B2B marketing on Facebook isn’t effective.

That’s how Sana Ansari, general manager of 3Q Accelerate, sums up the thoughts of the industry. Most B2B marketers believe it is too hard to get content in front of the right professionals. They’d rather use email.

But as she goes on to say, these assumptions are wrong.

Facebook, in fact, is an essential tool for B2B marketers. Business decision makers are on Facebook, after all. According to research from marketing agency Mighty, business decision makers spend 74 percent more time on Facebook than other people. They are also likely to have more friends than the average Facebook user.

It also remains the most popular way to share articles by some margin. In Fractl and Buzzsumo’s study of 1 million of the most popular shared articles, they found that 90 percent of social shares came from Facebook.

As an essential tool, B2B marketers and executives need to know how the platform works and, more importantly, how it handles business content in 2018.

What’s Changed?

Brands, for the most part, are being forced to pay to promote their content. As startup marketing advisor Sweta Patel explains, “Facebook has built a pay to play platform where companies are forced to promote their posts.” But it’s not just companies. It’s anyone who uses Facebook in a promotional way. As Digiday author Ilyse Liffreing discovers in an interview with an online influencer, even influencers have to pay to play.

The change has come slowly and over several years. In fact, a Facebook sales deck obtained by AdAge in 2013 contains the line: “We expect organic distribution of an individual page’s posts to gradually decline over time as we continually work to make sure people have a meaningful experience on the site.”

As a comprehensive Buffer post compiled by Alfred Lua shows, Facebook started making this statement a reality in September 2014 with an update in which posts that asked for engagement were ranked lower. Since then, Facebook has released at least three updates that specifically targeted branded content.

But perhaps the biggest update came at the start of 2018.

On January 11, Facebook published one of its most impactful algorithm updates to date, one that sought to emphasize “meaningful interactions.” It was part of the platform’s push to make sure that time on the platform is well spent, and a reaction to the criticism Facebook faced for its role in promoting “fake news.”

As a result, Facebook began prioritizing content from family and friends over content from branded Pages.

facebook content

How the New Algorithm Works

Joshua Boyd, content and community manager at Brandwatch, combed through Facebook webinar slides to put together a picture of how Facebook’s new algorithm works. You can find all of the slides related to the algorithm here.

The Facebook newsfeed is based on four factors: inventory, signals, predictions and score. The inventory is all of the available content on Facebook. Signals are the criteria that Facebook uses to decide which content you will like. These can include:

  • Comments and likes on a person’s status or photo
  • Engagement with publisher content posted by friends
  • Replies to comments on videos
  • Shares on Messenger
  • Who posted the content and when it was posted
  • Time spent on the content and how informative the content is

Predictions are the actions taken from the signals above. They are when Facebook decides to show you the content based on what it knows about you. Score is the value Facebook assigns to a piece of content based on its relevance to the user. The higher the score, the more likely it is to appear.

What Does This Mean for B2B Content?

Facebook’s January 2018 algorithm update has had four major impacts on B2B content marketing:

There’s Been a Serious Fall in Organic Engagement

As you might expect, brands have seen huge drops in organic engagement of their branded content.

A study by data analytics company Parse.ly of 600 sites in its network showed that Facebook referral traffic declined by an average of 25 percent between February 2017 and October 2017. Two-thirds of publishers in the study saw a decrease in traffic. For those experiencing drops in traffic, half experienced drops of 20 percent or more.

The truth is that this latest drop is just one in a trend that we have been seeing for the past five years. As content marketing strategist Maxwell Gollin makes clear, in 2014 organic brand engagement was already just 6 percent. And from January 2017 to June 2017, engagement on branded content fell by more than 20 percent.

Quality, Not Quantity, Is Key

You really need to add value if you want to see organic traction in 2018. Neil Vogel, CEO of Dotdash (formerly About.com) explains why: “Facebook is not a public utility.” They want people to have a newsfeed that they enjoy. Otherwise, those users won’t come back. If you aren’t posting things that people will enjoy, Facebook has no incentive to show your content.

For most companies, this will mean seriously rolling back their posting schedule. The top brands are doing it already. Lux Narayan, CEO of social media analytics company Unmetric, analyzed data from the top 20 B2B brands based on a list from Millward Brown. Among his findings was the fact that there was a negative correlation between the number of posts and engagement. The less brands posted, and therefore the more measured each post was, the more engagement it generated.

For Shannon Tien at Hootsuite, creating quality content is the single biggest piece of advice she can give to brands. Make sure you are “researching your audience, running tests, and regularly checking your analytics,” she says, so you know exactly the kind of content your audience wants to see.

Taking Hootsuite’s own Facebook post on creating social video as an example, Tien shows that the company knew the post would do well on Facebook because

  • it was of value to their audience (and therefore share-worthy),
  • the caption provoked emotion (and therefore made readers more likely to click),
  • and it was presented as trustworthy rather than salesly.

phone - Facebook content

Video Posts Need to Be Just as Engaging

In February 2017, Mark Zuckerberg labeled video a “megatrend.” This announcement, on an earnings call with investors, was followed up by serious investment by the social network. As Digiday senior reporter Sahil Patel notes, Facebook started to pour money into video in order to rival Netflix. By the end of 2018, the platform will reportedly have spent a billion dollars to make these video dreams a reality.

Marketers quickly jumped on video. A study by Wyzowl found that 68 percent of marketers surveyed published videos on Facebook. Of those respondents, 87 percent found it to be an effective strategy.

But that effectiveness could be coming under attack. As Paul Casinelli, VP of product marketing and strategy at Brightcove, points out, video was highlighted by Facebook as one content type that would receive less prioritization after the engagement update. The reason? Video is laid back and too passive in nature to encourage social interaction.

Casinelli goes on to point out that there are several ways brands can still make video work. They key is to live within the guidelines that the 2018 update puts forward and make engaging, high-quality content that encourages interaction.

This is a point backed up by Facebook’s own vice president, Adam Mosseri, in an interview with Wired’s Fred Vogelstein. Mosseri was quick to point out that although there will be “less video,” page content will still be important, especially if that content is shared and talked about by friends.

Promoted Content Will Be More Important

Which content you promote and how you promote it will become more important than ever. As organic reach continues to fall, it’s only natural that companies will start to pay to connect with new audiences. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Paying to promote content on Facebook shouldn’t just be seen as an expense. It should be considered an investment. Organic reach can only take you so far, says Rich Mintz, executive vice president of Blue State Digital. Organic Facebook traffic is great for retention, but it doesn’t help brands reach anyone new.

Paid promotion can also get results. If one of your main goals with Facebook is engagement, says marketing agency Santy, dedicating a larger portion of your monthly budget to promoting a post doesn’t just ensure your content will get viewed; it will guarantee engagement.

But you will likely have to pay more for that engagement. Mark Zuckerberg himself predicted that time spent on his platform would go down after the update. And despite Facebook Vice President John Hegeman saying advertisements will be unaffected, the result is clear for Paul Mead chairman of VCCP Media: “Less time on Facebook and fewer ads can only mean that the ads that do show are more expensive.”

Images by: Mimi Thian, Tim Bennett, inbj/©123RF Stock Photo

Casey Meehan