Facebook’s algorithms don’t read so stop writing for them

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When it comes to determining what good content is, Facebook’s been acting a lot like Google.

In 2011, Google released Panda, an update to the algorithm which determines what users see and – more importantly – don’t see in its search results, particularly that crucial first page. The effect was immediate for some publishers and those that survived were forced to radically change their business models.

Panda was, in Google’s words, an effort “to give people the most relevant answers to their queries as quickly as possible.” Google’s subsequent algorithm changes only reinforced this mission to deliver high-quality content by making poor-quality content disappear.

With recent announcements that it would cut down on “News Feed spam,” and “click-baiting,” Facebook is essentially warning publishers not to create content for algorithms because algorithms could change tomorrow and wipe you out.

Sound familiar? This is what happens when we try to make content perform instead of inform.

STOP TRYING TO GAME THE SYSTEM

Whether it’s Google or Facebook, the big gatekeepers keep telling us it’s a waste of time to write to an algorithm that might change at a moment’s notice yet we keep doing it anyway. It’s an ineffective way to spend scant resources and, ironically, the tricks we’re using to get people to click, share and comment obscure the fact that most publishers do create quality content.

Facebook made two recent changes to its News Feed algorithm. The first targets clickbaiters, those nefarious pages that either trick you into clicking a link with an enticing headline that never really pays off or keep a key piece of the story behind a link. The second is aimed at clever community managers who route around the lower reach of Facebook’s link posts by creating better-performing photo posts with a link in the caption. Both tactics will now result in posts with diminished visibility in the News Feed.

For brands and publishers already facing down the era of zero organic Facebook reach, these changes may seem like another shot across the bow: a suggestion that paid efforts will be the only way to guarantee a certain number of eyeballs.

HOW TO GET FACEBOOK TO WORK FOR YOU

The good news is if social marketers created this problem, we can also solve it.

First, let’s stop writing content for Facebook’s metrics and go back to relying on content that relates to our overall business goals: awareness, education or engagement, to name a few.

Let’s create content that’s concise, understandable on a scan within the feed and rewards the user for the time spent reading it. We know many people don’t read past the headline so why deliberately write it to obscure what matters most in a story? If we give a reader something of value at the beginning, they’ll assume we have more to offer at the end.

Most importantly, let’s consider the unique role each of our social channels plays in the overall marketing mix and stop focusing all our efforts on just one. When we’ve optimized our best content with an informative headline and an engaging graphic, we can share that link on Facebook and use paid dollars there to increase its visibility and earned media traction. Meanwhile, those gorgeous photos can go on Instagram or Pinterest and the clever joke or meme will get published on Twitter.

If nothing else, let’s make sure our content reads like it was written for a purpose and doesn’t resemble a hyper-caffeinated, all-caps email from our aunt. Readers will reward us with organic clicks, likes and comments and we can all sleep better at night knowing we didn’t goad them into doing it by appealing to their lesser demons.

After all, having conversation with humans – not algorithms – is why we started experimenting with social in the first place.

Image: guidedbycthulhu

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