The Sky Is Falling! aka…Facebook makes another update

We are all living in Mark Zuckerberg’s biodome. This is something we KNOW, but every shift in the algorithm is a sudden reminder.

Yesterday Zuckerberg made a pretty enormous announcement that has marketers and social media gurus scrambling for a response. To sum it up, Facebook is shifting to a “Family First” feed where we will see more from our family and friends and less from pages in our feed.

As with all giant Facebook changes, I like to sit back and watch what happens.

We don’t fully know what the impact will be, but the expectation is that page reach will drop even further than it ever has. This will likely increase the number of pages investing in ads. In the case of smaller brands and individual bloggers and marketers, it may simply mean giving up on pages or Facebook altogether.

I have some thoughts on this I’ll save for the end, but for now, I want to talk about Mark Zuckerberg’s biodome.

LIFE FINDS A WAY

When you create a community on or offline, it is like an ecosystem. There is a delicate balance between living organisms and their habitat. Smalls shifts can have big impact.

And, as we’ve learned (hopefully) from Jurassic Park, we can’t control other living things. Even in our own island, online community, or social media platform.

A few months ago, a big influencer announced that she would be closing her Facebook group. I was fascinated by the response. Many of the members insisted that the group was no longer HERS. (And to be fair, the influencer rarely showed up there.) These members insisted that THEY had built the community. It was THEIRS.

She closed the group anyway.

Because, after all, it literally was her group. And yet…there is something to this idea that a community takes on its own life apart from its maker.

The influencer may have started the group and set it into place, but community and communication had its own life without her. Relationships formed in her ecosystem that had nothing to do with her…except that they occurred inside of her space.

Zoom out with me.

We are inside Mark Z’s biodome. He owns it and can do whatever he wants with it. But because it is an ecosystem, there is a life that has bred apart from him. He owns it, but does not own US. He makes the final call on what Facebook does, but we as users also shape its growth and movement.

STOP TRYING TO MAKE ENGAGEMENT HAPPEN

As a user, I’m not thrilled with this announcement. I don’t like other people telling me what I want to see or how I can enjoy something more. (Which may be due to the fact that I am, according to Gretchen Rubin, a rebel.)

Zuckerberg said that he wants to help eliminate content leading to a“passive experience.”

What if I like Facebook being a passive experience??

He said that he wants to spark “meaningful social interactions.”

What if we aren’t ON Facebook for meaningful interactions?

His goal is to foster a platform that is “good for our well-being.”

Wouldn’t our well-being be better if we got off social media altogether??

Probably. And that’s something he — oddly — predicts will happen after these changes. We’ll be happier on Facebook, so we’ll hang out there less? Um, okay.

I have personally NEVER enjoyed an algorithm update as a user on any social platform. I don’t like to even visit Instagram or Pinterest after the shifts in the last year. Algorithms cannot fully predict what I want to see, no matter how sophisticated.

So I question what a shift to create more engagement and “active” viewing will mean in my news feed.

Many people enjoy lurking on Facebook, watching videos without liking or commenting or sharing (at least until the annoying ads show up in the middle and we keep scrolling). Not everyone is on social media to be social. I suspect that Facebook is more of an escape for people than a place that we go for meaningful interactions and engaging conversations.

Mark Zuckerberg wants to change that. But you can’t MAKE me engage. Stop using algorithms to make engagement happen.

INVASIVE SPECIES

Humans do not learn well from our mistakes. I’ll point to Hawaii introducing the mongoose and Australia introducing an insane number of invasive, non-native species to take care of problems.

Mark Zuckerberg sees problems within Facebook. (And also he sees dollar signs. Let’s keep that in mind.) He comes up with a solution to that problem. Which leads to other problems.

When he updates an aspect of the algorithm to stop spammy practices, fake news, and engagement baiting, life finds a way. (And by life, I mean marketers, good and bad ones.) He brings in an invasive species to quell the fake news problem and that invasive species sparks a new problem. The system is always game-able.

So…what can we expect with this new addition to our ecosystem?

PROFILES, MESSENGERS, AND GROUPS- OH MY!

Here are my predictions for what this change may mean, as well as some best practices for what you (as a page owner) can do.

  1. Small brands will stop trying to use pages and flood their profiles with business-related content.

2. Messenger bots are going to become super annoying.

3. Groups will be on the rise.

Page -> Profile

Many smaller brands (think: writers, bloggers, and people in direct or multi-level marketing) are already using their profile like a business page. This is against the terms of service, but I’ve never seen someone lose their account over it. And until Facebook cracks down on these kinds of posts, many people will continue to use their profile as a page.

In addition to not penalizing this (at least, not frequently), Facebook has in many ways encouraged this practice by allowing people to “follow” a personal profile. I know some very influential people who have maxed out their friend limit and encourage their fans to follow their profile, where they talk about life…and business. (cough*Mark Zuckerberg*cough)

For the average page owner, I think this is the first change we’ll see. Which is essentially the opposite of what Zuckerberg wants.

Bot Epidemic

I’ve written before on the danger of bots and this update will, I think, only encourage pages to shift their marketing into Facebook messenger.

With a tool like Manychat, pages can turn your simple comment on a post into a direct line to your inbox. You won’t even know what hit you.

Choking out page reach means that marketers and brands will look for another way to get you. Chatbots and messenger marketing is a sort of wild west right now in the biodome of Facebook, so until another invasive species is introduced to tame it, bots can run rampant.

(Personally, I suspect that bot marketing in messenger has the potential to be so incredibly annoying that it will burn out. If Zuckerberg really cares about user experience, he will put more restrictions in place.)

Groups > Pages

Facebook turned its attention toward groups this year, which has good and bad implications. I’ve seen reach drop when posting as my page (not my profile) in my group. The option to boost posts in my group also pops up in my feed sometimes, a feature that is not widely available.

But cool new features have also been introduced like insights, questions to vet potential members, and post tagging by topic (which I’ve only seen in one of my groups so far).

Groups have the wide-open potential that pages had before the organic-reach-apocalypse of 2013. This makes them a relatively safe space to invest time and build engagement as a brand.

For now.

This new shift will likely result in a Group Boom, not unlike the gold rush — everyone ditching their page efforts to strike it rich with a group. (Until that changes as well.)

IT’S NOT OUR DOME

As users and businesses alike wait to see what this shift will mean, this is a good time to remember that Facebook isn’t our biodome.

No matter how wild the ecosystem grows and how much we as users shape the way Facebook grows, Zuckerberg can always shut off the power.

Another option is that we could all move to a shiny, new dome if someone were to build it.

For years I’ve heard people talk with great longing about the need for a new platform. Perhaps this shift might finally wedge open the door to let a new platform rise. Probably not. But MySpace didn’t see it coming either.

TIPS FOR PAGE OWNERS

If you are using a page, don’t panic! We don’t fully know how this will shake down. Organic reach has been really hard for a long time anyway. You’ll be okay.

Here are some things you can do:

  • DO try to use engagement as much as possible with your efforts.
  • DO consider creating a group. (See my tips for doing this well.)
  • DO invest in your email list.
  • DON’T ever give everything to someone else’s platform.

Though I’m not thrilled about any of this, I’m also not surprised. Or worried. The dome will continue to adjust the temperature and introduce new species, whether I like it or not.

If you need me, I’ll be in my Facebook Group.

(For now.)

Do YOU have thoughts on this update, either as a user or page-owner?? I’d love to hear them.