Changes to the Facebook algorithm and what this may mean for tourism marketers.
Welcome to Episode 87 of Tourism Upgrade. The podcast unpacking marketing trends from travel, tourism and marketing leaders. I’m your host HollyG and today I have with me Rachel Beaney a digital and social media specialist – And we’ll be discussing the recent changes to the Facebook algorithm and what impact this may have on our social media activities.
Welcome to the podcast Rachel!
HollyG: We were just talking before we started about the announcement that Facebook made just really about a month ago at the start of 2018, about some changes they were making. Do you want to tell us a little bit about what happened, and what they said?
Rachel: Sure. Facebook announced in the beginning of 2018, around early January, that they were changing their algorithm so their Facebook feed that was distributing content was now going to be focusing on friends and family, rather than pages. Their big spin on the situation was that they were going to be promoting conversations and engagements, and less on brand pages.
Facebook as a whole, it sounds like what they’re trying to do is promote organisation conversations a bit more, but for marketers, for us, that meant that our page reaches would drastically, well, I don’t know about drastically reduced, but they’ll reduce from what they were.
HollyG: He certainly created a lot of hype, and a lot of fear within the marketer community.
Rachel: Yeah, for sure. I received so many SMSs and notifications over 24 hours of people saying have you seen this news, have you seen this news. The thing is that Facebook has been making these changes for a really long time, so we’ve been seeing these changes over years. About every six months they do something like this, but for some reason this particular change, maybe because it was January, I don’t know, people really were quite passionate about this particular change.
HollyG: I think that’s a really good point you make that actually people like us who are living and breathing this social media everyday, there is changes all the time, and I agree it’s sort of just another one of those things really.
Rachel: I think that it is a case of rolling with these updates as they happen. Every month there’s a new kind of change, and we need to think about how we’re gonna adapt to that change. This is another one of those which was a little bit of a surprise, but looking at Facebook’s news in the past it’s something we kind of could predict, seeing their declining reach over the past three or four years from 100% to 50% to 25% to 1%, and now the mysterious less than 1%, whatever that amount is. I think it’s something that we sort of could predict, so it’s not too big a surprise I think for a lot of people who are immersed in this space.
HollyG: I guess we want to talk about what this means, and the questions that we need to be asking ourselves as marketers and as business owners who have a Facebook page and use this as our marketing, what this means.
I guess I first wanted to ask did we see a drastic decline overnight in organic reach? We both look after a lot of pages. Did you note anything?
Rachel: Not particularly across what I’ve been working on, just because our Facebook reach is about 1% already, so less than 1% … Look, Facebook hasn’t any switch that they turn on overnight, so it’s something that does roll out over time.
Of course the Facebook algorithm depending on the kind of content you post or what time of day you post, or whether you’re posting a really engaging news article, whether or not you’re getting more or less reach is based on so many factors. I think that even as I’ve been looking through my pages, these things it’s not just a case where suddenly I’ve got minuscule reach. These changes happen over time. Your content that you post also impacts that as well.
HollyG: Definitely. I saw that. I actually did see a couple of days where things were looking a little dire, and then it’s sort of back to almost normal. As you say, there’s no switch that gets flicked. It is more of a gradual thing.
HollyG: What do we mean when we talk about quality content?
Rachel: It’s a big question. I think in terms of content there are a couple of ways we can look at it. One of which is looking at the content that is right for your audience, and then there’s content that the algorithm favours. They’re two slightly different things.
Content that your audience engages with is obviously content that really taps into what connects with your audience, whether that’s creating conversation or creating something amazing that has an emotive reaction. Maybe it’s beautiful photos of a scenery around a tour that you’re creating, something that creates an emotive reaction. In terms of the Facebook algorithm, Facebook has always favoured different content types over time. Sometimes they explicitly state that, and sometimes they don’t. It’s just through testing that we say on our page, on this particular page, photos work really well for this audience, or links work really well for this audience. In the most recent update in January, they did mention they’re more likely to favour things that create conversations and live postings, so things like Facebook live. They’re skewing basically towards anything that starts a conversation or anything that’s about engaging community.
HollyG: That’s interesting. You see that with content. You know that if you post something and you do have a lot of responses or conversation around it, it gets more reach. That happens because people are engaging with it and that sort of thing. I think that’s actually a really good point to remember. In the old days, it’s sort of just post a picture, and people would Like it, but maybe that’s not really performing as well as other things. We’re seeing good success with web links to quality content and that sort of thing.
I guess thinking about it from a broader perspective, should we as marketers be phasing down Facebook? Is it still going to be relevant, or is social media still relevant for marketing?
