There’s been lots of talk over the past couple of weeks about Facebook’s proposed overhaul of its news feed algorithm and what that means for businesses, brands and media - and in our case, research organisations that use the platform to disseminate their research and engage with the public. Here's my take...
What’s It All About?
On 12th January Mark Zuckerberg announced that the social media giant would be prioritising posts from friends and family in an effort to promote content that "encourages meaningful interactions between people". This is seen as a response to the flak that Facebook has taken recently for distributing divisive ‘fake news’ content, as well as an attempt to revive diminishing user engagement on the platform.
Why Does It Matter?
If you work for a research organisation and you rely on Facebook to communicate with the public, you might well be concerned. Certainly the news presents some challenges but it’s not all bad and some of the changes could actually benefit research organisations who have powerful stories to tell about the work they’re doing.
Below I’ve outlined a couple of the downsides that the new changes are likely to cause, alongside potential opportunities for research communicators, and some tips on what you should be doing to minimise any negative impact.
The Bad News
Organic Reach of your day-to-day posts is almost certainly going to take a hit. And that’s off the back of already plummeting levels of organic engagement. In a way though, that recent dramatic decline in reach - with only around 2-5% of people who ‘like’ a page currently seeing its content - means that much of the damage has already been done, so things might not be that much worse than they are already.
The changes will particularly affect small organisations, more so than big ones, as they’re less likely to have a large, engaged community to draw on for engagement and they lack the manpower to pick apart engagement metrics to see what’s working and what isn’t.
The Good News
Authentic, well told stories matter more than ever before. The advantage that research organisations have over brands and other businesses is that they’re doing work that has real world impact on people, so consider what makes people interact with your organisation's research in a meaningful way and make sure you highlight those areas by telling compelling stories that will generate engagement and spark conversations.
What To Do?
1. Diversify. The organisations that will be hardest hit will be those that have come to rely too heavily on Facebook for their communications efforts. And Facebook isn’t the only social media platform that’s liable to change the way it distributes your content at the drop of a hat, so never put all your eggs in one social media basket.
A regular e-newsletter, sent to a list of people who have expressed an interest in hearing more about your work is a great way of taking control of your dissemination. But do make sure that you comply with new GDPR rules - which I’ll be publishing a primer on next week.
2. Video content is still likely to remain a key driver of engagement, provided it’s crafted in a way to encourage those ‘meaningful interactions’ that Mark Zuckerberg is so keen to promote. Facebook’s Live Video could be particularly helpful here. Live streamed video is recording six times more engagement than other forms of video, and Facebook is pushing it as a priority, so if you haven’t already experimented with Live Video then now’s the time.
3. Facebook still wants to drive revenue, so paid posts are unlikely to be affected. That means if you have a research story that you particularly want to get out there you’ll still be able to cut through the noise if you have a bit of a budget behind it.
4. Encourage conversation. Don’t just put content out there and hope for the best. You should always be seeking a response from your audience. Generate content and copy that encourages people to share their own experiences and views.
5. Facebook groups encourage high levels of interaction and engagement amongst their members. Getting involved in existing conversations on Facebook Groups based on your subject area can be a great way of boosting engagement with your own content. And if a group doesn't already exist that caters to your field of research then why not start one?
6. Use your organisation's own network to boost engagement. Social Media consultant and strategist, Amy Mollett, recently posted an excellent article about the importance of harnessing your own members as public champions of your organisation's message, achievements and events. Amy highlights some digital tools to help you do this, or suggests promoting shareable content in a weekly e-newsletter to team members.
To Sum Up
Until Facebook's new newsfeed alorithms are up and running we don't know exactly how things will pan out but all of the above tips are worth considering regardless, as they'll help you to future-proof your research communications efforts against any further algorithmic changes on any of the social media platforms.
Peter Barker runs Orinoco Communications, a digital communications company specialising in helping research groups from science, the social sciences and the humanities to bring their research alive and engage with the public.