1Q Review: Top 5 Facebook Changes For Brands

By Dan Sullivan 

1QKeyboard650It’s been a busy first quarter for Facebook. From acquisitions to algorithms, there have been more than 10 new announcements in the first three months of the year, causing many brands to feel cold toward the global social site. With spring knocking on the door, here’s a breakdown of the most important changes Facebook has made to help brands flourish.

Finding Popular Conversations on Facebook, Jan. 16.

SullivanTrendingTopicsWhat is it? Similar to Twitter’s trending topics, Facebook kicked the year off by rolling out its Trending feature. Using “an algorithm that highlights topics that have had a sharp increase in popularity, as opposed to overall volume,” users can see the 10 most popular topics and hashtags of the day, the context behind them, and (when clicked) a running feed of commentary from their friends on the topic.

Why is it important to my brand? Real-time marketing is no longer just a buzzword to describe Oreo’s Super Bowl actions, it’s an expectation of brands to be a relevant part of daily popular conversations. Trending brings that idea to the forefront, keeping all Facebook users current on everything from holidays to pop-culture news, and brands should take note. While brands can’t currently promote Trending topics, it’s been rumored to be a future source of ad revenue for the social site, and it will certainly be an influential option for brands to explore when it does.

News Feed Change: More Updates from Friends, Jan. 21.

What is it? In the first News Feed update of the year, the News Feed algorithm will change to show fewer text-only status updates from pages and an increase in text-only status updates from users.

Why is it important to my brand? Through testing, Facebook learned that users are sharing text-only status updates from their friends more than any other status, but that the same didn’t hold true for brands. Wanting to serve users the most shareable updates, Facebook changed its News Feed algorithm to reflect the data and show fewer text-only updates from brands. In terms of sharing, media-heavy posts (images, video clips, etc.) perform better for brand pages, and Facebook has set the News Feed up to reflect that. This makes content not only a preferential way to communicate with fans on Facebook, but an essential one. They simply won’t see your brand’s update without an interesting piece of content attached.

Facebook Introduces Paper, Jan. 30.

SullivanPaperWhat is it? From its name to usability, Paper is designed to be an experience in consuming personal and commercial news. Delivered in a beautiful mobile application, it eliminates the need for users to search for relevant content and instead does the work of finding it for them.

Why is it important to my brand? The gap between the reach of brands sharing great content and brands sharing mediocre content keeps getting wider, and their presence on Paper will reflect that. Paper won’t be replacing Facebook’s mobile app anytime soon, so treat it as its own outlet for the time being. Go as far as to work Paper-friendly posts into your brand’s social media content calendar. The posts should be visual, shareable, and fit one of the app’s sections (Tech, Score, Flavor, Pride, All City, etc.). Doing this ensures a presence on Paper and will simultaneously give your brand’s content legs on the traditional Facebook mobile and desktop platforms.

Facebook Acquires WhatsApp, Feb. 19.

What is it? This February, Facebook bought mobile messaging company WhatsApp for $16 billion. Facebook is currently a major part of users’ daily life, but not the only way they communicate. With 70 percent of WhatsApp’s 450 million people using the app each day, it’s replaced text messaging, tweeting, and even emailing for some of its users. Looking at Facebook’s official statement that “Facebook and WhatsApp’s shared mission (is) to bring more connectivity and utility to the world by delivering core Internet services efficiently and affordably,” this acquisition could very well be Facebook’s most important to date.

Why is it important to my brand? It isn’t. Yet. However, with 1.2 billion users, the majority of Facebook’s growth will be outside of the U.S. in the years to come. WhatsApp helps them not only reach those growth areas, but also be a more integral part of their daily use. More time on Facebook for its users means more face time for brands and more ad revenue for everyone.

News Feed Change: Showing Stories About Topics You Like, Feb. 24.

What is it? When a page tags another page, the post may be shown to some of the people who like or follow the tagged page.

Why is it important to my brand? Already a feature in updates from friends, this News Feed update allows posts to reach a relevant audience in a more efficient way. As an example, if Priceline tags American Airlines in a post offering a 20 percent off one-day deal, but the user only currently likes the American Airlines page, the post may still appear for that user under the assumption that the two pages are in some way similar. Presumably, that user would want to know that there is a special offer on American Airlines flights if they like the American Airlines brand page. As a result, Priceline gets more relevant reach on its post and both companies make a sale.

Facebook updates tend to stir up controversy, but change isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Each update represents a challenge and an opportunity for brands; by understanding them and reacting quickly, social managers can extend the reach of their brand conversations to reach the right people with the right message. What it comes down to is understanding the “what” and “why” of each update as it relates to your brand. As we roll into the second quarter of 2014, keep an eye on the Facebook Newsroom for the most up-to-date news.

Readers: Which updates have affected your brands over the past few months? Which updates have you seen as opportunities or as threats? Continue the conversation with me below, or on Twitter at @danielmsullivan.

Dan Sullivan is the founder and CEO of “after-like marketing” firm Crowdly.

Image of keyboard courtesy of Shutterstock.