Facebook’s New Algorithm: Attention, Engagement and World Domination

April 26, 2016

Facebook is the number one social-media network for businesses. Peter Houston asks, How can pharma stay relevant in the feed?

When I’m checking out pictures of my son’s new car, I don’t necessarily think of Facebook as a business network. But it is… the number one social-media network for businesses. Over 90 percent of the marketers surveyed in Social Media Examiner’s 7th annual industry report said they used Facebook. 

Why? Because that’s where all their customers are.

With 1.59 billion MAUs (monthly active users) worldwide and many more on satellite services like Whatsapp, Instagram and Messenger, Facebook is demanding a massive slice of the world’s attention… and its marketing budgets.

Posting revenue for 2015 of $17.93 billion, up 44 percent on 2014, Facebook is making a lot of money helping marketers reach a lot of people. And it’s not just about the unrivalled volume of people on the network, but also the amount of time they are spending there.

Internet analytics business comScore reports that the average 18- to 34-year-old in the US spends 30 hours per month on social media – Facebook claims over 80 percent of that time, an incredible 26 hours.

World domination

A recent Guardian report from the F8 developer conference reported on ‘How Facebook plans to take over the world’. In CEO Zuckerberg’s ‘State of the Union’ address he spoke of his “mission” to connect the world, embodied in the Free Basics service that offers people in 37 countries free, Facebook controlled internet access.

But even universal coverage wouldn’t guarantee Facebook’s usefulness as a Pharma marketing platform.

As I wrote earlier in the year, the secret to that lies in a concept that Pharma has always struggled with – ‘audience engagement’. Yes, there are some strong examples of pharma companies using Facebook to deliver customer service or answer patient queries, but there are more zombie pages that could just as well have been printed for the number of updates they’ve received.

And the bad news for bad social-media marketers is that Facebook is ramping up its use of audience engagement as a measure of quality and, more importantly, as a trigger for surfacing content. The Newsfeed algorithm updates announced at F8 signal an attack on clickbait, with pole position given to articles that are important to people beyond clicks, shares and comments.

Facebook’s own news pages say, “With this change, we can better understand which articles might be interesting to you based on how long you and others read them, so you’ll be more likely to see stories you’re interested in reading.”

Winners and losers

Digital media and marketing news site Digiday reported on the winners and losers of the latest algorithm updates. Anyone posting poor quality content or over posting is in for a hard time. Publishers and brands posting ‘high-impact’, ‘original’ and ‘in-depth’ content will do well, as will those using video and interactive elements like polls or quizzes.

Possibly more than it has in the past, Facebook is making a real effort to let the wider world know what it is thinking. Maybe too much of an effort: There are almost 100 videos posted from the F8 conference. Unless you’re a real pixelhead you might want to just focus on this session explaining what sort of content works on Facebook.

Facebook is being super helpful because it needs the content on the network to keep people, you guessed it, engaged. It’s easy to accuse it of gaming its own system to maximise revenues, and it probably is, but with both active user counts and time spent on the network increasing, making money and keeping the customer satisfied seem to be pretty much the same thing.

Seeing the opportunity

For all missionary zeal to connect the world, Facebook is a business. “You hear all the platitudes about Facebook connecting the planet, but to say they are doing it for benevolent reasons is absolute nonsense. It’s about connecting commerce, not people,” says venture capitalist and former journalist Om Malik in that Guardian article.

But Malik, founder of the failed technology blog GigaOm, also said this: “If I were to start a publication, it would be on Facebook… In the post-browser-only world, it makes perfect sense to go where the audience lives.”

The reach and the relevancy that Facebook is trying to engineer into the Newsfeed is what makes the Facebook opportunity so powerful.

In his F8 session Adam Mosseri, VP of Product Management, talks about getting the right content to the right people reinforcing comments made by Chris Cox, Facebook’s chief product officer, a Time article last year.

 “If you could rate everything that happened on Earth today that was published anywhere by any of your friends, any of your family, any news source, and then pick the 10 that were the most meaningful to know today, that would be a really cool service for us to build. That is really what we aspire to have News Feed become.”

The opportunity for Pharma in that scenario is clear. If you’re a patient with a chronic condition, you are absolutely going to want every bit of information that might help you deal with that condition to be in your top 10.

The secret to Facebook’s success has been its constant evolution from social updates, to photos, to the Newsfeed and now Live video and Messenger bots. As reporter Olivia Solon puts it in ‘How Facebook plans to take over the world, the company is slowly removing the reasons for leaving its site. That’s a win for Facebook, but it could also be a big win for marketers who no longer have to figure out how to get people to their websites. “…they can simply deliver stories to people’s news feeds” writes Solon.

The hard part for Pharma is going to be in following Facebooks rules to stay relevant in the feed.