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The Top Facebook Updates

What marketers need to know in 2021

Facebook has monumental responsibilities in continually addressing, elevating and moderating user social interests. At the same time, the platform increasingly influences buying habits. To understand changes to the largest social media platform in the world in 2021, we must first recall the major changes to the system’s algorithm over the previous three years.

A brief history of changes
Starting in 2018, Facebook significantly changed how post were prioritized in the News Feed. Facebook prioritized friends, family and groups over businesses, brands and media.

More in-depth interactions were rewarded, including those garnering comments, shares and emojis. However, we learned that businesses could buy back higher prioritization in News Feed by advertising.

Another previous algorithm change worth mentioning was brought about to battle biased and fake news. Some content was banned, and content that hovered near the violation border was demoted in News Feed.

In 2019, Facebook increased video rankings. If users sought out or returned to videos, their reach expanded even farther. Surveys also began to appear in News Feed, helping the algorithm better predict what content to serve up to users.

In the same year, how comments appeared changed. Ones with a lot of engagement were shown first. Around the same time, spammy, exaggerated and biased content was demoted.

In 2020, the focus was on personalized advertising. Users own interactions, such as posts one liked, viewed or clicked on, would tailor what ads Facebook would continue to show. Again and again.

Facebook gets smarter
Facebook continues to see tremendous growth, from 2.2 billion users worldwide in Q1 of 2018 to 2.85 billion users in Q1 2021. Providing content that is relevant and of interest to billions of people each day is no simple task. That’s where machine learning comes in.

In this context, machine learning helps Facebook algorithms improve automatically through continually logging user data. When you log on, Facebook ML powered algorithms take inventory of all activity in your network, including posts from friends, likes, shares, tags, clicks, comments, etc. Posts are evaluated based on past behavior—if you are not likely to engage with a post, it will be discarded or downgraded in your feed. ML determines content that is most relevant for you, and for advertisers.

Online advertising on a tablet

However, users can manipulate this analysis by consciously altering their own behavior. In our family, my husband quickly scrolls through the News Feed, liking and sometimes commenting on many posts. He reads headlines but rarely clicks on posts or creates posts himself. Since I provide content and post continually for clients, I don’t post much on my own page except for pics or videos of us and our dog. I look at my News Feed, but don’t dole out too many likes or emojis. I do read articles. Even though our interests are similar, our feeds are quite different. I noticed that my husband’s News Feed had many images of beautiful places we would like to travel. As an experiment, I started giving these types of posts a heart emoji (which is ranked higher than a like because it takes a fraction of a second more effort) when they come up in my feed. Now I see more travel images.

My hypothesis is that Facebook ML might not know user interest perfectly well just based on platform behavior. Businesses and marketers are wise to employ A/B testing to monitor response to different audience targets.

How marketers can best utilize Facebook
Understanding a bit of how we got here, there are things marketers and businesses can do to be more effective on Facebook.

1. Advertise consistently. While costs have risen, advertising on Facebook (and its related cousin Instagram) is still one of the cheapest media buys, delivering decent ROI. So, while users will generally see more posts from friends and groups they care about, a steady advertising budget can help keep a brand engaged with audiences.

2. Create an emotional response. The content of what is posted and boosted is important, too. Advertisers are encouraged to focus on strong emotions. These are the kind of posts that prompt the most engagement, whether it is because of the entertainment value or even inspiring debate. However, heated debate that gets close to sensationalism or fake news brings the post’s ranking down.

The Harvard Business Review conducted research on the subject and determined these six emotions are key to highly shared content:

  • Admiration
  • Amazement
  • Astonishment
  • Curiosity
  • Interest
  • Uncertainty

Sharing quotes in the headline of your post is also a great way to increase engagement. Whether a famous quote or one pulled from the post, this seems to be an effective way to spur a response. 

In short, it’s good to get your audience interacting and responding, but steer clear of controversial topics.

3. Don’t get spammy. Don’t get over enthusiastic with tapping into user emotions. Facebook’s algorithm will downgrade posts it views as “engagement bait.” You have probably seen posts that encourage followers to “Like if you care about your pet,” or the one I hate the worst, “Who will be brave enough to share this.” Here are the specific types of engagement bait Facebook will penalize posts for:

  • React baiting: Asking people to react to the post (includes like, love, haha, wow, sad, and angry).
  • Comment baiting: Asking people to comment with specific answers (words, numbers, phrases, or emojis).
  • Share baiting: Asking people to share the post with their friends.
  • Tag baiting: Asking people to tag their friends.
  • Vote baiting: Asking people to vote using reactions, comments, sharing, or other means of representing a vote.

According to Facebook, posts that ask people for help, advice, or recommendations, such as circulating a missing child report, raising money for a cause, or asking for travel tips, will not be adversely impacted by this update.

4. Video is still king. At the risk of sounding like a broken social media marketer record from past articles, please include video in your marketing. Facebook’s new algorithm bumps up video content even more than before. Part of this is because of human behavior—people react and engage with video more than any other content. If a user sees a video while scrolling, they will stop to see what it is. Even short videos have an attention-grabbing impact. Most smartphones shoot acceptable video quality if you employ some basic shooting skills. It’s a good way to supplement more polished presentations. Live video gives you double impact by rebroadcasting. Plus, with the ease of going live to Facebook from meeting platforms like Zoom, many events can be Facebook live videos.

5. Use your network. While you shouldn’t ask users online to like or share content, you can do so offline with your personal network. The most expedient way to do this is to ask your employees, or those who support your business, to engage with and share your posts whenever they can.

This tactic, called Social Advocacy, can increase engagement more than 500 percent!

Creative, fresh relative content is important for brands. However, applying these four key strategies to your content will get Facebook’s algorithm working for you in 2021.

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