Facebook Algorithm Change Spurs Debate About Organic v. Paid Media and How Engagement is Defined

One of the hottest topics in social media right now is Facebook’s algorithm and its recent refinement, which seems to be having an impact on which brand posts show in the News feed. Some brands are reporting that they have seen a significant drop in engagement over the past few weeks and many are wondering if this recent algorithm change is Facebook’s attempt to help control the flow of what appears in the feed is a movement towards their need to grow revenue.

This discussion highlights two key topics in digital marketing. The first being organic v. paid media and the second being how we define engagement.

Facebook is looking to optimize the News feed so they are refining posts to display those that people are likely to engage with. As you can imagine, the content feed across the platform is growing exponentially as people add new connections within the platform. Adding to that flow of organic data are ads and the newly announced paid posts option.

This leads us to the ongoing discussion about how marketers define filters for relevance and importance. If Facebook is choosing what they perceive to be content most likely to be engaged with, they are likely looking at what is often liked, commented on and/or shared but I have to imagine it is larger than that. What is often overlooked (and debated) in marketing, especially digital marketing, is that engagement is not the definitive rule in being influential or important.

I will use my own digital habits as an example. I login to Facebook multiple times a day and occasionally I like, share or comment, but mostly I am consuming the content in my feed by only reading it. And, what I see in Facebook may prompt other brand engagement e.g. a search, e-newsletter sign-up, in-store visit, etc. I consider myself an influencer but not in strict terms of what keyboard strokes or mouse clicks I make. In fact, a considerable amount of influencing I do is done in non-measurable ways from a digital marketing standpoint; one could categorize me as a cross-channel influencer, which a lot of us are. Don’t get me wrong; one of the best aspects of digital marketing is what we are able to measure. The bigger picture is that defining and measuring influence and value, especially across channels, is a science that differs by brand and individual; this presents a challenge for both marketers and a platform like Facebook.

Many brands have invested significantly in their Facebook presence, developing campaigns and growing fans/audiences using predominantly organic methods, and they are watching this discussion closely. Paid posts will certainly provide additional options to reach audiences but this is also an opportunity for brands to evaluate their Facebook strategies to ensure that they are truly delivering compelling, relevant and engaging content and experiences to their audiences.