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Since Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement on Facebook’s 2018 algorithm change in January, marketers have been speculating about exactly how the changes will affect them. Here Dialogue’s Social Media Marketing Executive Vicki Sherman evaluates what this will mean for scheduling tools.

One question which has resurfaced – and our clients ask us about a lot – is: ‘Will this mean an end to third party scheduling tools like Hootsuite or Spredfast?’

Native posting on Facebook gets you a higher organic reach

There’s been an ongoing debate for several years over whether or not using these platforms results in the algorithm penalising the reach of posted content.

In all honesty, I was totally unaware of this until someone mentioned it in connection to Facebook’s 2018 algorithm change.

They said, “Scheduling software has a lower reach than posting to Facebook directly. This is likely to decrease even more as the changes take effect… The scheduling tool in Facebook’s Business Manager will have a better reach for scheduling content going forward rather than using third party scheduling tools.”

Say what?

I found the above quote in a blog by someone who was discussing how to beat the algorithm change along with other social media advice.

I subsequently found another ‘social media expert’ touting the same message but, after visiting their Facebook page, I found them doing loads of basic things wrong. The most questionable action included a recent post instructing people to ‘tag a businesses’ (sic) into their comments. Apart from the bad grammar, this is bad practice! Behaviour like this is viewed by users to be ‘spammy’ and goes against Facebook’s ‘key News Feed values’.

This post was also published after a key algorithm change which stated: “Publishers and other businesses that use engagement bait tactics in their posts should expect their reach on these posts to decrease. Meanwhile, Pages that repeatedly share engagement bait posts will see more significant drops in reach.”

So much for being an expert. Facebook hardly snuck these changes in secretly; they wrote an announcement on them. This announcement found its way into the national news and my mum (who doesn’t even have a Facebook page!) mentioned them to me.

The moral of the story is: don’t claim to be an expert and then act like a n00b by missing basic things. If nothing else, that makes it easy for me to discredit this statement and prove my point that people who aren’t in the know are perpetuating myths.

What does Facebook’s 2018 algorithm change include?

There are many reasons why Facebook wouldn’t introduce this rule with the algorithm change. There’s also little benefit for them to persuade brands to post natively.

Mark Zuckerberg first announced the changes to Facebook’s algorithm in a post on Facebook (surprised?) on 12th January, 2018.

To summarise, it stated that Facebook had received feedback “that public content — posts from businesses, brands and media — is crowding out the personal moments”. As a result, the goal of the product team was changing to focus on meaningful interactions between users and so more content from friends would be shown in your News Feed.

"Based on this, we're making a major change to how we build Facebook. I'm changing the goal I give our product teams from focusing on helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful social interactions." 

Extract from Mark Zuckerberg's announcement

Creating meaningful interactions on Facebook

If the goal of the algorithm change was to help create meaningful interactions, then I’m unsure how a 3rd party scheduling tool would affect this. Why force marketers to schedule using Facebook’s own native tool? What benefit does this have to the social media platform?

Facebook already blocks social listening and analytic platforms from accessing its data with a closed API, meaning that the only way to access this data is through the platform itself. If the social media giant really wanted to prohibit 3rd party scheduling tools, it would simply close the API to this too.

Expert insight into Facebook’s 2018 algorithm change – or is it?

What I find the most frustrating about this myth is that it’s being perpetuated by people who don’t have any real basis for their arguments. We know that companies like Facebook and Google keep algorithms secret to prevent people from gaming the system, but often those who are claiming to have ‘insights into Facebook’s algorithm’ are just repeating each other.

I’m more than happy to listen to an opposing opinion but, when your basis for that is ‘I know the algorithm’ and you don’t, then it’s a bit weak.

It’s tricky to gather supporting evidence for either side of the argument because you have several variable factors which affect the results and there isn’t anything you can do to control that.

For example, an experiment that’s built from scheduling 10 posts natively and 10 posts via 3rd party tools will be affected by several factors, including:

  • The day and time the post gets published
  • Whether the audience is online or not
  • Whether the audience’s friends are posting content
  • The content of the post itself
  • Other events that are happening in the world
  • Other similar pages that are advertising

…to name just a few, so it’s going to be incredibly difficult to accurately compare the 10 posts with each other because more than one variable has changed.

There have been some experiments carried out like the one I mentioned above, but the results have shown no difference in reach of posts whether natively or through a 3rd party app.

However, these experiments have all been conducted by 3rd party platforms like Hootsuite and Buffer who have a vested interest in disproving the myth. I’m not discrediting the results they’ve found but, for the reasons I’ve just mentioned, the results should be taken with a pinch of salt.

Also, if the shoe was on the other foot and I believed the myth, I wouldn’t see these results that are all in favour of 3rd party apps as credible precisely because they’re all from 3rd party apps.

Working with 3rd party developers

Facebook is also willing to work directly with 3rd party scheduling tools to develop their platforms with them and offer new features to their clients.

