April 11, 2014, 5:41 PM

Facebook punishes marketers who ask for Likes

The social network tweaks the algorithm it uses to rank stories in the news feed to eliminate ‘spammy’ content.

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Marketers listen up. Facebook Inc. is telling you to stop asking for Likes.

Facebook says it is tweaking the algorithm it uses to rank posts in its news feed to penalize what it calls “Like-baiting,” marketers who ask users to Like, comment or share posts, and those who post non-original content and who feature “spammy” links.

The moves aims to punish marketers who “deliberately try and game [the] news feed [algorithm] to get more distribution than they normally would,” writes Facebook software engineer Erich Owens and product manager Chris Turitzin in a blog post. Posts that directly ask for Likes won’t appear in the news feed.

The change may force marketers to craft interesting posts that lead consumers to Like, comment or share, without the brand explicitly asking for that engagement. That’s because the news feed algorithm ranks the quality of posts based on users’ interactions with that company.

Facebook’s algorithm has grown increasingly selective. On average, only 6.51% of a brand’s followers saw one of the brand’s posts in March, down from 10.15% last November and 16.0% in February 2012, according to news feed optimization service EdgeRank Checker. Meanwhile, the social network has increasingly encouraged marketers to extend their posts’ reach via its Promoted Posts ad unit, which lets an advertiser pay to ensure a particular number of consumers see its post.

“The goal of news feed is to deliver the right content to the right people at the right time so they don’t miss the stories that are important and relevant to them,” the Facebook blog says.

Facebook says that the change will not impact marketers who are genuinely trying to encourage discussion among their fans. “It’s OK to encourage discussion about your posts’ content, but you should avoid asking for Likes or shares to get more distribution,” the social network writes.

The change will effect marketers who ask consumers to take an action. For instance, pet suppliers retailer Petflow.com  recently shared a video featuring a dad looking stone-faced as his daughter danced and sang, along with the message: “This guy just nailed parenting on the head! This video perfectly depicts what every weekend was like growing up in my house. I love this hilarious Dad! Please SHARE if you know exactly how this guy feels.”

Petflow executives say they will stop directly soliciting sharing in posts, and they say Facebook’s move is ultimately a good thing for the social network and Petflow. Petflow is No. 4 in the Internet Retailer 2014 Social Media 500, which ranks the  leaders in social commerce by the percentage of web site traffic they receive directly from social networks. Petflow receives 32.16% of its site traffic from Facebook in a typical month, according to the guide.

“A lot of what Facebook is doing is actually going to positively impact us,” says PetFlow.com founder Alex Zhardanovsky.  “We may pull back on asking fans to Like or share the content, but asking engaging questions and posting engaging content will still continue to be our strategy, and we feel will help us continue to grow.”

Facebook also says that the algorithm change will penalize marketers who share what it calls “frequently circulated content,” such as cat photos with funny captions.

“We’ve found that people tend to find these instances of repeated content less relevant, and are more likely to complain about the pages that frequently post them,” Facebook says. 

The social network also says it will penalize marketers who share “spammy links” that “try and trick people into clicking through to a web site that contains only ads or a combination of frequently circulated content and ads.”

The changes will not negatively impact most marketers, Facebook says. In fact, some may see a small impact in the reach of their non-promoted posts.

 

 

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