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Marketing Content Strategy

The Facebook Algorithm Furor Proves One Thing: It’s More Important than Ever to Own Your Land

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Did you hear the Facebook algorithm has changed again? We’re sure you have. It’s been the talk of the marketing town since Mark Zuckerberg himself posted this on 11 January:

“We built Facebook to help people stay connected and bring us closer together with the people that matter to us. That’s why we’ve always put friends and family at the core of the experience. Research shows that strengthening our relationships improves our well-being and happiness.

“But recently we’ve gotten feedback from our community that public content—posts from businesses, brands and media—is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other.”

Yikes, right? Sound the alarm bells, fellow content marketers.

Continued Zuck: “It’s easy to understand how we got here. Video and other public content have exploded on Facebook in the past couple of years. Since there’s more public content than posts from your friends and family, the balance of what’s in News Feed has shifted away from the most important thing Facebook can do—help us connect with each other.

“As we roll this out, you’ll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media. And the public content you see more will be held to the same standard—it should encourage meaningful interactions between people.”

boy with ball

Image attribution: Vance Osterhout

Cue publishers crying foul, heralding this as the content apocalypse. Yes, even so many years into content marketing as “A Thing,” many brands still haven’t grasped a fundamental flaw in strategy: If you rely purely on social media to fuel your lead generation, you’re living on borrowed time. In fact, while we’re all watching Facebook with guarded interest, the recent furor does prove one thing: Those brands that have a solid and multichannel content strategy, supported by strong social media marketing but not relying on it, are less worried about being found post-algorithm apocalypse than those who engage with their audiences only on Facebook. It’s the age-old problem of rented versus owned land.

To be truly successful with content marketing, you need to have a central hub for your content, somewhere that you drive your audience to, rather than from. And that hub should be owned by your brand—something like the company website, or a branded content hub. You can repurpose your content for social media marketing, or for PR or any other channel, as long as you remember that any channel you don’t immediately own could, at any moment, change the rules (usually not in your favor). Distribution should be monitored and risk should be spread, but that owned land remains your brand’s content home.

So What’s Happening at Facebook?

A quick recap: They are moving news feed priority from passive consumption towards “more meaningful social interactions.” We could speculate to the reason why—its alleged role in spreading fake news springs immediately to mind—but at the end of the day, Facebook is a social channel, there to keep us in touch with our communities. That publishers and brands cottoned on to a great distribution model is secondary.

TechCrunch‘s Josh Constine spoke with Facebook’s VP of News Feed Adam Mosseri, who said: “I expect that the amount of distribution for publishers will go down because a lot of publisher content is just passively consumed and not talked about. Overall time on Facebook will decrease, but we think this is the right thing to do.”

Writes Constine: “The biggest losers will be publishers who’ve shifted resources to invest in eye-catching pre-recorded social videos, because, Mosseri says, ‘video is such a passive experience.’ He admits that he expects publishers to react with ‘a certain amount of scrutiny and anxiety,’ but didn’t have many concrete answers about how publishers should scramble to react beyond ‘experimenting . . . and seeing . . . what content gets more comments, more likes, more reshares.’

“In a blog post detailing the algorithm change, Mosseri writes Facebook will prioritize ‘posts that inspire back-and-forth discussion in the comments and posts that you might want to share and react to. Because space in News Feed is limited, showing more posts from friends and family and updates that spark conversation means we’ll show less public content, including videos and other posts from publishers or businesses.'”

Which is all depressing for those who publish content (and potentially even worse news for those who are sick of chain-mail messages and cute kid/cat videos). But to those publishers and brands who are worried what’s going to happen to their content, I ask you this: Why are you building your house on land you don’t own?

It’s Hub and Spoke, Guys!

Content marketing leaders have, since the beginning of time, argued over where content should live. The resounding consensus has been “somewhere you control, dammit.” That’s where the idea of the content hub sprang from; it can be on your website, or a non-branded URL, or even an app, but all that great content you’re creating needs a home to live. If that “home” is built on a social media channel, it’s like building on a cliff face or in the path of a volcano: You’re never really sure when it’s all going to collapse—as we’ve seen this month with the Facebook algorithm apocalypse.

Legs over water

Image attribution: Jordan McQueen

We’re absolutely not saying social media marketing is dead and you should abandon it. Far from it. Yes, you have a great content hub and you’re producing great content, but how do you get people to consume it? That’s right: social media marketing. Or, more specifically, distribution. This is where all those social followings you’ve cultivated come into play.

“Content is everywhere,” says content marketing leader Michael Brenner. “Content marketing, on the other hand, is about building and attracting an audience to the branded content destination you own to help you better reach, engage and convert new customers for your brand. A successful content hub is one that your target audience will want go to regularly for information, insights and solutions to their toughest challenges and problems.

