Sahail Ashraf posted on 13 January 2017
Facebook changed a lot this year, but when it comes to brands, there is truly only one real change that made a huge difference. We will devote the first part of the article to this huge change and then look at the other changes that, while they may not be as huge as that one, should still prove to be important to brands.
Here’s a quick summary of the page growth, reach and engagement rate we’ve seen on the platform during the year 2016 when doing our monthly studies. Pretty bland organic performance all across. There was a big drop in reach in August, but the platform has recovered during the last two months of the year.
Here’s a look at the performance of the individual post formats too. In terms of reach videos were in the lead during the first half of the year, and photos took over in the second half.
Videos were the most engaging post format throughout the year. Photos dropped from being the second most engaging format to being the least engaging format in the second half of the year.
The number of pages using paid advertising to promote their content has decreased in the second half of the year.
Like all things social, producing engaging content relies upon brands being able to understand their audience perfectly. By knowing what kind of stuff your audience wants, you can create it, and therefore score higher engagement levels. It works only if you know the people you are aspiring to reach. If you’re just posting stuff because it’s cool, you might be losing out.
It made our year, but Facebook Instant Articles is a huge thing for brands full stop. The sheer beauty of Instant Articles is probably the reason why it made such big news in 2016, but let’s not forget that only a handful of real publishers had their hands on it first. It was kind of frustrating for brands to see major names being able to use the facility, and then to apply only to find that Facebook wasn’t playing unless you were a serious, public and newsworthy entity.
Instant Articles did, of course, wow us at first with that amazing beauty. Done right, and professionally, your brand can shine when compared to others. This is perhaps one of the key lessons the change brought. Facebook is serious about giving everyone the opportunity to differentiate themselves from competition, but it raised the bar by providing such a high quality option.
One big aspect apart from the sheer quality of the image was the fast load time thing. These babies were pretty much ‘instant’, for once deserving the title the creator gave them. Unhindered by web speeds because they are visible through the app, the fast pace of Instant Articles meant that you ended up with a process that took away the speed hurdle that usually presented problems when it came to engagement. These things loaded up fast, and this meant that your brand’s efforts were seen quickly and engaged with quickly too.
As a publishing format, it also had its advantages with regards to the engagement. Facebook itself is pretty proud of the beast, and has stated that it finds 20% more click-throughs happen when a good-looking Instant Article is in front of the viewer. So it’s high quality real estate that can boost engagement for a brand.
But perhaps the biggest (aside from the aforementioned) benefit is the under the cover work it does for brands. Brands have a high degree of control over what their audiences see. You can mess about with colours, positioning and logos, for example, as well as the content, and Facebook will pretty much leave you alone. The closest rival for high quality, slick imagery is LinkedIn (when used as a publishing tool), and even that platform does not allow for this kind of customisation.
The work you can do with Instant Articles is incredible. With control over all these aspects, as well as sound, this is probably the first time brands can produce a truly unique and personal message for an audience on social media. It allows for the ultimate in branded work on Facebook, and arguably online.
If we were to choose another big change this year for Facebook and brands, it would have to be all about the algorithm. In the summer it changed the algorithm in a huge way, and gave a very simple explanation as to what the change was about.
Essentially, friends and family, and their sharing of posts would have more of a sway over what you saw on a news feed.
This set off huge waves of panic, with brands thinking that they had no way of building organic reach and engagement anymore. It felt like Facebook was cutting off a major part of a brand’s social media strategy. And, all in all, it hasn’t turned out to be that different in reality.
The biggest initial impact came in costs. Advertising on Facebook became more expensive, as reach became an issue. Because brands kind of panicked a little, the cost of Facebook ads became influenced by demand. And if people were rushing to buy up ads to promote posts, it inevitably led to an increase.
The video also became an area that brands began to think a little more cautiously about. If the whole algorithm thing was going to change what was seen, it made more sense for brands to reduce the output and think more carefully about where they would spend their money.
The whole concept revolves around the idea of making Facebook more personal and individual, with less of a political bias. The end result was slightly different, in that brands realised that Facebook, ultimately, has the real power over the content that is ‘allowed’ to be displayed and shared.
Not necessarily something Facebook ended up doing directly in the end, but more of a natural growth curve, the rise of the bots on Messenger really became a huge matter in 2016.
Bots started to crop up everywhere, and many of them became useful marketing tools. The scope for customer service being automated was considerable, for example.
We think bots will become even more prevalent in 2017, and we also think that someone, somewhere, will be able to find a way to mesh together automation and marketing. It will only be a matter of time.
Facebook also hinted at the future direction it was taking late in the year. It is really (really) interested in Artificial Intelligence and it wants you to know this. In fact, it is currently throwing millions into research in AI, and it hopes to make it a big feature of what it is doing over the next few years. From helping Facebook guess what you want to say, to captioning your photos for you, the technology is intriguing, to say the least.
It has been a year that has seen Facebook increase its dominance as a platform, and we can see a huge 2017 for the platform. If anything, it is the one platform that seems to have truly global dominance as an agenda.
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