There is tension between Facebook’s business model and organisational purpose.
Facebook want people to connect with family and friends, yet want advertisers to use their platform. They have been massively successful on the latter. As a result more and more of the newsfeed is from brands and publishers, potentially an unbalanced amount.
Facebook’s newsfeed is driven by algorithms – pieces of code which attempt to select content which they think is relevant to the viewer. This is a sensible strategy. There is so much content, you would not be able to view it all on your feed, so Facebook curates a selection, and, even once it’s on your feed each piece of content has only a small likelihood in being opened. People skip over posts in the blink of an eye, based on rapid instinctual decisions.
Some publishers have reacted to this by designing great headlines. It’s not a new approach: eye-catching and intriguing headlines have been used for decades to get someone to pick up a paper or watch a movie. But in more recent years, we’ve seen the rise in what’s called “clickbait”, headlines intentionally designed to create intrigue. For example, “This Twickenham woman discovered a trick to lose weight – you won’t believe how simple it is,” or “16 things great leaders do to get a better job”. Many of these ‘articles’ lead to little more than flimsy ad-laden webpages. But reputable publishers have also been guilty of creating clickbait-style headlines to draw readers in.
Facebook have already been battling these publishers within their algorithm. In 2014 they started to consider “bounces”, where a user ‘likes’ or clicks a headline, but then immediately comes back to Facebook or unlikes the link suggesting it didn’t match their expectation. But this week, Facebook changed their code once more – to look at the “baiting” nature of the headlines themselves, not just the subsequent behaviours.
It would be easy for publishers to react to this algorithm change with a new “gaming” strategy. They could think, “Okay, how can we rewrite the headlines to get around the algorithm? How can we understand how it works and design our headlines to get around the code? How can we play the system so our content gets selected and pushed in front of people, so we continue to gain an audience?”
But that approach would be short-sighted. A parallel exists here: search optimisation and Google.
For years, many content publishers have been trying to game the Google algorithm to appear higher in rankings. They have tried to understand how the algorithm works and to design to that. Then Google changes their algorithm and the redesign process starts again – a perpetual cat and mouse situation where Google will always win.
So what is the answer? How do we beat the algorithms and code and curation techniques? How can we ensure we are being selected by the robots which power Facebook’s newsfeed or Google’s search?
Don’t bother trying to game the system and design for the algorithms.
Start with the human.
What does your audience value? What does your audience want? What are your competitors providing to them? What is the unique thing you can bring that others can’t?
Getting closer to your audience to understand their needs and values, their feelings and desires will help you create better content, which is desired and sought out – irrespective of algorithms. React to what people are talking around, what they’re passionate about, what they need information about. Use data and insight to drive your authoring and create brilliant content that people want to consume.
This will always be the focus of the algorithms in the long term: seeking out content which consumers value.
Secondly, focus on building relationships with those consumers, so they will create other forms of subscriptions to your content. Great content is needed for Facebook; native; web; podcasts; print; events; wherever customers may actively seek you out. Facebook is just one channel – a powerful one, but a single point on the ecosystem of media which consumers effortlessly navigate. Whilst the platforms may rise and fall, developing a relationship with someone over an ecosystem of touchpoints will always win out over a single line of connection.
Finally, work with the platforms. Not to understand their algorithms, but to create smarter partnerships which make the most of the native functionality, the data and insight they have on your audience, and stand out by offering better ways of accessing your content. New facets of Facebook and other channels are being developed every month. Facebook Messenger and chat bots will increasingly be a channel in which consumers reside. VR and AR are in their ascendency and the Internet of Things objects can provide communication channels direct into the home or on the move.
Make brilliant content.
That your readers want.
In places they find it useful.
You won’t believe what happens next…
Matthew Knight, Head of Strategic Innovation, Carat UK