The introduction of the EdgeRank algorithm caused some commotion for the Facebook world last month, and for brands, the repercussions were felt far and wide with many left wondering where a sizeable chunk of their fan interaction and wall post appeal had disappeared to. With post impression rates falling rapidly, it seems that Facebook’s changes were for the benefit of its users but potentially to the detriment of brands looking to establish online communities on the platform. The algorithm does a great job of preventing users from being spammed with content, but the effect of this on brand reach is a new hurdle for many of the more established fan pages on Facebook.

The earlier change which saw the default setting for users’ news feeds altered to “Friends and pages I interact with the most” was the first step in Facebook gradually filtering out news feed content from friends and pages that didn’t appeal to each individual user. This essentially means that if fans of a page aren’t regularly engaged, they simply won’t see the wall posts published by it. From a brand and social media agency perspective, this implies that the first priority is to work out how to re-engage the unengaged.

Below are a few thoughts on how brands will need to react in order to maintain the fan base that currently has visibility of them, and begin to regain those that don’t:

Increased focus on engagement over acquisition – Since the degree of engagement is supposedly a key factor in how the EdgeRank algorithm determines who will see a post and who won’t, it’s to be expected that more brands will turn their focus to engagement from acquisition, if they haven’t already. If 2010 was the year of acquisition, 2011 is definitely the year of engagement.

More brands need to use sharing triggers and CTA techniques – One of the best ways of achieving the above is to use sharing triggers and call to action (CTA) techniques, such as asking questions or urging a response. Obviously the method and effect of this will be different for each brand page, but fundamentally it’s obvious that these are one of the best ways of driving engagement on the Facebook platform.

Increased requirement for viral content – Many brands invest significant sums of money each year on developing initiatives on Facebook. Historically, the main crux of such activity is likely to have been with a view to harnessing fan numbers rather than engagement numbers, but this is likely to change following the implementation of EdgeRank. Since page visits and page activity are also likely to factor heavily in determining the value of a page, many initiatives could now focus on actually getting users to interact with the page, rather than simply hitting that coveted “Like” button.

Advertising to existing fans that can’t see news feed content – With a key question following the introduction of EdgeRank being “how do brand pages get their news feed visibility back”, one of the most obvious conclusions is that brand pages must advertise to the unengaged as a means of re-engaging. With many pages having already invested in advertisement on Facebook as a means of attracting fans over the course of 2010, this will be seen by many as a low blow, but given Facebook’s need to drive revenue from its platform, is the development really that surprising?

Failed use of the email update option – Facebook’s email update functionality has been available to pages for some time now, and there’s currently no evidence that these will only reach engaged users, they should reach all of a page’s fan base. However, this tool has historically been a very poor one – sporadic in effectiveness and inconsistent in delivery. It’s likely some pages will resort to this tool before looking at “re-engagement” advertising, but the jury is out regarding its effectiveness.

All in all, brands have some work to do if they’re going to get back the fan numbers that they were successfully reaching with wall posts before the introduction of EdgeRank. From an in-house digital PR or social media team perspective, the onus will be on them to overcome this new barrier by innovating with the Facebook platform and exploring all of the avenues possible. Either way, it will be really interesting to see how brands react, and indeed how the EdgeRank algorithm is dealt with across the course of 2011.