This is going to be an unwelcome development for page owners, who have seen organic reach on the steady decline. In 2012, Facebook said organic reach was at around 16%; nowadays 2% is closer to the norm. But consider that collateral damage in Facebook’s eyes – the network says its goal in making this adjustment is “to show people the things they want to see” in a user’s News Feed. Facebook’s explanation holds that “people told us they wanted to see more stories from friends and Pages they care about, and less promotional content.”

The changes are consistent with previous moves enacted by the social network. In April, Facebook applied the squeeze to unpopular newsfeed-fillers like memes, spammy links and like-baiting. And in August, “clickbait” was brought to heel as Facebook cleverly employed web analytics to sniff out and punish bait-and-switch content.

Marketers may complain about the decline in reach and the added pressure it will create to invest in paid distribution, but lest we forget, Facebook is a business. Advertising is far and away the number-one driver of Facebook’s revenues, and while there are millions of paid advertisers on the platform, there are many millions more business that have yet to join those ranks. One could understand if Facebook, for its and its shareholders’ sake, were interested in seeing some page owners move into the revenue-contributors category. The platform itself, of course, remains free to use for individuals and businesses alike.

Deciding whether to invest in ads and boosted posts is up to each page owner, who must weigh the importance of getting messages in front of their audiences against costs. Budgets permitting, testing this option and monitoring relevant, thoughtfully defined outcomes is something that marketers might strongly consider. If it helps with decision-making, Facebook has already offered, in fairly blunt terms, a suggestion for marketers looking to counteract declining organic reach, telling Advertising Age last December that “the best way to get your stuff seen if you’re a business is to pay for it.”

Other than investing in paid distribution, a strong lesson here for page owners is to put more thought into offering quality, engaging content. Staying away from “overly promotional page posts,” as Facebook defines them, is an obvious tip. Posting great content has always been a no-brainer must for all pages; the forthcoming change simply throws that into sharper relief.

Facebook’s vision of a News Feed free of too much junk and commercial clutter depends on rooting out the kind of content users say they find objectionable. As a best practice, marketers should be on the same page with the social network anyway: the kind of content, by and large, that users find appealing, and which attracts and retains followers, is the kind that Facebook says they are leaving untouched come next month. If you think about it, Facebook’s algorithms have always rewarded the good content and penalized the bad insofar as engagement is taken into account; now, it seems they are simply adding a predictive or preemptive layer to the gatekeeper code.

Finally, there could be an opportunity to remind fans that a page’s content can still be viewed freely, and in its entirety, by going directly to the Facebook page itself rather than relying on the News Feed. Careful wordsmithing would be required to keep such a reminder from coming across as clunky, but it could be a welcome reminder for users who may have forgotten, or may not realize, that reliance on the News Feed gives them only a fractional glimpse into content shared by the pages they choose to follow.

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