Our Head of Digital, Alan Dykes, has had direct experience of this. While in a previous role at a large international company, Alan was working with Adobe Social and Facebook to develop features within the scheduling tool.

Why would Facebook work with Adobe Social to develop their platform for a client’s needs if they wanted to make everyone post natively?

New Facebook algorithm causes brands disruption

Since Facebook updated its algorithm to try and tackle the problem of fake news, we’ve already seen stories about organisations starting to struggle.

At the beginning of March 2018, digital publisher Little Things announced it would be shutting down and they cited the Facebook algorithm change as ‘the last straw’. I’m sure they won’t be the last to struggle with the change.

With the algorithm update already affecting the reach of pages, why would Facebook want to further drive brands away by forcing them to post natively?

Since the rise in popularity of social media sites, we’ve seen MySpace and Vine close down and reinvent themselves as smaller offerings without the social aspect which once made them great. If Facebook drives brands away from the platform, it will lose income and end up down the same road.

It’s about finding that balance between user-generated content and the revenue from brands that advertise.

Instagram opens API to allow scheduled posts

At the beginning of February 2018, Instagram (which is also owned by Facebook) announced that it would be opening up its API to allow business accounts to directly schedule posts through third party tools. Previously, marketers could only schedule reminders for Instagram posts. The change came with much whooping and cheering, because the inability to do this had been a frustration for users since its rise in popularity.

The changes came as part of a wider overhaul of the site but, interestingly, Instagram is yet to announce that it will be creating a native tool to allow scheduling on the platform.

The fact that Instagram is only introducing scheduling via a third party and not natively speaks volumes in support of the theory that Facebook has no intention of decreasing the reach of organic posts published using third party tools. If Facebook were to do this, it would be a huge step backwards.

Facebook did address the issue affecting third party scheduling tool back in 2011 (which, granted, may as well be in 1874 at the speed technology develops) and Facebook’s developer consultant Matt Trainer announced: “We recently made a fix that added more signals to detect good quality posting behaviour. This should improve the situation with the distribution of posts coming from third-party apps in the News Feed”

And, once again, it would be a step backwards forcing marketers to post natively, especially after publicly taking steps to address the problem.

Why your social content performs badly

I was rather critical earlier about people who were simply repeating statements from ‘social media experts’ who provided no supporting evidence.

So let’s talk a little about some of my first-hand experience with 3rd party scheduling tools versus posting natively.

I’ve recently moved several brands’ Facebook pages along with other social channels onto a scheduling tool and I’ve seen no negative changes. In fact, my team and I haven’t ever seen a decrease in reach or other stats when moving any social channels in this way.

What’s more likely to be the case with marketers using these tools is people opening what is technically known as a big ol’ tin of spam. When you can create a post, quickly duplicate it and then go crazy ticking every day on the calendar to post, it’s hardly surprising that your content performs badly.

Another naughty but tempting trick third party tools allow you to do is simply post the same content to every social channel. If you’re writing for Twitter and only using 280 characters, that makes your Facebook post rather short. The same applies for Instagram – if you’ve added loads of hashtags to the post, it looks terrible when you share it to Facebook.

So you can say that these 3rd party tools indirectly hurt your reach by allowing you to do things you shouldn’t be doing, because why add a feature when it’s bad practice to use it?

3rd party tools change on Twitter

Twitter, on the other hand, has made changes to what it’s allowing through third party platforms.

On 21st February, 2018, it announced that there would be restrictions on scheduling tools that simply tweeted the same content out via multiple profiles. This post on automation on Twitter and the use of multiple accounts came with several other listed changes to its policies, all aimed at removing spam from automated bots on the platform.

Currently, multiple accounts use 3rd party tools to aggressively bulk Like, Retweet or post content with a specific hashtag so that it trends. The changes will also be seen on TweetDeck, Twitter’s own social media dashboard, which it bought in 2011. This is the latest big change since Twitter announced an increased character limit in September 2017.

Changes to social media in 2018

We’ve already seen several significant announcements about changes to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in 2018.

It’s hard to say exactly what else is in the pipeline for the rest of the year, but it’s clear that social platforms are fed up of the bad rap they’re receiving for promoting fake news and spamming users. They need to adjust to keep themselves relevant and not just bombard users with poor content.

What seems clear, though, is that it’s not in Facebook’s interests to force users to post natively. There’s no benefit. Instead, people need to look at ways they could improve their content or adjust their strategy to get better results.

There are many who feel that Facebook’s 2018 algorithm change have doomed them, but I think the changes are fantastic and much-needed. From a user perspective, I don’t want a platform that’s solely filled with videos of goats in onesies or people cutting into giant (and very delicious-looking) cakes, spattered with the occasional post about someone getting engaged or having a baby. The balance needed to be restored or Facebook will just lose its audience as content becomes repetitive.

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