“Goodbye clutter, hello beautiful new stories,” Facebook said last week when it showed off its redesigned news feed.  But none of those beautiful new stories will be from branded pages.

This appears to be the industry’s consensus response, after the recently announced changes to the Facebook timeline. The changes will put a user’s posts and life events on the right-hand side and their About info and app activity on the left, doing away with the need to scan backwards and forwards across two columns. Some might even suggest this new layout looks a lot like Google+.





Users control their Facebook news feed

But what has upset marketers is the ability for users  to control exactly what they see in their Facebook news feed, potentially squeezing out brand updates. To date, users were only able to hide or delete specific posts in their timeline. But now the new changes will give Facebook users the ability to toggle between filters and really control what they see.

Facebook's newsfeed control

This all makes perfect sense and it’s always good when users get more choice. If I only want to see what my close friends are doing then I can choose that option. And if I only want to see brand pages, I can choose the new option of ‘Following’. If users take this ‘Following’ option they can see every post in chronological order from Facebook Pages they’ve already liked.

The problem for brands

But realistically, how many users are going to take that route, if they feel that their Facebook news feeds are cluttered enough already?

On Social Media Today, Cara Tarbaj claims that, “For Facebook Page owners and marketers this is a tantalizing reprieve for Facebook’s Edgerank changes, which decreased the visibility of Page posts to only 16% of fans. It remains to be seen though how many users will click on this new feed.” I’m not sure about the reprieve, but I definitely question how many people will ever choose this filter.

Matt Rhodes of Fresh Networks goes one step further and thinks brand content has now been filtered out.  “This is serious for brands  who are using Facebook as an engagement mechanism – people consume brand information from the News Feed and not from individual brand pages. Now they might not consume your information at all. Unless, of course, you pay.”

And I agree with Matt. I appreciate Facebook wants to clean up its news feed; this is long overdue and Facebook is justified in wanting to give users control over what they see. But it’s sad to think that in the end, brand communication with customers may not be achieved through better content and improved engagement, but instead, the size of budgets.

Is advertising the only way that brands can guarantee people seeing their content? We’ve already seen big drops in Page reach after last year’s changes to Facebook’s algorithm and this is going to be another big blow to brand owners who will be forced to invest more in promoted stories and posts.

You’d do well to push some of those marketing dollars into creating better images and creatives. With images making up 50% of total news feeds, according to Facebook, if you are still relying on text updates, then you’d better change your strategy now (and be mindful of Facebook’s rule of no more than 20% text within images). Since the only way that content from a brand page will get into a user’s All Friends Feed is if their friends share content from that brand page, your brand will have to work extra hard.

As Hubspot puts it so eloquently: “You need to give your fans even more incentive to check out their Following Feed to view your content so they can engage with it via Likes, comments, and shares, enabling you to show up in their friends’ ‘All Friends’ Feed. This makes it even more critical that you post content that is compelling and sharable.”

The rollout of the Facebook timeline and news feed redesign is expected to take up to six months  you can sign up to Facebook’s waiting list to be one of the first. This will at least give brand owners some breathing space to think about their Facebook content strategy and how to engage with users, given these new challenges.
The big question is whether it will also challenge marketers to look at other ways of user engagement, and at other social platforms?


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