Eventually, your brand might just have to be itself on Facebook

Since the dawn of digital marketing, people have been trying to trick systems and algorithms into ranking a site better in a search engine or boosting Facebook engagement with posts begging for “likes” or “shares.”

And while this kind of activity sometimes runs afoul of Facebook’s terms of service, it hasn’t stoped Pages from linking participation in a contest or poll to the “reaction” or “share” function. You can see it today in phony Facebook Live videos where Pages ask you to select a specific Facebook reaction to “vote” on one of two options.

They’re not looking for your insight on an issue — they’re looking for your engagement on their post. And Pages that encourage you to share a recipe post to your Facebook page to “save it for later” aren’t actually concerned that you might lose a great idea for seven layer dip. They know that each time you share a post, some fraction of your followers sees it.

Why do Pages do this? Because Facebook’s algorithm uses how often someone reacts to, comments on or shares a post to determine if it is good content, social media managers try to trick people into engaging.

These posts are meant to fool Facebook into thinking a video or post gets solid likes, views and engagement. And, like most “get engagement quick” schemes on Facebook, this will eventually begin to fail.

Facebook, you see, has gotten wise to Pages that want to take the easy way out. And just a few weeks ago, it announced an update to its algorithm that make tactics like begging for likes and shares detrimental to your Page.

That’s bad news for social media managers who have relied on these kinds of posts to prop up low engagement, but good news for Facebook users tired of junk posts crowding their feeds. The service claims to be concerned about the “authenticity” of posts on its platform. And while one goal of these and other Facebook algorithm tweaks is to declutter your timeline, the service also knows it has to crack down on posts that trick people into engaging, both because they hurt Facebook’s business and make it less attractive to users. Facebook wants social media managers and marketers to include boosting and paid social in their strategies. Posts begging for likes and shares are an end run around Facebook’s algorithm.

So, Facebook’s algorithm has now learned how to spot when a Page is begging for likes or shares. When a Page is dinged for doing this, its algorithm ranking will be affected, meaning its posts will be ranked lower in the newsfeed and seen by fewer people. That’s the death knell for a Page — if people don’t see your posts, your Page is basically done. (It’s the social media equivalent of being on the second page of Google search results.)

Facebook explains the change this way —

With this update, we’re adding new universal signals to determine whether a post might be authentic. To do this, we categorized Pages to identify whether or not they were posting spam or trying to game feed by doing things like asking for likes, comments or shares. We then used posts from these Pages to train a model that continuously identifies whether posts from other Pages are likely to be authentic. For example, if Page posts are often being hidden by people reading them, that’s a signal that it might not be authentic.

Basically, Facebook looked at Pages that were constantly posting spam or posts begging for engagement and used them to “train” its algorithm to spot the same activity on other Pages.

Facebook has also improved how it judges signals in real time, meaning it will take into account if a post has a lot of engagement because of something that is happening right then, thus ranking Page content higher in a newsfeed temporarily. (The best example of this is sports — when your team is playing and a lot of folks are posting about it, Facebook will see this as a signal to rank the posts about the game higher in your news feed, temporarily.)

What does all of this mean for Pages? Eventually, brands might just have to rely on sharing content that is interesting, relevant and timely to their audiences, combined with strategic paid boosting, to spread their message on Facebook. While social media managers will certainly jump on new trends (prediction: every business in the South starts wishing football teams luck on Game Day) to try to break through, the bottom line is that Facebook is becoming more nimble with its algorithm updates.

From here on out, communications pros have to push for businesses, organizations and other Pages to publish content that is worthy of views because it is so compelling that everyone is going to want to share it.