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How The New Facebook Algorithms Affect Authors

Think twice about what you post on your author page

December 19, 2017 | Update 11 January 2018 — The next time you think about posting “Which version of my new book cover do you like the most? A, B, or C?” on your author page, you may want to think twice. Here is why, and it is only the tip of the iceberg. And as we continue to discuss this, Mark Zuckerberg has just personally spoken out about the planned changes to the Facebook News Feed. Read on, if you are new to this – or jump right here for the update on Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement.

December 19, 2017 — The next time you think about posting “Which version of my new book cover do you like the most? A, B, or C?” on your author page, you may want to think twice. Here is why, and it is only the tip of the iceberg. Facebook’s algorithms are highly likely to classify your post as so-called “engagement bait.” Starting this week, Facebook will begin demoting individual posts from people and Pages that use engagement bait. In other words, a post where you ask your readers for a vote on a book may be “punished” by Facebook.

How Engagement Bait Works

Engagement bait is a tactic to create Facebook posts that entice people to interact with the post through likes, shares, comments, and other actions. The purpose is to boost engagement and get greater reach on News Feeds artificially. We have all seen these types of posts. Some are annoying; some are simply stupid, some are even fun — but Facebook considers them all spammy. They typically fall into five categories:

  • React baiting: Asking people to react to the post (includes like, love, haha, wow, sad, and angry).
  • Comment baiting: Asking people to comment with specific answers (words, numbers, phrases, or emojis).
  • Share baiting: Asking people to share the post with their friends.
  • Tag baiting: Asking people to tag their friends.
  • Vote baiting: Asking people to vote using reactions, comments, sharing, or other means of representing a vote.

Well, we have probably all been guilty of this at some point (at least I have.) But from now on, posts and pages that use any such tactic will be demoted.

People have told Facebook that they dislike spammy posts that lure people into interacting with likes, shares, comments, and other actions. To battle these tactics and promote more authentic engagement, Facebook teams have reviewed and categorized hundreds of thousands of posts to inform a machine learning model (artificial intelligence) that can recognize different types of engagement bait.

Latest News Feed Changes Overall Hit Author Pages Hard

But the issue for authors and publishers is not one about Facebook regulating click bate. The fight against click bait, fake news and engagement bait is one that has to be fought. But all these measures come on top of recent Facebook algorithm changes that increasing diminish the organic reach of business pages on Facebook. Remember: the news feed algorithm regulates whether your fans see the content you post on your business page.

In September, Facebook announced another change to the algorithm that determines what people see in the news feed. The Facebook headline was:

“News Feed FYI: Showing More Timely Stories from Friends and Pages.” One way of showing timely content higher-up in the news feed is to show people stories about things that are trending as soon as they occur, so you can immediately know what your friends or favorite Pages are saying about the stories of the day.

In October, the social network officially launched its secondary news feed called Explore. This feed generally features posts from Facebook Pages users do not follow. The main news feed, meanwhile, hosts posts from friends and pages that users do follow. However, in six test countries, Facebook removed page feeds (unless paid) altogether from the users’ main news feed.

Then, November 14, Facebook published additional information about the algorithm changes directly impacting business pages:

“All of this means that Pages that post promotional creative should expect their organic distribution to fall significantly over time.”

In other words, if you write a post promoting your most recent book, only a fraction of your page fans or friends will see it. If your fans do not follow your page, your post is going to end up in the alternative news feed, not the main feed, if it shows up at all.

And if you do the maths for an organic book promotion, you immediately see where the problem is. This is an arbitrary example: 5% organic post reach times 10% click rate means only 0.5% of your fans will arrive at the Amazon page. If you then multiply with a 10% conversion rate, the book sales you are going to get are close to zero (0.1%). In other words, given these assumptions, you would need 2000 Facebook fans to generate 1 sale with a Facebook post relying on organic reach.

Update: 11 January 2018 — Things never stop at Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg has just posted personally about how he wants to change the Facebook News Feed.

The message is very clear. So let’s hear (read) it directly from the horse’s mouth:

And a bit further down in the post, the goal becomes very specific:

The side-note about “groups” is interesting. I personally felt that the number of notifications and posts that one gets from groups has been going down drastically. And, let’s face it, there are a lot of spammy Facebook Groups out there that add zero value and where group admins simply stopped taking care. But perhaps the latest change to the News Feed gives a new rise to the use of meaningful groups and communities in Facebook marketing.

