Like most things that seem, at first, a bit peculiar, or perhaps even slightly challenging, historical context usually helps to lend some calm to the situation. When it comes to the recent changes Facebook has made to its fan page edge rank algorithms, this holds true.
In recent weeks brands have noticed that their fan page reach has dropped precipitously due to the recent changes Facebook has made to its edge rank algorithms. While this may be initially concerning for brands when you frame it in the context of a long history of Facebook's product team working diligently to improve user experience, it all makes more sense.
Facebook has always developed product to a core principal: no spam. Consider the first roll out of apps within Facebook way back in the day. These were the most viral prolific little buggers in the system: everyone was poking, and werewolfing and vampiring ad naseum. The Facebook experience was getting spammy. So what did they do? They dialed it all back and everyone panicked. Low and behold it left us with a much stronger and more thoughtful ecosystem of applications that has become such a rich landscape that entirely new business have grown out of it, ie: social gaming.
More recently we saw the emergence of social readers via the open graph. Quickly everyone was suddenly seeing every song you listened to and every article you read! The experience was spammy. What if I didn't want to share what I was reading 24/7? So what did Facebook do? Again, they dialed it back and everyone predicted the demise of social readers. Fast-forward to today: social readers are a popular high use destination within Facebook's larger ecosystem.
So how does this relate to brands and fan pages? Facebook sees that the future of brands within Facebook is not one of amassing fans and simply publishing to them repeatedly. That is not a high value engagement. It is fundamentally spammy. So Facebook is dialing that back to. Consider an analogy: If Facebook were a big 1 billion attendee theme park where people grouped up around the rides they liked, rode the rides, shared stories about their experiences, met their friends from times past and rekindled memories etc, would you want the world's brands standing in the middle of that vying for attention with an ever larger and louder megaphone? In that scenario the brands would eventually drown out the intended social experience and people would simply leave. Similarly Facebook wants its users to have a positive experience, to be able to socialize and not feel that they are being bombarded or jockeyed between brands.
But why is this good for brands?
Returning to the theme of this post: framing things in history, remember that other big online animal that has algorithms? Google. For years they have been tweaking their algorithms to impact the SEO machine and deliver ever more accurate and relevant search results. Why would Google do this? The same reason Facebook is changing their algorithms. Google wants its users to stick around and come back. If the search results can be gamed and the same brands can dominate search results over and over again, that's a terrible experience for an end user, and they'll go somewhere else. When I go search for 'green laundry service, Brooklyn' I don't want to end up seeing the first page of results reading Walmart results for 'eco laundry detergent'. But what has happened as a result of Google's algorithm changes? Brands have had to create well-structured, high value and relevant destination sites, with good information and positive user experiences. In the end, it has proven to be a very positive experience for brands and consumers because the over quality of the online experience has improved dramatically. Secondly, as a result of reducing spammy search engine results Google has been able to serve up ever more relevant and therefore clicked on ads. This has been the single greatest boon for brands on the web to date.
Similarly: The changes we are seeing on Facebook are extremely positive for brands. The new Facebook for brands is a world where brands can build highly engaged, rich, thoughtful and above all else high quality connections to their fans. As I hear brands bemoan the changes I also here a quiet stirring of relief from the many CMOs and the like who are faced with the empty challenge of buying a million 50 cent fans and delivering a multi-day publishing strategy that amounts to nothing more than an outpouring of junk.
Brands should understand this: Social media is it's own unique medium. It's not like TV where people passively watch a show. It's not like reading a magazine or driving in your car and seeing billboards fly by. Facebook, in particular, is a place where people share intimate stories. Where revolutions are sparked. Where breaking news really breaks. In this context the challenge for brands is to thoughtfully understand your fans in a very deep way. Speak to them in ways that are relevant to the space. Understand how they want to identify with your brand.
Facebook understands that the future of brands succeeding in social is predicated on the end user having a positive experience. Facebook also understands that their financial future depends on brands succeeding in social. So cheer up brands! These changes are good thing. No, they are a great thing! Connect with your fans. Know them intimately. Publish thoughtfully. Build great custom application experiences. You'll reach your base better and the response and ROI will be more than you'd hoped for. Facebook knows this, the end user knows this and so should you.