January 16th, 2018

Social media is dominating our lives more and more each year, with the average person spending almost two hours a day on social platforms! However, with the huge growth in the social media experience over the past few years, concerns have been growing in regards to the impact of the medium on our health.

This recent health consciousness seems to be the catalyst for the latest Facebook news that’s been blowing up online over the past few days. Facebook acknowledged the impact of the platform on the health of the site’s nearly 2bn users in December, with the newly announced news feed update addressing these issues head on. As usual, the media and sites invested in social media are treating the update like the end of the world, but what does it mean for users – both personal and commercial?

What was said?

In a lengthy Facebook post, Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook was going to be moving away from “public content — posts from businesses, brands and media”. The reason given for this move away from what many people see as the primary function of Facebook – remember, 45% of Americans use Facebook as a news platform – is that Zuckerberg wants to see people interacting with one another more. This comes in the wake of studies that show that users of social media are happier when interacting with one another. Whereas, as Zuckerberg stated, “simply reading articles or watching videos” can have a negative impact on the mood of users.

Although the want for users to interact more frequently with one another is Facebook’s official justification for the news feed changes, it’s worth mentioning the recent controversies surrounding news on the platform. Facebook was criticised heavily during and following the 2016 US presidential election for its inability to deal with ‘fake news’ and so-called ‘Russian propaganda’ that had taken hold on the site. However, it is true that when TheFacebook.com was launched in 2004, it was designed to be a platform for making connections with people and sharing your personal experiences.

Now, more than ever, any Facebook user can attest that the majority of the social network’s users are more interested in sharing news stories, Buzzfeed quizzes and memes than they are posting a personal status. In a way, with Facebook’s attempt at shifting the focus of the site from public content to personal connections, we may be seeing Facebook going back to basics.

So what does this mean for users?

Well, if everything goes to plan, Facebook users will start having more “meaningful interactions” with one another and subsequently be a lot happier; at least that’s the idea. Considering psychological tests have shown that continual Facebook usage can cause a decline in the well-being of users, it’s no surprise that Zuckerberg wants his site to have a more positive impact on the site’s visitors.

But why now? Studies have been showing that regular usage of social media can have a negative effect on users’ moods for years, and we’ve seen previous updates to the Facebook news feed focus on improving the platform for businesses. It may seem like a sudden change in direction, but Zuckerberg puts it down to the birth of his two children. In an interview with the New York Times, he explained that since the birth of his daughters Max and August, he’s changed the way he sees the website, wanting his children to see Facebook as “good for the world”.

How about the companies that’ll be affected?

Following the announcement of the update, Facebook’s stock dropped by 4.5%, indicating that many businesses are feeling rather uncertain about the potential ramifications of the update. The trepidation surrounding the update may have originated with Facebook’s ‘experiment’ with the ‘explore feed’ last year. The experiment involved Facebook users in six smaller countries having all professional posts moved from their news feed into an ‘explore feed’. This experiment had dramatically negative consequences for businesses in the chosen countries, with some companies losing up to 50% of their readership overnight. With Zuckerberg’s recent post taking aim at the same kind of public posts, many fear that the news feed update will bring in a sort of ‘explore feed lite’, a terrifying concept for businesses that rely on viral posts and high readership numbers.

Zuckerberg has ensured users that content that “encourages meaningful interactions between people” won’t be affected by the update, however this has done little to still the fears of many businesses. Further fears, however, come from uncertainty surrounding how advertising on Facebook will be affected following the update. Following the update, it’s possible that sharing content and relying on organic reach may be a lot less effective for businesses meaning that they may need to start purchasing more ads to stay relevant. Bank of America analyst Justin Post believes that the ramifications of the update for advertisers may go even further. Speaking to Bloomberg, Post speculated that targeting an overall happier audience may make advertising on Facebook more expensive; “we think an improving user experience and higher quality content could drive higher ad prices to counterbalance”.

What can businesses do to stay relevant?

With the drop in shares, less focus on business and potentially soaring ad prices, it’s only natural for business owners to be cautious. The next news feed update may seem daunting, but there are ways to stay afloat on the platform.

Much like Google’s Panda Update, these news feed changes will require businesses to create high quality content if they want to continue their organic growth. By ensuring that your business content will “encourage meaningful interactions”, you’ll be running the kind of business page that Zuckerberg wants on his site. ‘Meaningful interactions’ is quite a vague term, but focus on engaging with your audience, whether by responding to comments and messages, creating content that’s likely to be widely shared, or even through Facebook Live. It can feel intimidating, but you don’t need to overhaul your business entirely. Facebook has changed its rules and algorithms many times in the past, and almost every relevant business has managed to survive and change with the platform.

The future of Facebook as a business platform is unclear following Zuckerberg’s announcement, but strong, adaptable organisations should be able to weather the storm. If your business relies entirely on Facebook, the next few months may be particularly hard. However, with strong customer engagement, well planned marketing campaigns and a loyal customer base, you should face little to no problems.

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