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What would Facebook’s Explore feed mean for brands?

Facebook is testing a section on their site called the ‘Explore Feed’, which offers a new home for posts by pages. For users, the Explore Feed would mean that posts from friends and family will be more prominent than they are now, allowing them to engage more with what they already know and love. But for brands, it could mean an uphill battle to build and engage a social community.

The Explore feed

Most brands are familiar with Facebook rule changes – an overnight algorithm update often resulting in a strategy review – but now, Facebook may be about to change the game completely. While the main News Feed will continue to highlight posts from friends and liked pages, Facebook are trialling a separate Explore feed to run alongside it (don’t worry, your daily dose of cute cats and babies won’t be interrupted.) The Explore test consists of news updates that Facebook thinks will be of interest to you, from pages you may not already follow. You can currently find it hidden deep in your menu:

Facebook Explore feed screengrabFacebook Explore feed screengrab

Facebook’s Head of News Feed commented“We’ve heard from people that they want an easy way to explore relevant content from Pages they haven’t connected with yet.”

But the real news is…

However, Facebook are also testing a different version of Explore Feed in six countries: Sri Lanka, Bolivia, Slovakia, Serbia, Guatemala, and Cambodia. Here, they’ve moved all non-sponsored posts by pages out of users’ the original News Feeds, unless sponsored, and placed them into the separate Explore Feed.

The resultsGraph showing Facebook Explore resultsThe outcome of the test so far doesn’t bode well for brand exposure and engagement. This can be seen in the drop of organic traffic to a selection of Slovakian Facebook pages since the Explore Feed launched, as recorded by Filip Struhárikruh in his post on Medium. His article is useful for providing up to date insights into interaction and engagement levels of brands that are already being affected.

“Average number of interactions (likes, comments, shares) on 60 biggest Slovak media Facebook pages has decreased by half since the test.”

Source: CrowdTangle via Medium.

What would this mean for brands?

Explore would be a bold move by Facebook, who would conceivably be hoping for an increase in ad revenue. But would this change actually make brands pay for the privilege of their posts appearing in the main feed, where most user time is spent? Are Facebook trying to ‘force’ brands to pay for advertising? Or can brands take this as an opportunity to rethink their social media strategy and approach paid social in a new way?

If (or when) this change ever rolls out worldwide, it would essentially bring about a ‘pay to play’ mentality. Organic social would sadly no longer be enough to succeed on Facebook. The impact of this would vary between industries and brands – likely having a larger effect on smaller brands who lack the resource to fund sponsored content or rely on alternative marketing methods.

Possible solutions

The Explore pilot is set up so that posts from both liked pages and pages that are new to users come together, meaning the former must vie with the latter for audience attention. Here are two ways to approach this:  

  • Paid social, such as ads and boosting posts, may deliver a higher return on investment once the News Feed is less saturated by other brands competing for attention.
  • Employ brand ambassadors to ensure your content infiltrates the main News Feed. Costs for this approach may be minimal in comparison to constant ad fees, but a return on investment would need to be proven. 

Regardless of the chosen tactic, emphasis for each post would need to remain on the angle and tone that the content takes. Making sponsored posts feel more natural in a user’s personal feed, by using a similar style and tone as the target audience’s friends and family, would encourage more engagement were Explore to be rolled out.

What’s more, if Facebook weren’t to make the Explore Feed easier to find, the amount of traffic overall to the feature could remain minimal. Users may no longer feel the need to even like or follow pages, as the Explore Feed could make this redundant.

Keep calm and carry on

Panic is preemptive, though. Exec Adam Mosser has said that any changes will first be subject to thorough testing.

Tweet screencap for Facebook Explore blog

There are currently no plans to roll out Explore unless (and that’s potentially a huge ‘unless’) the pilot shows that users prefer having separate feeds for personal and public content:

“We will hear what people say about the experience to understand if it’s an idea worth pursuing any further.”

Source: Adam Mosser, Head of News Feed via Facebook media

At the end of the day, Facebook has the prerogative to explore all available options to improve their user experience. Whatever happens, it’s seems likely that managers in charge of social media marketing will have more data and insight before its time to update their strategy.

You may also enjoy: Paid social – 10 reasons to include it in your digital marketing strategy

 

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