Some are calling it the Facebook apocalypse.
After Facebook announced upcoming changes to the news feed, publishers are scrambling to re-evaluate their strategies. The new changes will prioritize personal content over Pages, and in particular, posts that generate what Facebook is calling “meaningful interactions.”
For public agencies that use Facebook as a constituent engagement tool, it doesn’t have to be the end of the line. Change is par for the course when it comes to using external tools like social media platforms. Take these steps to continue reaping the benefits of social media as the news feed updates take effect.
In recent years, many public agencies have counted on their social media accounts as a method to inform and engage with constituents. We’ve seen how social media can serve as a tool for building trust between community and local government, and as a vital channel during a crisis. While spontaneity can impart personality to social accounts, make sure you have a digital strategy foundation in place.
Start with a digital audit and use those insights to inform your strategic plan, which should include a social media policy. Now is the time to lay out your “SMART” goals — or the project management principles that will keep your social media efforts on track. Use specific, measurable goals that are attainable, relevant and pegged to a specific timeframe.
Create an editorial calendar that reinforces your mission and provides you with a messaging framework.
We don’t know for certain which precise measures Facebook will use in order to score individual posts and pages in the news feed. “Meaningful interactions” points to Facebook’s engagement features: reactions, comments and shares. Now that your editorial calendar is in place, populate it with engagement-based content: asking questions, addressing timely issues, and eliciting feedback. A/B test themes and formats, and iterate using what you learn.
As a result, it’s likely you’ll generate a greater need for community management. Brief your digital communications team on roles and commonly anticipated answers, and offer timely and personable responses. This is when your policy will come in handy.
News feed changes are just the latest round of Facebook’s attempts to build a more human online experience, such as with their "real name" policy and the ongoing effort to identify unreliable news posts. For some perspective, this isn’t the first time page publishers have been asked to adjust their approach.
What won’t work anymore? Bland, self-promotional content. Page publishers will be challenged to deliver truly relevant media that invites discourse.
Agencies should continue to think creatively about their content strategy, using well-designed visuals that treat the news feed as more than a bulletin board. Use Facebook Live video as a way to open up government and bring audiences into the room; Live video outpaces prepackaged video in engagement. Read Facebook’s best practice guide using live video here.
Pay to Play
Facebook has been available for use by the general public since 2006. Simply by using Facebook, we all play a part in helping the platform capture finely tuned data about our relationships, interests and behaviors. That data informs what has become a sophisticated targeted, predictive advertising tool.
For publishers to ensure content connects with audiences, it’s becoming increasingly clear that it will come at a cost. Treating Facebook as a free, guaranteed publishing tool should be a thing of the past. Consider dedicating an advertising budget to overcome dwindling organic reach with boosted posts and to satisfy specific goals using this available technology.
For example, local agencies often advertise community meetings by flyering door-to-door. Supplement that with a geotargeted digital campaign to reinforce the message and reach even more residents, such as those who live in large buildings. Or, use lead generation ads to invite constituents to sign up for email updates.
Don’t give up on your organic strategy — continue to populate your page with the latest updates so anyone searching can also access the information. Your page will continue to serve as an important validator of your agency’s accessibility. Make social analytics review a regular practice and apply what you learn.
The best approach has always been an integrated digital strategy. Email lists degrade over time. Page fans drift. Residents move. And as we can see, platforms change.
If the role of government is to serve all its people, an agency’s digital plan should meet users wherever they are. That means using a range of social media channels, maintaining a regular email schedule, and hosting a user-friendly website. Not only will this provide your agency with many accessible inroads, not just one, but the effect of ‘cross-pollination’ will help you grow your Facebook community. That’s a digital resilience strategy that will help you weather any change, no matter its source.