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What Government Agencies Can Do Now that Facebook Is Prioritizing People Over Pages

Any change to how Facebook prioritizes, delivers and highlights information can profoundly impact both an agency’s attempts to disseminate information, as well as an individual’s ability to benefit from that information. These tips can help.

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<a href="http://www.shutterstock.com/gallery-524773p1.html?cr=00&pl=edit-00">Thinglass</a> / <a href="http://www.shutterstock.com/editorial?cr=00&pl=edit-00">Shutterstock.com</a>
Late last month, Facebook announced that it is once again adjusting the News Feed algorithm in a major way. This time, Facebook is tweaking the News Feed to better prioritize posts from your friends and family over the pages you follow. Or, as best as I can interpret from the angle of a government agency: Your post is less likely to be seen by an individual if other content is being shared more prominently by that individual’s friends and family.

This is only the latest in Facebook's continuous changes to the social network. Yes, its ability to adapt and evolve over time is a core ingredient to its success, but we users don’t always love it when something changes. Remember the outcry when Facebook announced its impending “News Feed” in 2006 and the resulting open letter from Zuckerberg?

Fast forward 10 years and it’s still hard to embrace every change that Facebook makes. And for good reason. Any change to how Facebook prioritizes, delivers and highlights information can profoundly impact both an agency’s attempts to disseminate information, as well as an individual’s ability to benefit from that information. Last year, Facebook announced that it was adjusting the news feed algorithm to de-prioritize promotional content from pages. Government agencies did not take the news lightly. In my own discussions, I found that the announcement increased distrust with Facebook. Many agencies felt that they had been bait-and-switched, and were now being forced to pay-to-play (editor’s note: those are two hyphenated phrases nobody likes to be a part of!). Some agencies — particularly in law enforcement — told me that they would stop investing in Facebook and move to other channels.

While I completely understand the concerns, I caution agencies to consider the broader impact of adjusting their participation on Facebook. Yes, anything Facebook does to prioritize or de-prioritize content will of course negatively impact some valid use cases and needs. And yes, Facebook is a publicly traded company constantly trying to improve its bottom line. But it’s worth weighing the overall benefits of the platform — including the benefits of potentially redirecting some funds toward ad placements. In the past year, I have yet to find an agency that has actively invested in Facebook and not received an overall positive ROI from its efforts. So with that in mind, let’s take a look at what’s changed and how your agency might react:

Here’s my advice for your government agency:

Reserve judgment: Remember, this change is being rolled out, so it may take some time for us to detect the impact of this change. And let’s not forgot that this is not a one-and-done on Facebook’s part. Facebook has indicated that they are in “constant iteration.” Our recommendation to agencies is to continue leveraging the built-in analytics from Facebook Insights, and withhold judgement until you see how your actual engagement and reach numbers are being affected.

Get your pages verified: There are plenty of reasons to have your agency’s pages officially verified, starting with the fact that it provides a clear trust indicator for your citizens. While we do not have any insider knowledge to confirm our assumptions, it seems reasonable that a page’s verified status could play into the News Feed prioritization algorithm.

Remember that Facebook values user preferences: Users still have a level of control over what appears in their News Feed. In addition to being able to flag and hide posts, users can actually mark pages as “see first” to force the News Feed to prioritize content from those pages. It’s worth considering how you might influence individuals — particularly staff members of your agency — to “see first” your pages.

Stay the course: Despite the fact that this change could have negative implications for your page, at least initially, it’s important to think of this change as more of a calibration than true change of course. The better your agency can build a following and keep your audience engaged, the more likely that your content will continue reaching your audience. At its core, this is how Facebook has always worked. And this how we recommend that your agency continues to approach Facebook. You might find that as you succeed at engaging your audience over time, and your audience shares your content with their networks, this change actually improves your reach and performance.

Ultimately, we have to see how this pans out. I’m optimistic, but I am not at all claiming that Facebook will get this perfectly right. Let’s see. And if it’s not right, let’s make sure our voices are heard. I’m sure Facebook will be willing to change something!

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