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Facebook Just Made Life A Little Harder For Brands

Facebook’s latest news feed algorithm update is great for friends, not so great for business.

Facebook Just Made Life A Little Harder For Brands

If your company sees a drop in Facebook activity in the coming weeks, you can blame the latest news feed algorithm update. The changes announced today shift more emphasis onto updates from people’s friends, which necessarily means less emphasis on updates from third-party sources, e.g. brands.

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For everyday users, today’s news feed updates should mean good things. Based on feedback and experimentation, Facebook is tweaking its algorithm to provide users more important updates from their friends and fewer annoying updates about likes and status updates. The news feed will also be less shy about showing multiple consecutive posts from the same user, something the algorithm has explicitly downplayed in the past.

For a regular person, this all sounds pretty reasonable. But for publishers and other brands who operate Facebook pages, the update is less than reassuring. While Facebook doesn’t come out and say that it’s dialing back updates from pages in the algorithm, the added exposure for content from one’s friends has to come at the expense of *something.* In the blog post announcing the news feed update, Facebook acknowledges that “in some cases, post reach and referral traffic could potentially decline.”

If this is indeed the result of today’s changes, it wouldn’t be first time that brands got the short end of the stick on Facebook. Since promoted posts have become a part of the company’s monetization strategy, the organic reach of posts from brands has declined, with showing that the average brand’s posts could reach as little as 2% of its fan. Brands that try to make up the difference by boosting their organic reach manually could be penalized for being “overly promotional,” under a rule recently announced by Facebook.

Publishers have found themselves in a particularly precarious position with Facebook. A recent report showed a drop in shares of posts from media brands, something Facebook later chalked up to “a bug.” Long a steady and reliable source of traffic for publishers, Facebook has scaled back the number of eyeballs it sends to media outlets–a curious fact in light of news that the social network is considering natively hosting news content natively for select partners.

For Facebook, the end game here is to convince brands of all kinds to pony up and pay for the full promotional muscle of the world’s largest network in the form of promoted posts and other social ad units. Ultimately, today’s updates could wind up not having any perceptible effect on brands. But given recent history, it’s hard to blame them for feeling vulnerable.

About the author

John Paul Titlow is a writer at Fast Company focused on music and technology, among other things.

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