Rachel: I think it is a really tough question, and I think for some businesses they’ll have looked at this Facebook change and said you know what, I’m done. I can see that it can be quite stressful. I think that it really depends on your objective with your business. I think that social media does some things really well, and some things not so well, and it’s about looking at what you want to be doing.
I think it’s also worth keeping in mind that when we talk about social media we’re talking about a lot of things. Talking about a Facebook page when you’re organically posting content is different to running a Facebook group, is different to running Facebook ads, and is different to working with an influencer on Instagram. Each of these things are different, and they bring different results.
HollyG: I think that’s a great point. One of the reasons that we’re having this conversation is that you wrote a really great blog post on your blog about the Facebook algorithm change, and sort of saying these are some of the things that we can do now, so don’t panic. One of the really great points you raised was about looking at other tools and platforms.
Can we talk about that a little bit? I guess the one takeaway I took from your blog post was don’t put all your eggs in one basket, don’t just put everything into your Facebook page, really make sure that you’ve got other options there. Is that sort of what you were saying?
Rachel: Yeah, for sure. I think it’s worth saying that putting all your eggs in one basket for me isn’t necessarily about saying being on every single social network, because that’s exhausting, and impractical in real life. It’s about diversifying the way that you engage with your customers. That can be by making sure that you have people who are on your Facebook page that are also on your mailing list or people who are following you on Instagram also on LinkedIn if they’re the same audience. It’s about diversification because if any of the big social platforms make a change we could have potentially lost that audience.
It’s about making sure you’ve got some of that audience on the third party social platforms, also across your own platforms. Your website and your mailing list, you can either have people who are on your mailing list or people who just visit your website, you can then tag them for retargeting with ads. Whether it’s a case of diversification in terms of having people across different platforms, or whether it’s your owned and earned platforms, it’s about spreading that out so if one drops out you’ve got some other options to keep engaging your audience.
HollyG: Are there any that you think would work particularly well for tourism businesses or destinations?
Rachel: What I first was thinking about it, tourism is actually in a really great position for social media marketing because there’s such a passionate engaged community. Everyone loves talking about travel, so it’s the perfect platform for social media. I think some opportunities for people who are looking for new ways to combat the Facebook page changes is looking at things like Facebook groups. Whether it’s coming up with a group that people travelling to an area or a particular sport, or people who love kayaking or whatever it is, it’s looking at Facebook groups to engage that community aspect, but also the visual aspect.
Looking at things like Instagram and Pinterest are really useful in terms of they’ve got such a strong visual component. Off the back of that, I’d also say that it’s also worth keeping in mind your audience for that as well. Each social platform has a slightly different audience, so if you’re targeting people who are slightly younger focusing on Instagram would be more effective, if you’re targeting maybe women in their thirties, Pinterest would be really solid as well. It’s also thinking about who your audience is and which platform they’re on. Maybe it’s LinkedIn. If you’ve got a corporate audience and do corporate tours, looking at LinkedIn in order to tap into that audience there I think is the other way to approach that.
HollyG: One of the things I think is really important, and I’ve probably mentioned on this podcast lots of times, is making sure that we, and we’ve touched on it already, but making sure that we’re not just leaving everything up to the hands of these third party social platforms, that we actually are creating our own platform, and the best way to do that is through having an email database. Is that something that you see is still really important?
Rachel: Yeah, I do. I think email is important to have a strong marketing mix. As I was saying earlier, not just putting all your eggs in one basket. People might find out about you on Facebook and they might visit your website to find out more about you, they might get reminded of you through email. Making sure that you’ve got all of these touch points so that they’re getting to know you and trust you all the time, I think email is particularly important in terms of things like running Facebook ads, and actually any ad platform I think these days, definitely LinkedIn ads now, you can upload your email list, and then you can use those to target ads to customers, or you can build lookalike audiences off those where Facebook [inaudible 00:15:14] … People with similar characteristics, and shows ads for those people as well.
Even if you’re not using email just for email, having those emails are so important for digital marketing because you can use them in a lot of other ways as well. I would definitely endorse working hard to build up a strong email list.
HollyG: Are there any other tactics we need to be looking at to future-proof our business from a marketing perspective?
Rachel: I think the thing that I would focus on is making sure that I’ve got that diversification, looking at making sure I’ve got a solid owned property, so that’s our website and our email list, and looking at making sure we’ve got solid traffic, we’re tagging that traffic so we can re-target ads to those people long term. Setting up something like Facebook pixel for example or the LinkedIn pixel [inaudible 00:16:09] marketing means that if anyone ever visits your site you can retarget them with an ad. Setting that up now means that even if you don’t use it for five years time, you can still retarget people down the track.
