Facebook overhauling News Feed is actually good for social media managers

Plus 10 things social media pros should do right away to have a fighting chance

When I first read Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement about the major changes coming to Facebook’s News Feed, I reacted with a combination of shock, anger and closure. I realize that’s a weird combo, but what he said isn’t a surprise. We knew it was coming. In fact, we’ve all been serving as Facebook’s beta testers for years, from reprioritizing our departments for a pivot to video to Instant Articles to the Facebook Journalism Project — all of it was leading to this moment.

“As we roll this out, you’ll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media,” Zuck wrote in his Facebook post.

And while that’s true, it doesn’t mean we can’t control it.

“I’m changing the goal I give our product teams from focusing on helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful social interactions.” Zuck couldn’t be clearer. The days of things just appearing in the feed because people are clicking share are over. Now it’s about more meaningful social interactions, which is commenting and conversations around topics.

I read a bunch of posts — and I didn’t disagree with them at first — about how this would be the final death knell for the social media manager. With drastically-reduced reach on Facebook it would be hard to justify our existence on a digital desk.

But it’s actually the opposite.

I’ve been a professional social media manager for about 10 years now, and I’ve been asked this question thousands of times: “What do you think is the most important metric in social media?” And my answer has been mostly the same: Shares. Sharing, not liking, would be most likely to surface content in someone else’s newsfeed. Likes too, but sharing really indicates an interest in what you’re posting.

And while sharing is still an important metric, my answer now changes with Zuck’s announcement. Now it’s commenting. He says so.

“…the public content you see more will be held to the same standard — it should encourage meaningful interactions between people.”

This isn’t new to us. Social media managers have been working 16-hour days trying to grow engagement on Facebook and other platforms. But now it matters more than ever because without this engagement, you’ll be shouting into an echo chamber. There’s really nothing worse than doing so much work and seeing nothing in return for it.

So how is this good for social media managers if it means we’re going to have to work that much harder?

That’s it right there. We have to work that much harder.

The way things were moving, it seemed as though social media managers were on the way to becoming expendable. If all people have to do is schedule posts into SocialFlow and Tweetdeck and Hootsuite, then anyone can do it. Copy and paste the headline, set the time and you just saved a salary. And while social media managers will go the way of the copy editor at some clueless companies, the digitally and socially focused ones that get it will realize that building engagement and coaxing commenting can’t be done with automation. There’s just no way.

Places that don’t devote proper resources to social media now have automated posts. And people are talking and chatting in those posts but there’s never any response from the OP because it’s automated. Now, that’s going to count for something and in a big way. Without those responses and conversations, distribution of posts will be limited. Companies that put social media second should be pretty scared, but employees who work at those companies should be too because they’ll likely end up with a whole bunch of extra work.

Social media changes. SEO changes. We have to adjust. This is a big adjustment.

When Facebook pivoted to video, companies repositioned whole departments to put video production first. Then when Facebook pivoted to live video, companies changed their strategies again. When video was de-prioritized, people lost their jobs. Now, we’re going back to the roots of organic engagement and that’s how the rise of the social media manager started in the first place. We all prided ourselves in figuring out how to be experts in organic growth and we did a fantastic job until Facebook started de-prioritizing organic reach in favor of pay-to-play.

That said, paying for sponsored content and boosted content is still going to influence what you see. But this should, at least according to Zuck, mean a resurgence of organic reach. Building great conversation around a good story will help with distribution. That said, sponsoring/boosting content and building that same great conversation will do that much more.

So, it’s a dawn of a new day. This isn’t an all-inclusive guide, but I think a strategic approach is the key to success. We need to feed the Facebook beast, but there’s more to life than Facebook. (Note: This is going to vary depending on the size of the company, audience and page, but in general the same rules apply.)

  1. Take a complete stock of the kinds of posts that do well. If there’s a certain topic that almost always gets 50 comments, focus on those. The posts that never attract conversation should be dropped from the rotation.
  2. Experiment with boosting your most-commented stories. Don’t go crazy. Start with one or two. See if the boosting helps increase your numbers. You might want to wait a little while for all of these News Feed changes to kick in.
  3. How many times a day are you posting now? If it’s 50, maybe look into cutting that number and focusing more on quality over quantity. The days of posting everything have been on life support for a long time and this might mark the true end. If you are posting 50 stories a day and 15 are driving conversation with 35 doing pretty much nothing, those 35 stories could actually hurt you.
  4. Consider doing a post on your page explaining the new rules to people so they understand how it might affect them. I think it’s perfectly OK to explain that posts that don’t have comments may not be seen, just like it’s OK to tell users to select “see this content first” to make sure things appear in the feed. (It’s worth noting that this setting might disappear with these changes; I didn’t read that anywhere, but it stands to reason.)
  5. Facebook has made a big deal about Groups and linking Groups to pages to give audiences a place to interact. If you haven’t experimented with Groups, now might be a great time. Think about it like this: If there’s a group where you can talk with your fans about stories, this is likely going to be a catalyst to get those Group members to interact with the posts. And remember: More interaction means more distribution.
  6. Talk to your staff and colleagues. If getting people to comment on stories is more important than ever, driving people to Facebook posts matters. Explain to them what this all means.
  7. Rely less on automation and more on manual posting. It’s ok to post something Saturday at 4 p.m. and using scheduling to do that, but my experience has shown that when you post manually, you are more likely to be involved in that post because it’s top of mind.
  8. For the posts that aren’t doing well enough on Facebook to justify being posted, consider using those on other platforms. Maybe it’s a better tweet or LinkedIn post anyway.
  9. Listen carefully. What are people saying about what you are posting on Facebook. Are people complaining? Are they happy? Are they asking questions you aren’t answering? This is the time to be the best darn host on Facebook ever. Be gracious and accommodating and do everything you can to keep people coming back.
  10. Join a Facebook Group devoted to media. Better stated, find a place where you can bounce ideas off of like-minded people. You’ll need to adjust your strategy, especially in the beginning. Having people to vent to and talk to helps.

I’m sure there are more than 10 things, and I would love to hear more about what you think are 11, 12, 13 and so on.

For now, perhaps my best advice is this: Be concerned. And be smart. But don’t panic. Change is inevitable. And while it’s scary, sometimes it’s for the best. For now the only thing we can do is keep an open mind and work with the hand we’re dealt.