On December 18th, 2017, Facebook announced a change in their algorithm which would crack down on public pages using “engagement baiting” as a strategy to increase reach. Here’s what this means for you.
Anyone who uses Facebook for their business knows how organic reach rates have gotten really measly in the last few years. Just because you have 1000 likes doesn’t mean all 1000 fans will see your announcement… unless you pay Facebook to boost the post or create an ad. Regular users log in to keep up with their family and friends, get their news and read up on stories that interest them – they don’t come there to be bombarded with ads (and even if they were, Facebook would never give other businesses access to all their clients’ information for free). Besides, can you imagine the never-ending waterfall you would get if every time you logged in you would see every single friend and page’s updates in chronological order (hint: that’s what Twitter looks like)? Facebook has a complex algorithm that determines what updates and stories users would rather see in their main News Feed, based on their internet activity, people they message, demographics, etc.
But, the social media Goliath is a clever one. Anyone can create an official Facebook page for their small business, band, or creations, and individual posts can technically be seen by fans without the page admin paying – because Facebook values itself as a community, it will reward page posts that regular people deem valuable, a metric measured in reactions, comments, shares and tags, also known as engagement.
“The goal of News Feed is to connect people to the stories they care about most. For publishers, this means creating content that’s meaningful or informative. People expect the stories in their feed to be meaningful to them and we have learned over time that people tend to value stories that they consider informative. We are not in the business of picking which issues the world should read about, but we are in the business of connecting people with the stories they find most meaningful. Publishers should ideally focus on what they do best; making the important and meaningful stories interesting to their audience.” – Facebook News Feed Publisher Guidelines
As result of the News Feed visibility reward system based so heavily on engagement, every public page has been trying to get their existing fans to like/comment/share/tag/anything on their posts to help increase free visibility. Some pages have taken these tactics to the extreme, and as a result, Facebook is now cracking down on what they call “engagement baiting.” This would be posts whose sole purpose it to ask/beg for cheap audience engagement, without providing information or discussions that users will find meaningful.
Here are the four main types of “engagement baiting” Facebook now condemns with examples – I’m sure some of these will look familiar to you from spending any amount of leisure time on Facebook lately:
Vote Baiting – “Who is the better rapper? Vote with the ‘like’ reaction for Kanye West or the ‘heart’ reaction for Eminem!”
Comment Baiting – “Type ‘YES’ below if you can relate to this meme!”
Share Baiting – “Share this post on your timeline for a chance to win a $25 gift card!”
Tag Baiting – “Tag your gym buddies to remind them not to skip leg day!!”
Earlier this week, Facebook announced that they will begin to crackdown on posts such as these over the coming weeks. Their team has studied and categorized thousands of different posts, and will hand down their carefully guarded “rule book” to the algorithm to use and improve with machine learning.
According to Henry Silverman (Operations Integrity Specialist) and Lin Huang (Engineer) at Facebook, from now on “publishers and other businesses that use engagement bait tactics in their posts should expect their reach on these posts to decrease. Meanwhile, pages that repeatedly share engagement bait posts will see more significant drops in reach.”
What do we do now? Here are some ideas:
- If your content is guilty of overly enthusiastic engagement baiting, stop. Your page reach will thank you for it.
- Try to get fans to vote in the comments in slightly longer form. Instead of giving the options as status reactions, letters of the alphabet or one word answers, ask for a sentence or string of words. Example: “What is your favourite song off my new EP?”
- Ask your fans to tell stories in the comments. Bonus: others might engage with those comments, helping you build a fan community. Example:“My first standing up concert was Kira Isabella at age 17. I loved how she made it clear how much her fans mattered to her by staying for pictures and autographs with everyone afterwards. Do you have any good concert stories from your teenaged years?”
- Get more personal with your content. If Facebook is making it clear that’s what its users want, go give it to them. Example: “Confession time, I have struggled with major stage fright my whole life…”
- Ask questions that will yield different answers. What kind of fun questions can you ask your audience that they will each have different (not-spammy looking) answers for? Example: “Happy Monday! What is your biggest goal this week?”
At the end of the day, remember that Facebook doesn’t belong to you or owe you anything. You created an account for free, and they can change the rules to their game whenever and however they see fit. So while they’re still the biggest social media platform in the world, we must play along.