I think that having that diversification of social platforms, thinking about your top social platforms that your audience is on and focusing on those, but also trying to get those people across different platforms just so that if things change we are in a better position.
There’s already rumours that Instagram might do a similar thing to Facebook, and reduce their reach as well. While that’s only rumours, it’s not impossible because Facebook also owns Instagram. It’s something that we can suspect might happen in the future. I think it’s worth keeping in mind diversifying that. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
HollyG: Also thinking not to panic, that changes are going to happen, that is actually part of being a good marketer, is being across this sort of stuff. Also to educate other people that we’re working with that these things are going to happen, and to keep across them. I wanted just to flag with people because I thought it was a really good point, it was an earlier post, I think it was around November, you talked about your website might actually impact how your posts perform on Facebook, and that linking people back from Facebook to your website having a really good website is going to actually make your Facebook posts perform better. That’s what I took out of it. Is that what you’ve seen?
Rachel: Yeah. In terms of looking at what Facebook had said in terms of what has impacted their algorithm, in 2017 and I think some content from 2016, they explicitly said we will look for this specific criteria on your website to determine whether it’s a legitimate site or not. In their quest to defeat spam and fake content on their website, or shared on Facebook, they look at websites to see is the content legitimate, is it authentic, and if it’s not they’ll reduce the reach of that post.
If your website takes a really long time to load, if it’s got a really high bounce rate, if it’s got lots of popup ads, if it’s got a really click-bait title, Facebook will reduce the amount of people it serves that post to. Making sure that your website is up to scratch might make a difference in terms of the algorithm. As you say, this was announced before the most recent changes, but I think that it’s good practice to get into anyway because it’s good for SEO as well. Google looks at these exact same factors when they’re ranking your website for SEO.
Even if you’re not doing it for Facebook, it’s good practice for SEO just to polish up your website and have a look at how fast is it loading. Can you optimise some of your images to make it load a bit faster, that kind of thing?
HollyG: Yeah, and obviously making sure that it is also mobile responsive, as well. I know definitely with Google, but also from our experience with Facebook, your posts aren’t really going to perform very well if you’re linking people back to a site that’s not mobile responsive. That’s a very important one as well.
How can people find out a little bit more about you or connect with you?
Rachel Beaney: Yeah, sure. People can find out more about me through my website, which is rachelbeaney.com or they can get in touch with me on Twitter. My handle’s beaney, so @beaney. It’s not like the hat, it’s a bit different.
Yeah, anyone can feel free to get in touch, ask a question and have a chat. I’ve also got a Facebook group called Bean Social that people can come and hang out in as well, so there’s plenty of ways to get in touch and have a chat.
If you only had a one thousand dollar marketing budget, what would you spend it on?
HollyG: Last time, in episode 77, I did ask you the question if you only had a $1000 marketing budget what would you spend it on. Now looking back at episode 77, we talked about retargeting, I believe, I think.
I thought maybe I could ask you the question and say would you change that answer, or would you keep that answer? I guess time changes, so …
Rachel: Yeah. I’ve been playing a lot with using lookalikes on Facebook lately, so I think uploading your mailing list or using something like anyone who’s engaged with your ad before and building a lookalike audience based on people who you already are really engaging, I think that’s a really effective way of finding new audiences.
If you’re looking for new audiences, I would upload your mailing list or existing customer data, build a custom audience, and build a lookalike off that custom audience, and I would give that a go. Otherwise, I’m still staying with the re-targeting idea.
HollyG: They sort of relate, very closely related anyway.
Rachel: Yeah. I think it depends I guess what I’m trying to do.
HollyG: That’s right. I guess the moral to the story, and I would agree with this as well, is definitely exploring the beautiful thing of Facebook ads, because they are very cost effective and there’s so much you can do with them to either reach an existing audience or reach new audiences. In the age of where we’re seeing organic reach decline, really we all need to be across and up to date with what’s happening from a Facebook ad perspective.
Rachel: For sure.
HollyG: Cool. Excellent. Thank you so much. Good to chat with you.
Rachel: It was lovely to be back.
Tweet me with any comments or feedback @hollygalbraith or email is good too holly (at) hollyg.com.au
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DID YOU ENJOY THIS EPISODE? CHECK OUT EPISODE 77 FOR A FURTHER CHAT BETWEEN HOLLY AND RACHEL.