Sorry, I've Been Overly Promotional

This year Facebook made some major changes to its timeline algorithm, the code that decides what you see in your timeline. Where it used to be you could post a link to an outside website and many of your friends would see it, now these posts are given the categorization of being "overly promotional" and are severely limited in their reach. 

If you look at the insights for your Facebook posts, you can see how many timelines that your post showed up in. Those are called impressions. Then you can see how many clicks resulted. A year ago my Facebook posts that linked to my blog posts would reach around 20% of my followers without paying for a post to be boosted or sponsored. This year, with the new changes, it's not uncommon for my posts with links to outside websites to be seen by zero followers.

So, what makes a post overly promotional? Here are a few of the many factors that the algorithm sorts:
  • Strike one - Your post has a link to a non-Facebook website.
  • Strike two - Your post has too many tags and hashtags.
  • Strike three - Your post displays an image that has "too much" text.
  • You're already out, but there are more strikes, like the one where people put a fake play button on an image to make you think you're clicking on a video, but it's actually a link. (This is one I actually agree with.)
  • Strike five - Facebook is not only lessening a post's reach in your timeline, they're doing the same thing in your groups, if said posts have "overly promotional" content.
  • Strike six - Posts that ask directly for likes and shares.
Two things. We can be fairly certain that Facebook isn't particularly altruistic. They are an advertising and data selling business, that is making billions of dollars by deciding what we see and what we don't. They're not horribly concerned about all the time we've put into creating communities on their platform, and our desire to benefit from that work. They still want us to pay to reach each other.

The second thing is that, short of paying for the reach, there are still a few ways to play by their rules and reach your people:
  • Facebook Live. They want you to use their live video platform, and they want you to use it for longer than just a few seconds at a time. The algorithm is giving huge priority to Live right now. Who knows for how long, but right now it's prime. They are especially bumping live videos in which you invite a friend to join you via their own device.
  • Personal stories and photos without text. Their "reasons" for the change in algorithm is that their users want to see more personal stories(never mind the intrusion of all the sponsored posts). So keep your stories personal, and your photos uncluttered with calls to action.
  • For those of us who would still like to use Facebook to market our businesses, the best way to do that is to make our posts conversational. Invite interaction. Ask people what they think and how they feel. And then ask them if you can send them a private message with any other information. Facebook has actually facilitated this. If you reply to someone's comment and tag their name in the comment, your reply doesn't show up in your post, it goes to Facebook messenger. These kinds of interactive posts tend to have the greatest longevity in terms of timeline visibility. They attract more likes and shares than others, which keeps them in the stream.
  • Limit your tags, and be selective about the hashtags you choose. I've noticed that if I tag more than one person's account, and have more than three hashtags that those posts don't get as many views. I've found that the best reach I get is through tagging one personal or professional account, adding one location, and no more than three hashtags. I try to make my hashtags relevant to search results that I'd like my posts to show up in, so I stay pretty general most of the time. I have two exceptions to this. The first is when I am using a hashtag for an event, and want to have my posts related to that event show up when the hashtag is clicked. The other is when I want to have a collection of posts around the same theme. Just go sparingly with the tags.
  • Lastly, you can get a lot of traction for your business by cross promoting other businesses and people. Sharing posts from others is also a great opportunity to raise your own visibility, and this also helps your post be seen in wider circles than your own group of friends or followers.
Now, some folks have jumped ship and run over to Instagram thinking that the reach over there isn't going to be affected. Sorry to bear bad news, but since Facebook owns Instagram, the same changes are taking effect there, too. And guess what, Twitter has jumped on this bandwagon, too.

Until the next algorithm change, I hope this post finds you.

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