Facebook Update: What it could mean for local businesses

In the early hours of the 12th January, Facebook set marketeers, publishers and business owners in to pandemonium over the upcoming sweeping changes to their news feeds.

Not since Facebook Timeline rolled out in 2012 can I remember such an outcry. Where as then however it was the impact of the new design that caused concern, as many tried to opt out for as long as possible, this update marks a seismic change to the algorithm itself around how Facebook prioritises content.

For those that haven’t read the announcement here it is in full.

As marketeers we are use to changes of these magnitude being thrown up to challenge us. Those PPCers among us will remember Google Instant rolling out in 2010 (now since deceased) or the removal of sidebar ads in 2016. I certainly don’t need to tell my fellow SEOs about Panda or Penguin.

Today’s update though isn’t so much about marketeers for me. It’s a shift that affects large publishers right down to your fledgling local business. Somewhere along the line Facebook has lost it’s social side, allowing businesses, brands and publishers too much of our precious feed and it’s local businesses that need to take heed.

Facebook has facilitated through its exponential growth and a highly engaged community, the ability for businesses to reach huge audiences and potential customers largely for free, save just the input of their personal time.

A local business could create a page, share it with their friends, run a few ‘like, share, comment’ competitions (often running against Facebook’s own terms of service) and achieve fantastic results. Gaining new leads and new customers at an incredibly low CPA and relatively painlessly. In the history of business and certainly in marketing this is pretty unprecedented. We’ve all heard the phrase “You’ve never had it so good”. Well perhaps now with such an over saturation of our news feeds we’ve reached that watershed moment.

Now this update isn’t just about businesses. It’s about publishers and media outlets too. I, like many have come to use Facebook as a curation tool, much like Flipboard or other such content aggregators. Using the platform this way however sees users engage less and as Zuckerberg seems to infer makes us feel worse.

Now it’s important to note at this point that Facebook have said that advertisers aren’t affected by this update and therein lies the key point for businesses reliant on the platform and marketeers such as ourselves. It’s pretty certain to say that in a rush to maintain the status quo people will move to paid posts etc to chase their current levels of engagement. What does this mean? Well you can be sure you’ll start to pay more. Facebook advertising costs will increase due to more competition and the new uptake from businesses who will now have to advertise more to reach their audience. Cynically one would have to say was this the point all along.

It’s important to remember that this change effects everyone equally. Whether you are UNILAD, the ipaper or a local hotel. Don’t make any rash decisions; wait, read all the information you can and digest.

For those digital marketeers among us, it provides an exciting time. Facebook has long been a more affordable advertising channel compared to Google for most companies, especially local businesses. Companies that historically didn’t include search engine pay per click advertising as part of their marketing mix may now begin to consider the investment.

2018 has certainly started with a big shake up to how businesses will seek to grow online and engage with their customers. What remains ahead is uncertain, but I look forward to seeing which companies are up for the challenge.

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