How will Facebook's news feed changes impact local businesses?

On Jan. 11 at 7:28 p.m., Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg took to his social network to announce news feed changes based on feedback that posts from businesses, brands and media are "crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other."

He said users will see more from friends, family and groups, and less from businesses, brands and media. The update began rolling out last week and will continue over the coming weeks.

Nationwide, news outlets reacted by asking readers and viewers to adjust their news feed preferences to mark their outlet as "see first," rather than "default." Locally, some businesses and organizations that operate Facebook pages have concerns.

Using one form of media to reach such a large share of the population "is something that hasn't been seen in media for a very long time, and so Facebook making these changes will have a ripple effect that I don't think anyone is prepared for," said Maria Miranda, creative director of the 30-year-old marketing and design agency Miranda Creative, based in Norwich.

On Wednesday from noon to 1 p.m., Miranda will discuss these changes in a workshop titled "Facebook 2018 – What You Need to Know" at the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut office in Waterford.

Miranda believes the changes are a form of "overcompensation" for the hits Facebook took regarding the spread of misinformation on the platform during the 2016 election campaign season.

In a second update on Jan. 19, Zuckerberg announced that as part of its ongoing surveys, Facebook would ask users if they've heard of a source and if they trust that source. This ultimately will "shift the balance of news you see towards sources that are determined to be trusted by the community."

For successful marketing, Miranda said businesses "need to be thinking about channels that they fully control," such as text messaging, emails and independent websites.

On Facebook, she says businesses must create more compelling videos, and use Facebook Live in a way that is clever and engaging. But this could take more manpower, which requires more funds.

Taking the right road

In a Jan. 11 post, Facebook Head of News Feed Adam Mosseri said pages that generate conversation between people will appear higher in news feeds, and that live videos get six times more interaction than regular videos on average.

A page can refer to its Page Insights tools to see what kinds of posts are relevant to its audience.

"It's kind of like a video game at this point," said communications coordinator Rita Rivera. She manages social media for the Downtown Mystic Merchants Association, Eastern Regional Tourism District, Niantic Main Street and the Children's Museum of Southeastern Connecticut. "You're just trying to find the right road to take and right treasure chest to open to make it to the end."

In a way, she has to hand it to Facebook for efforts to improve the quality of content. But she also recognizes the change is about the bottom line, and that pages may need to pay more money to boost their content.

Her timeline still looks the same, and until she gets more details, Rivera won't be able to figure out her strategic plan for 2018 or rethink her budgets.

While Mohegan Sun social media director Michelle Williams felt concerned when the news first came out, she believes there's an opportunity to strengthen engagement, considering "you have that audience of people who already have something in common, and that is that they enjoy your place of business, or your product."

Similarly, Mystic Knotwork owner Matt Beaudoin took the change "as an admonition to be more real, be more part of the community, don't try to do advertising speak all the time."

This attitude is a shift from his initial "oh no" reaction to the news.

On Jan. 14, Beaudoin posted about the Facebook change on his business page, asking people interested in knots, maritime causes or Mystic history to pass along links and let people know about Mystic Knotwork.

Dave Quinn, president of the New London-based marketing agency Quinn & Hary, said he likes the element of quality control in Facebook's changes, noting the site has been losing its core values of meaningful engagement and conversations that matter.

Quinn believes businesses will react smartly in making sure their content is more engaging, which he feels is good for ad agencies.

"This is change for the better, because if the big news story was the Russian-backed accounts, what's it going to be next year if they don't find a way to control that?" he questioned. "It's way too easy for messaging that really doesn't matter to get into news feeds, and I think they're weeding that out. They're not censoring; they're just saying we're going to track what the user finds the most relevant, most interesting."

e.moser@theday.com

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