So Facebook has changed (again)... Now what?

For the last, well, however long it's been, many of us who touch social and public relations have been asked to help organizations gain "so-and-so likes on Facebook."

For the last, well, however long it's been, many of us who touch social and public relations have been asked to help organizations gain “so-and-so likes on Facebook.” This past week, the “like” may have met its match, and perhaps at just the right time. It's not going away by any means, but it's been joined by the “read,” “watch,” “drink,” and a host of other verbs. But that's just the start.

Aside from the fact that we now have a News Ticker in the upper right corner of Facebook, noting all sorts of activities (including what songs your friends might be listening to or what articles they are reading, in an opt-in basis), the News Feed has been adjusted to more prominently show what Facebook considers “top” news and stories, and just about everything is clickable or malleable. Think something is more relevant? Flag it as a top story. Think something is not what you want to see more of? Hide away.

What does that mean for those of us managing a brand's presence on Facebook? It means we'll have to work even harder to stay relevant, as what was previously showing up as a “like” in someone's news feed now might be “relegated” to the Ticker, and those who don't log into Facebook quite as often might not see what we are sharing on our pages unless they have a high level of interaction with us – or their friends do.

It also means that activities we've previously been doing on Facebook to instigate Facebook sharing might need to be complemented/supplemented by activities off Facebook that incite sharing onto the social network.

In addition, it may make the advertising opportunities that Facebook makes available even more critical to brands large and small. Deep Focus CEO Ian Schafer suggests that those working on the advertising side of social need to think of ads as “engagement-led,” rather than “impression-led.” I think he's spot on because a lot of people have been buying Facebook ads purely on a “more eyeballs” basis, perhaps even for perfectly wise economic reasons – until now. He also flags the idea that “as Facebook finds its way into other areas of media and our lives, [engagement] will become even more important.”

In fact, as I peek at Facebook right now, I see that while I have “liked” dozens of brands since joining the service, only two are showing up within the last 25 new stories since my last visit. Both brands are entertainment based and are brands that I regularly hit “share” to my own wall on because they link to outbound content, not simply post statements or statuses. In other words, they've made themselves interesting to me in the past – historically – and have in turn “earned” the right to be at the top of my page. Earn more clicks (by providing great content), and you'll show up more frequently. Continue producing the “same old stuff” and you'll find yourself watching your Facebook Insights stats decrease, perhaps precipitously.

In the short term, it's probably worth experimenting with a number of different ways of sharing great content on our pages, engaging with fans, and incorporating apps and other activities into Facebook. Changes do happen and will most certainly happen again. One day, those actions could be “sponsored” by brands, or “suggested” at the very least, for a fee. Facebook is most certainly not going to ignore the significant amount of revenue that its advertising and other services offer, but has clearly taken a stand with these changes that make good content stand out and lax content more valuable.

It's up to us to figure out the right mix of what to do to inspire, activate, and drive toward business goals using this increasingly critical platform to reach our customers and prospects, even if the “answer” isn't quite clear just yet.

Tom Biro is a VP at the Seattle office of Allison & Partners. His column focuses on how digital media affects and shifts PR. He can be reached at tom@allisonpr.com or on Twitter @tombiro.

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