Facebook goes on to say:  “As we make these updates, Pages may see their reach, video watch time and referral traffic decrease. The impact will vary from Page to Page, driven by factors including the type of content they produce and how people interact with it. Pages making posts that people generally don’t react to or comment on could see the biggest decreases in distribution. Pages whose posts prompt conversations between friends will see less of an effect.”

What is also important: “People who want to see more posts from Pages they follow can choose See First in News Feed Preferences to make sure they always see posts from their favorite Pages.” So, you really have to ask your followers to set that preference so that they keep seeing your content.

And concerning the question about What types of Page posts will show higher in News Feed?”, Facebook commented that Page posts that generate conversation between people would show higher in News Feed. “For example, live videos often lead to discussion among viewers on Facebook – in fact, live videos on average get six times as many interactions as regular videos.”

At the same time though, Facebook is crystal clear about the type of engagement bait described in this post: “Using ‘engagement-bait’ to goad people into commenting on posts is not a meaningful interaction, and we will continue to demote these posts in News Feed.”

Evolution Or Revolution?

Although there is noise in various forums and blogs that some business pages saw an immediate drop in organic reach of 400% “just in the last week,” this change in Facebook priorities has neither been sudden nor unexpected.

Facebook, from its outset, has struggled with the seemingly opposing objectives. One is Facebook’s original purpose of “being a social network” where people see and share what they like (such as “pictures of their kittens.”) The other goal is about maximising profits from advertisers who clog our news feeds with the latest buzz about their products and services. And that includes authors and publishers who buy ad space on Facebook to promote their books.

It seems the pendulum between the competing objectives is currently swinging back towards Facebook’s purpose as a social network—not in a black white fashion, but to some extent.

According to an analysis by Parse.ly of referral traffic to over 2,500 sites, the world’s biggest social network Facebook has been pushing less and less traffic to content. Google officially reclaimed its spot as the top source of referral traffic.

But What About My Author Page On Facebook?

Wait a minute. Isn’t it the case that many authors were told that they should build up social media presence, particularly on Facebook? Many authors have built Facebook pages for their brands, book series, or even individual books. But over the last years, the organic reach of Facebook pages has reduced significantly.

Remember, organic reach is the total number of unique people who were shown your post through unpaid distribution. If you had 3,000 fans on your page and you reached 300 (10%) with a post, you could consider yourself lucky. And these days, the percentage is so much lower.

The fact is, Facebook wants you to pay for your reach. Facebook wants you to run ads and “boost” your posts.

And the cost of doing so is going up and up and up. Facebook does not even argue with that. David Wehner, CFO at Facebook recently commented:

“In Q3 [2017], the average price per ad increased 35%.”

But for small businesses such as indie authors and small publishers, there is also a question of affordability.

If the cost-per-click or cost-per-conversion continues to rise at the rate it currently does, the ROI of Facebook ads that try to send people to the Kindle Store to buy a $2.99 e-book is simply no longer there (if it ever has been.) Running ads will be by definition be an expense or luxury, not a way of generating a direct positive return from resulting book sales.

In other words, authors will have to re-think how they can best reach their readers. If you solely rely on Facebook, you may want to review your strategy now.

Of course, Facebook will remain a key channel for time to come. But perhaps it is time for authors and publishers to reconsider off-line promotions, putting more emphasis on list building, fan clubs and other means of engaging with current and potential readers. (No, I do not have the solution.)

The old rule in life holds so true in internet marketing: “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” Because when a giant starts moving just a little bit (in this case Facebook), it can cause an earthquake for the many “little fellows” around it.

The good news is, there are many opportunities for writers and publishers; you just have to know what they are. You can do so by getting access to the K-lytics ELITE database where we provide you with monthly updated performance data for all these Kindle categories. There, you also find information about book prices, price trends, sales trends, and more. You are looking for the “best Kindle categories?”. Get access to the answer here.

 

Share your thoughts

11 Responses to How The New Facebook Algorithms Affect Authors

  1. Buck Flogging December 21, 2017 at 6:10 pm #

    Thanks Alex.

