Study shows Facebook’s algorithm change a double-edged sword for brands

November 20, 2012  |  Jonathan Paul  |  Comments

Facebook recently tinkered with its EdgeRank algorithm, saying the changes were meant to decrease news feed spam. A new study is showing that, for brands, the change brings both good and bad news.

EdgeRank determines what posts, photos and updates made by brands on their Facebook pages will make it through to followers’ news feeds.

When it announced it was changing the algorithm, Facebook acknowledged that the impact for brands would be a reduction in brand page/post reach, but an improvement in engagement.

The study – conducted by GroupM Next and New York-based M80 (a GroupM-owned social media and community activation agency) – analyzed 25 Facebook category-spanning brand pages. The findings show that the change resulted in a 38% decline in pages’ reach. Ultimately, it concludes, the increase in engagement, which is upwards of 96%, is not enough to offset the decrease in reach, especially at scale.

Basically, advertisers are seeing more forms of engagement per impression of posts while also receiving fewer total impressions. What this means is that they will not see an increase in the aggregate volume of engagement of their Facebook posts. Brands are not gaining organic engagement because of the change, the study said, they’re only losing organic reach. This is not necessarily good news for brands, as it necessitates a shift in how they approach their organic posting strategy and optimized paid, owned and earned media on Facebook.

“The reality is that if you want to maintain the level of reach you [had] prior to the algorithm change, you’re going to have to spend some money,” said Jeremy Semones, president of M80. “We have to constantly temper clients’ expectations when it comes to spending in this type of environment. What this report allows us to do is spend more smartly and against certain post types with very specific objectives in mind.”

The study also shows that some posts perform better than others. Status updates, for example, did show an overall increase in reach while others such as photo posts and links showed declines. The EdgeRank change also means Facebook is steering posted content towards users who have more brand affinity. This is because, the study says, posts are being made more visible if the user is more engaged with a brand’s Facebook page. When an advertiser posts on their page, only “die hard” fans will see it organically. Engaging content still matters, but not as much as it used to, as the smaller audience being reached will be more predisposed to engagement.

“As social marketers it seems that, almost uniformly, our clients are more interested in engaging the right portion of their audiences as opposed to the entire audience per se, so the algorithm change, by the nature of its impact has enabled that,” said Semones.

“This study will help brand and community managers alike understand that there are different strata to their social audiences and that sometimes only the hardest core of fans need to be communicated with and other times every single person within that audience needs to hear a message,” added Tim Fogarty, head of strategy at M80.

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