“Once you’ve built your content destination, you can use social media to help distribute and amplify your content to drive more customers to your brand-owned platform . . . Brands need to first develop their own digital content platforms, then look at social as a means of distribution.”

The added bonus of building your house on land you own is that evergreen content continues to build and perform. You know those old posts that just keep popping up in your measurement reports? Make the most of them. Drive people back to your hub by promoting those posts in your spokes—your social media channels, your newsletters, your paid media spend, and so on. You won’t get that with an old infographic that was only posted on Facebook.

Michelle Massa recounts a masterclass with author David Meerman Scott: “For me,” she writes, “the biggest idea that emerged from Scott is that content should be treated how a patent or a trademark is treated in accounting—as an asset, not an expense. His reasoning was that once a piece of content is created, it continues to work for you and your business well into the future, so long as it’s well-optimized and adds value for the audience. He cited how blog posts that he wrote years ago continue to drive new traffic to his site; that’s an asset. He acknowledges that he didn’t know how the accounting would work exactly, but he wants to ignite a shift in mindset around content development. That’s what effective thought leaders do—they create new ways of framing old stuff.”

Then There’s the Question of Amplification

person with megaphone

Image attribution: Clem Onojeghuo

Of course, all these tweaks to algorithms and changes in rules means that we cannot even rely on purely organic reach anymore—hence the need to add amplification to your distribution model. This is where social channels make their money.

Writing about the impact of the Facebook algorithm change on publishers themselves, Digiday‘s Sahil Patel spoke with publishing leaders. He writes: “Top Facebook publishers can nab a 50–70 percent margin on custom branded videos they distribute on Facebook after paying for production and paid media, according to four publishing sources, including three executives from publishers with at least a billion monthly views on Facebook. With Facebook counting views at 3 seconds, the cost per view has been incredibly low—’less than a penny,’ one source said—which means top publishers can scoop up plenty of ad dollars based on their organic reach on Facebook.

“For instance, the cost models for branded content will likely change. As three executives said, it will cost more to run paid campaigns to seed videos in front of users in the news feed, which will cut into profit margins. ‘My gut says a lot of people are going to have to increase paid budgets to hit their guarantees,’ said one CRO of a digital publisher. ‘Candidly, does that change anything? I’m not sure—a lot of people were already masking that they were putting paid media behind some of this content—but it probably will affect the bottom line in some way.'”

Without wanting to throw too much fuel on the fire, though, remember the emergence of ad blockers: Paid amplification, boosted posts, pre-roll ads, etc. will all suffer from ad blockers. It’s just another reason you should be pushing people back to a brand content hub you own, where you can maximize organic reach with careful SEO research.

This Goes Beyond Paid/Earned/Owned: We Need to Drive Conversations

people on swings

Image attribution: Bewakoof.com

True content marketing success goes beyond paid, earned, and owned. It’s about how you use all three to drive people to your content hub, absolutely—but more than that, it’s about creating quality content. Changes to the Facebook algorithm have just brought this back to the fore after a few years of relatively easy success, brands basking in the glory of prioritization of publishers.

“If you use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, or any other social media network to reach your audience you have one big problem: you’re at the mercy of these companies and their status as middlemen between you and your audience. You are simply renting access to your audience through these platforms,” writes Katie McCaskey. “Just because something has been free in the past doesn’t mean it will continue to be free, and smart marketers are beginning to see the shift.”

The man himself, Joe Pulizzi, agrees: “As certain networks get larger and more influential, the dark side of the force will continue to reach out to you and pull you in that direction. I’m all for leveraging as many social media networks as makes sense for you to accomplish your marketing goals, but make sure you know what you are getting into. You should get up every morning knowing that the beautiful ‘rentals’ you’ve created on these networks may have been swallowed up overnight. If you keep that kind of perspective, you can focus on what you are truly trying to build, and whether there will be something left at the end of the day (or hour or minute).”

So, build your content hub on land you own. Then use social media marketing, newsletters, and paid amplification to get eyeballs. But don’t think for a minute that clickbait and lazy content will make the grade anymore. Remember Zuck’s purpose: creating meaningful interactions. We need to create better-quality content that invites discussion. Encourage interaction and discussion in distribution, but always, always drive them back to your owned hub. It’s the only thing you can control.

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Featured image attribution: Peter ᴳᴱᴼ Kent

Lauren is a storyteller. A journalist by trade, she has worked in agencies, in-house and in the media over her 20-year career. She's worked as an editorial strategist and content creator for some of the world's biggest brands, setting up processes and guidelines, advising on planning, auditing content, building loyal audiences, leading social campaigns, writing blogs and flyers and presentations - pretty much handling the stuff with words. She was born in Australia, has resided in London for the last decade, and writes fiction on the side. You’ll often find her grinning like a fool at a rock concert.

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