Sunday, October 9, 2011

Facebook Changes and What They Mean for Associations

Facebook making changes is hardly news; they constantly change things. But my personal feeling is that two recent changes will significantly affect the impact of Facebook Pages, especially for organizations whose primarily use Facebook Pages to reach members/fans/supporters, as opposed to using Facebook ads. A few weeks ago, Facebook changed the way updates appear in people's news feeds, taking away users' ability to choose between seeing top news or most recent news. They of course billed it as an enhancement, "Taking the burden of choice off of users by showing them both relevancy filtered and a raw stream of updates at the same time will ensure there is always something compelling waiting on the home page"--in reality what it is is a disaster. Top stories are "pinned" to the top of people's news feeds, and the crazy new "ticker" is annoying and unhelpful (I personally hid it using a browser extension and highly recommend that solution). What it amounts to for Facebook is users being forced to spend more time on the site searching in vain for the news they actually want--their friends' updates--while scrolling past a sea of what they don't care about--stories with the most likes or comments or whatever. And what it amounts to for Pages is a severe decrease in the number of people seeing their updates.

Again, Facebook glosses over this fact in their usual way, pointing out how, while impressions are down, "engagement" is up. For associations, though, whose Facebook strategy may well be to drive traffic back to their website, engagement could well be useless. I know for the pages I admin the past month has shown a 25% drop in impressions, which means a very significant drop in click-through. Even if engagement were up (which it is, per post, but aggregate "People talking about this" is down; go figure), that would be meaningless since the way Facebook determines engagement is the percent of people who see a post and do something (like, comment or share). So, sure, if you have 25,000 impressions it's going to be a lot harder to have a higher engagement score than if you have 2,500 impressions, but since clicking an outbound link doesn't count in the engagement score you still benefit more from 25,000 people seeing your post and being able to click the outbound link. The bottom line is, for associations using Facebook to drive traffic to a website or as a call-to-action with a link to a donate or advocacy page, to put it bluntly, they're screwed.

Add to the news feed changes the fact that Facebook is about to remove the discussion tab from Pages, yet another functionality that Facebook has decided isn't important but may well be important to associations, and things are looking kind of bleak for Facebook Pages remaining a useful tool for associations. For companies with big Facebook ad budgets maybe it's not as bleak, as they can buy ads driving people to their Page, but for companies for whom the primary way of reaching Facebook users was by having their updates appear in users' news feeds and for whom $10k a month or more in Facebook ads is not feasible, I don't know how they'll be able to combat this decrease in update visibility.

If you're the admin of a Facebook Page that relies solely on posting content--as opposed to buying ads to drive traffic to the actual Page--have you noticed a drop in impressions and click-throughs? Do your fans use the discussion tab and will its disappearance have an impact on your users' satisfaction with your organization's Facebook presence?

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