    I doubt posting a book cover will be deemed as “react bait” but hopefully authors will read this with caution, and stop engaging in spammy, inauthentic, promotional slop. I have been very outspoken about this for ages (my Facebook page’s average organic reach PER POST is over 50%).

  2. Damon Alan December 21, 2017 at 7:51 pm #

    This is why all my advertising budget goes to Google. I spend $300 a month. Every dollar diverted to Facebook is a dollar lost. It’s been that way for a couple of years. Amazon marketing is just as useless. Only Google works for me.

  3. Jamie December 21, 2017 at 9:09 pm #

    While this is not new news – other than even more of a restriction than it already was, I do appreciate the detailed explanation, timely heads up, and your explorations into what works. Thanks for that. I know often that even an appreciative audience will remain silent in offering accolades while not hesitating a blink of an eye to complain.

  4. Amy Dominy December 23, 2017 at 3:57 pm #

    Very Interesting!! I’ve noticed that posts on my author page get seen by fewer and fewer people. I was even wondering if it makes sense to keep it as a separate page. This article helps explain what’s going on and gives me a lot to think about. Thanks!

  5. John H Waaser December 25, 2017 at 8:52 pm #

    I have tried FB ads, and got ZERO return on them. I recently have been running AMS ads on Amazon. 45,000 impressions for two ads, about 130 clicks, 15 sales, close to $50 in royalties, on about a $16 ad spend. Most successful is my new book PHOTOGRAPHIC COMPOSITION, which has no reviews and no organic sales, where I am getting more than 3X royalties over ad spend. HOW TO BUY A CAR Without Losing Your Shirt has been out for two years, has some organic sales, and is getting more than 2X royalties over ad spend. http://www.cpubfl.com

    • DB Jones-Author January 9, 2018 at 11:41 pm #

      Thank you for the info…good to know!

  6. Chuck Bartok December 26, 2017 at 6:31 am #

    Interesting.
    Our activity has not been altered on the Facebook Page.
    All we do is post links to Chapters, as written, to the author website and enjoy 60%+ REACH of page LIKES.
    Some posts have actually exceeded LIKES regarding REACH.
    Huge engagement and comments are lively!
    We do boost posts occasionally.
    Facebook Page sent over 400,000 eager readers to the website so far in 2017.

  7. Laurence OBryan December 28, 2017 at 8:00 am #

    Hi Alex, a timely reminder of the poor ROI for most authors from Facebook ads.

    If you are looking for an alternative with a low ROI you might consider the BooksGoSocial “social and email wrapped together” promotion system. A free one week trial, with a hit counting url of your choice awaits if you email lob@yourasms.com

    Full disclosure: I founded BooksGoSocial. Please delete this comment if it breaks your guidelines.

    I also hate to see authors being pushed towards becoming copy and graphic design experts and then maxing out their credit cards to serve the Facebook money eating monster.

  8. Cynthia A. Ritsko January 2, 2018 at 5:42 am #

    Thank you for sharing your research.

  9. D A McGrath January 2, 2018 at 5:39 pm #

    This explains why my last facebook ad campaign had a zero pick up rate! Very helpful article, thanks. I will concentrate my marketing efforts in other directions in the future.

  10. Kevin McLaughlin January 16, 2018 at 2:43 pm #

    There are important additional facets of this conversation to consider:

    1) If advertisers begin spending elsewhere in response to these changes – which seems might be the case from the sample of responders we see here – then cost per click will go DOWN. Because FB uses a bidding system to win spots, the less people bidding, the lower the cost per click will go. If enough ad dollars shift to Google or other ad systems in response to these changes, cost per click will diminish. Now, we’re also talking less slots to see ads, potentially, which would drive costs per click up – but these two forces may balance each other out. I am not seeing any dramatic increases to ad costs at present.

    2) Series work remains vibrant – and may become more so. Right now I have an ad running on a 99c book (nets me 35c per sale) which costs about $5 per conversion. But since the average person who reads book one nets me over $10, that ad is still *extremely* profitable. What’s more – seeing less ads on the site may reduce “ad fatigue”, increasing the effectiveness of remaining ads. However, stand-alone books have always been a difficult proposition to use FB ads effectively, and this will likely get worse. That will in turn drive those publishers from the ad market, looping back around to point one above – dropping the cost per click of ads.

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