Facebook's Recent Changes -- What it Means for Authors

Last month Facebook implemented new changes in their ever-changing algorithm, this time with the intention to counteract a few things: unhealthy Facebook addiction and ongoing problems with Russian influencers, both brought on by passive consumption of material. Plus a whole slew of studies have shown that users who spend time on Facebook often leave a session feeling worse than when they started. One study, from Harvard Business Review, may have been one of the deciding factors in Facebook deciding to make the changes it did:

Overall, our results showed that, while real-world social networks were positively associated with overall well-being, the use of Facebook was negatively associated with overall well-being. These results were particularly strong for mental health; most measures of Facebook use in one year predicted a decrease in mental health in a later year. We found consistently that both liking others’ content and clicking links significantly predicted a subsequent reduction in self-reported physical health, mental health, and life satisfaction.

Part of the problem with Facebook is that personal connections were overrun with pages sharing marketing messages and news sites who feed on sensational and often negative news. And the problem is, Facebook found from its own highly manipulative research, is that people feed off emotions: 

The researchers, led by data scientist Adam Kramer, found that emotions were contagious. "When positive expressions were reduced, people produced fewer positive posts and more negative posts; when negative expressions were reduced, the opposite pattern occurred," according to the paper published by the Facebook research team in the PNAS. "These results indicate that emotions expressed by others on Facebook influence our own emotions, constituting experimental evidence for massive-scale contagion via social networks."

And with the last two years of insane, depressing news dominating our feeds, particularly Facebook, it's no wonder that the network lost users last year, with 2.8 million of them under the age of 25. And when a network starts bleeding users by the millions, they need to do something drastic. Hence the new changes:

Our goal with News Feed is to show everyone the right content at the right time so they don’t miss the stories that are important to them. We’ve heard feedback that there are some instances where a post from a friend or a Page you are connected to is only interesting at a specific moment, for example when you are both watching the same sports game, or talking about the season premiere of a popular TV show. There are also times when a post that is a day or two old may not be relevant to you anymore. Our latest update to News Feed ranking looks at two new factors to determine if a story is more important in the moment than other types of updates.

The first factor is trending topics. "When a friend or Page you are connected to posts about something that is currently a hot topic of conversation on Facebook, that post is more likely to appear higher up in News Feed, so you can see it sooner." The second factor is the rate at which people like or comment on a post. How fast people engage will determine its interestingness. This means it will likely show up higher on a newsfeed when it's new than after time has passed. 

Additionally, Facebook will be focusing on posts that start conversations and promote meaningful interactions between its users. To do so, it will be showing far less news stories, videos and brand posts that are consumed passively with minimal likes and shares.

Two other changes also came into play that will affect author pages. 

The first is that the network is going to be cracking down on engagement baiting, or asking people to vote on, share, tag people, comment or like things for the sake of engagement.You know the posts, "Give this post a thumbs up if xx or a thumbs down if yy," or "Share with your friends for a chance to win..."  If you use these techniques, stop immediately as you are likely directly hurting your own reach. 

The second thing that has changed is that Facebook is now counting organic reach impressions only when a Page post actually appears on a person’s screen. The new methodology for organic reach matches how Facebook already counts reach for ads. “Since this is stricter reporting, some Pages may see lower reach figures than before,” Facebook said in a blog post. 

Oh, and add to it the fact that Facebook advertising prices have gone up by 35% over the course of 2017. 

It certainly sounds depressing, doesn't it?

"Most business content on Facebook deserves to be hidden because it sucks," says Jay Baer, President of Convince and Convert. 

I think he's right. Unfortunately, there are a lot of bad book marketers out there, spending every pixel they can forcefeeding books down any social media channel pipeline they can find. They don't work on engaging their audience. They don't share content of interest or value. Instead they sell, and that is precisely what Facebook is trying to stop. So don't be one of those book marketers. Instead, work on actually talking to your audience and providing them with information, entertainment or a connection that they will value. 

What Should You Be Doing?

  1. Make sure your content is top-notch and provides value to the audience that might potentially buy your book. 
    • I've said it before, but it bears repeating, ad nauseum: Consider the 80/20 rule. Eighty percent of your content should be about your industry, genre, or content about or created by other people. Only twenty percent of your content should be about you, and even then, you should strive to provide value to your customer, not just push marketing messages at them.
  2. When you are sharing interesting links as part of your 80%, make sure that you lend commentary to it. Why did you recommend it? What do you think? Facebook wants to get rid of passive content, so make it less passive--engage with it and invite your audience to share their opinion. 
  3. Be creative. Test content and see what resonates more. For example, I've found that video posts have a MUCH farther reach than photo posts and in 2018 I have a personal goal to do more video in Facebook to help boost that reach. 
  4. Periodically ask your fans to follow you (and do this not just on Facebook but in other channels, like your newsletter or on your blog) and add you as a page to see first so that you always show up in their newsfeed. 


  5. Advertise from time to time. Sure, prices are not as inexpensive as they used to be, but Facebook is still the best game in town for reaching exactly who you want to reach. Do a test with $50 and see what it will get you. I try to run at least one ad campaign every two months, ranging from $50-150. It's helped keep my book relevant and some sales trickling in even though it's been out nearly a year now. 
  6. Tag others in your post. If you are writing about books you love, for example, tag the authors. If you are speaking at a bookstore, tag the bookstore. When they are tagged they will notice it and may be more likely to share your content, thus enhancing your reach. 
  7. Don't rely only on Facebook. You know what happens when you put all your eggs in one basket, right? So don't. Think about what you can do with email, Google AdWords, Twitter, Instagram, video, SEO, etc. 

Personally, I've not seen any drastic change in organic reach in recent weeks--it's always been lackluster (averaging around 1-2% reach during the last few years). But since the changes, it's not really gone up or down.I don't have a huge audience on my Facebook page (around 1K people, but feel free to follow me and help me change that!), but what I do have is staying consistent because I adhere to the tips above. 

Have you seen a big shift since the recent changes have gone into effect? If so, I'd love to hear more in the comments. 

About the Author

Crystal King is a 25-year marketing, social media and communications veteran, freelance writer and Pushcart-nominated poet. She is the author of the FEAST OF SORROW, about the ancient Roman gourmand, Apicius, and the forthcoming THE CHEF'S SECRET (February 12, 2019, Touchstone Books) about the famous Renaissance chef Bartolomeo Scappi. Currently Crystal works as a social media professor for HubSpot, a leading provider of Inbound marketing software. Crystal has taught classes in writing, creativity, and social media at Harvard Extension School, Boston University, Mass College of Art, UMass Boston and GrubStreet writing center. A former co-editor of the online literary arts journal Plum Ruby Review, Crystal received her MA in Critical and Creative Thinking from UMass Boston, where she developed a series of exercises and writing prompts to help fiction writers in media res. Find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or at her website: crystalking.com

See other articles by Crystal King
by Crystal King
on