Facebook to Marketers: Stop Using Text Updates to Game the News Feed

Facebook to Marketers: Stop Using Text Updates to Game the News Feed

If you’re a Facebook marketer, you undoubtedly know that text updates have tended to reach a higher number of people than other formats. And you likely know that many marketers have gone to great lengths to use this to their advantage.

Well, that’s about to change. Text updates from brands are about to be devalued in the News Feed.

As a result, many marketers are bound to be angry. If you chase EdgeRank and you’ve been posting in this manner, you’re likely one of them.

Take a deep breath. When you think about what is happening here, it makes complete sense. There are actually some potential benefits here. And it’s proof that your focus needs to be on the content rather than the method.

Why Text Updates Were Getting Higher Reach

For a while now, the best way to reach the most people with a post was by using a text update. Facebook explains why:

Through testing, we have found that when people see more text status updates on Facebook they write more status updates themselves. In fact, in our initial test when we showed more status updates from friends it led to on average 9 million more status updates written each day. Because of this, we showed people more text status updates in their News Feed.

This is the first time I’m aware of Facebook admitting to favoring the text update. But now we know why and that it was by design.

The Page Exception

While this favoritism for the text update impacted brands and users alike, that will no longer be the case. Facebook continues:

Over time, we noticed that this effect wasn’t true for text status updates from Pages. As a result, the latest update to News Feed ranking treats text status updates from Pages as a different category to text status updates from friends. We are learning that posts from Pages behave differently to posts from friends and we are working to improve our ranking algorithms so that we do a better job of differentiating between the two types. This will help us show people more content they want to see. Page admins can expect a decrease in the distribution of their text status updates…

Facebook will now be splitting text updates from users and brands into separate categories. As a result, text updates from friends will continue to get high visibility while text updates from brands will get less.

What Facebook is Really Saying

“Look, dudes. We see what you’re doing here. You think you can force us to reach more of your fans with your boring content by sharing links in an even more boring text update. Enough already!”

Users don’t care that text updates reach more of their friends. They don’t start posting exclusively text updates as a result. They post using whatever method makes sense based on what they want to share.

But brands? Some brands started posting exclusively using text updates. And when they had a link to share, they’d include that raw URL within the text. And as an unbiased observer, this truly sucked.

Why in the world would you share a link like this…

Facebook Text Update Link Forbes

…when it could be shared like this?

Facebook Link Share Forbes

I’ll answer for you because there was only one reason: To reach more people.

The first update was ugly. The second had a huge image. There was a description of the link. And if a user clicked anywhere within that area, it took them to the article.

Marketers Ruined the Text Update

Brands could have continued to benefit from the advantage of additional Reach that user text updates enjoy. But short-sighted marketers ruined it for us.

The choice to go with text updates had nothing to do with creating engaging content. It had nothing to do with sharing something that was visually stimulating.

As a result, brands were making the News Feed look like a mess of text, code and hashtags. It was ugly and boring.

The battle cry will be that Facebook is screwing brands again to limit Reach and make them pay. But the truth is that we deserve this. When content sucks, it doesn’t deserve to be seen. And this content sucked.

When you prioritize posting method or secondary metrics like Reach over content, bad things are bound to happen. And those bad things tend to be bad content.

Yes, text updates can be extremely effective, and that’s why Facebook was favoring them. But if you have a link to share, share it as a link. The way it was intended.

Stop trying to game the system.

The Good News

I cut off Facebook’s statement above. Here’s the rest:

…but they may see some increases in engagement and distribution for other story types.

And that’s the good news. Facebook has said for some time now that they want users to share more links. So now Facebook is pushing you away from sharing links as a text update and towards normal link shares. It appears you may be rewarded.

And This is Why You Don’t Chase an Algorithm

“Facebook keeps changing the rules!”

Well, yes and no. Facebook changes the rules just as Google does. SEOs who are constantly looking to take advantage of weaknesses in search will live and die by every algorithm change. A similar statement can be said of those who chase EdgeRank.

The extent of my SEO: I write a lot of content about a very specific topic. I try to answer the questions people ask. Great traffic results.

I am not on the edge of my seat, worrying about what Google is going to do next. It doesn’t matter. And in most cases, it will benefit me.

We need to look at Facebook in the same way. Stop worrying about the freaking algorithm. Stop trying to game it with content shared in an unnatural manner. Stop worrying about metrics that don’t matter.

Focus on providing good, quality content on a consistent basis. Share links the way Facebook intends for you to share them. If you want to share something more visual, share a photo. If you want to start a conversation, share a text update. If you want to be more interactive, share a video.

We overcomplicate this to the Nth degree. If you focus first on providing quality content and second on the metrics that matter, the process of Facebook marketing becomes a whole lot easier.

Focus on Link Clicks, Referral Traffic and Conversions

I never found that sharing text updates with a link was effective. I’m convinced that the vast majority of marketers who did this were motivated by Reach. Or they felt like this was the thing to do since so many brands were doing it.

But how many link clicks did this bring versus sharing links the way Facebook intended? Or sales?

And if you shared a popular link, how viral could that go as a text update?

More Reasons to Adjust

If you still insist on sharing links attached to text or photo updates, let me provide a couple more reasons to make the change.

This is what a post looks like that was shared with a photo and link when it’s been re-shared…

Facebook Image Share with Link

Do me a favor and spot the link. HINT: It’s a trick! That link is buried and the text needs to be expanded to see it.

That’s not going viral. And if it does, no one is clicking on the link (I still love you, Ian!).

That’s big. But here’s the biggest reason: Graph Search.

Facebook will soon allow users to search for posts within Graph Search. When they do, they might type something like this…

“Links about Facebook advertising”

Do you know what will happen when such a search is run? Facebook will return results of actual link shares about the topic of Facebook advertising. If you don’t share links the way Facebook intended, none of your content will appear.

It’s always dangerous to go against the way Facebook intended you to publish content. Do what is natural. Let someone else worry about the algorithm.

When you do, you will ultimately benefit.

Before You Freak

Lots of marketers are going to freak out over this. They already are. Just please do me a favor: Don’t be one of those marketers.

The premature overreaction is getting tiresome. You have no idea how this is going to impact you until you look at your results. And when you look at your results, you’ll look at what matters.

Will Reach on text updates drop a lot? Or will it drop a little?

Will Reach of link and photo shares increase? And will it increase a lot?

And of course, you look well beyond Reach to determine whether this is good or bad for you. Hell, if you’ve been sharing links within a text update, hopefully you care about link clicks. And you’d better be monitoring that going forward.

Your Turn

What do you think about this announcement? Let me know in the comments below!