Another Agency Claims Facebook Algorithm Changes

Reach drops but negligible performance impact

The social sky is falling. Claims have been popping up over the last couple weeks that Facebook has changed its EdgeRank algorithm, which determines what content shows up in users’ News Feeds, to the detriment of advertisers.

Social@Ogilvy vp of digital strategy Geoffrey Colon kicked things off on September 25 when he posted that Facebook had announced changes to EdgeRank that would reduce the reach of brands’ organic page posts. Jeff Doak, social platform director at WPP’s Team Detroit, followed with his own blog post last week, writing that he uncovered an unspecified number of pages had seen their reach drop 45 percent on average since September 21.

Now social agency We Are Social has joined the chorus. In a new blog post, global managing director Robin Grant writes that he asked social analytics firm Socialbakers to crunch some numbers. Socialbakers looked at the reach of 15,380 page posts made by the agency’s 157 most active brand pages between August 10 and October 9. The numbers had plummeted. In fact, the average post’s reach dropped by roughly 50 percent.

However, the thing is, the examined posts’ reach had been trending downward weeks before Facebook reportedly changed its algorithm. Average reach had declined by two to three percentage points per week between August 31 and September 21, and the algorithm change seems to have catalyzed that trend.

But here’s what really is happening: Facebook is cutting the fat. Rather than spamming the feeds for all of a brands’ fans—including those who may have liked the brand’s page years ago but never interacted with it on Facebook since—Facebook seems to have changed EdgeRank so that brands’ posts only pop up in the feeds of those most likely to like, comment or share it.

As Grant points out, the EdgeRank change hasn’t really affected performance, fluctuating within 0.05 percent of the 0.4 percent mark. “In order for the average engagement rate to stay stable while the average post reach has reduced by 50 percent, this must mean that the posts that are getting seen by fans are now getting more engagement,” Grant writes.

During Facebook’s second-quarter earnings call, CEO Mark Zuckerberg stressed the importance of the News Feed and that ensuring the feed’s quality is crucial in order to not turn off users. At the time Zuckerberg said users were sharing nearly one billion pieces of content every day via Open Graph. That’s a lot of posts, even considering the typical status updates, pictures or user comments.

Given that content flood, Facebook needs to filter the rush. For brands that’s even more important to consider, because if users start feeling their feed is overwhelmed, who are they most likely to cut out? Not their friends, certainly.

The latest EdgeRank changes are far from the first time Facebook has squeezed the content stream, and brands are not the first victims. Back in 2010 Facebook made it so that users who didn’t play social games wouldn’t have their feeds pile up with stories about the latest fake crop one of their friends harvested. And this past May, when social video sharing apps were all the rage, Facebook introduced a Trending Videos module to corral that content. The company had done the same to social reader apps the month before.

So what’s a brand to do? They can earn their media or pay for it, or both. “Facebook’s changes mean brands need to shift to creating social content that is ‘as engaging as the posts you see from friends and family’ and supplement this with a sophisticated paid promotion strategy,” writes Grant.

Facebook has already set the table for this strategy. In late July it began letting brands target their page posts to specific segments of their fans, so that marketer like Macy’s could only tell its female fans about an upcoming bikini sale. And the company has expanded Promoted Posts to all brands so that a marketer could pay to make sure more of its fans—or more of a subset of its fans—saw a post.

UPDATE: Per a Facebook spokesperson: "We’re continuing to optimize News Feed to show the posts that people are most likely to engage with, ensuring they see the most interesting stories. This aligns with our vision that all content should be as engaging as the posts you see from friends and family."