There’s been a long-standing claim against every social network: You are not their consumer, you are their product. The topic makes for great link bait — it’s an easily understandable, headline-grabbing claim that companies like Facebook are going to strip-mine the places where you love to spend time in the pursuit of advertising dollars.
This reputation is not entirely undeserved. A quick search surfaces the litany of ways how Facebook has stretched user experience and trust in the interest of enhancing its products for marketers — from demographic targeting to experiences like frictionless sharing, to the ambition of its Beacon program, which went as far as to broadcast user purchases to their networks.
Recent Changes To Facebook Are Benefiting Users
In a positive move, Facebook announced a flurry of recent changes that appear to eliminate several of the lower-quality user experiences. Changes like scaling back frictionless sharing and introducing new features for local content were accompanied by significant alterations to EdgeRank, the algorithm that determines what content surfaces in news feeds.
In Facebook’s own words over at Business Insider:
We’re continuing to optimize the news feed to show the posts that people are most likely to engage with, ensuring that they see the most interesting stories. This aligns with our vision that all content should be as engaging as the posts you see from friends and family.
In aggregate, these changes to Facebook seem to have the best interests of their users at heart — removing a bad experience, adding a good one, and innovating an existing feature to increase its relevance.
Unfortunately for Facebook, its customers — brands and companies that advertise on the platform — have been rallying against the latest adjustments to EdgeRank, saying that they are a cynical attempt to get advertisers to pony up to reach their own fans. Marketers claim that Facebook has no interest in brands establishing real relationships with their fans, and it has restructured its business model around paid promotion of content.
In this world, organic content has depreciated in value, and brands need to pay to reach their audiences (which they may have already had to invest in the development of).
Facebook Is Securing The Long-Term Viability Of Its Product — Namely, You
By and large, brands love the enormous, highly engaged audiences that Facebook offers. There are no real display advertisements on Facebook, so brands need to create content to appear in the news feed, where the majority of time is spent. The perspective across the industry is that brands have been able to do this “for free” (if you completely ignore the more complex costs of content creation, the most time-consuming task in social).
In order to make sure that this content doesn’t come off as spam or intrude on the user experience, Facebook has essentially leveled the playing field with this shift to EdgeRank. Brands now have to be as interesting to you as your friends and family. They are competing for the same space with the same tools — the idea behind “native advertising” that is getting more and more attention recently.
Facebook plays host to more than 1 billion users spending more and more time on the platform. Brands want access to both of those portions of Facebook’s product — the chance to reach a lot of people, all at once, and have them take some measurable interaction. In an educated gamble, Facebook needed to increase the quality of its advertising opportunities to make sure that an increase in frequency of brand interactions doesn’t threaten the interest of its core product: You.
This Is A Short-Term Difficulty, But A Long-Term Benefit For Everyone
With this change to its algorithm, Facebook has mandated that brands elevate the level of discourse to meet the demands of a truly native landscape. And be prepared, this will cause a lot of short-term angst for marketers, as if the difficulty setting for Facebook were suddenly cranked to hard, but it is necessary if brands want to preserve their own access to these open social audiences in the long term.
It’s a tremendous challenge for brands to produce interesting, relevant content in real-time (as consumers do naturally), but those that can do it well will see results without heavy reliance on paid promotion.
Consumers want to hear from brands, but they disengage when content doesn’t complement the rest of their Facebook experience. Brands have to be able to create content at the intersection of what is culturally relevant and what they stand for as a brand. With the right approach, brands can reach their audiences organically and effectively. Facebook can secure their platform for the long term, and users can reap the best of both worlds.