Facebook made it clear that enriching user-experience is a top priority by issuing a crackdown on ‘engagement bait’. This means that the algorithm will penalize posts that try to artificially boost engagement or reach. Posts from pages that consistently use such kind of content will take a harder hit in News Feed rankings.
This is great news for Facebook users, especially those who find such posts annoying or spammy. Instead, they will get to see content that is most relevant to their interests. For brands, this is a clear call to tidy up their act and create better content that gives a clear value-add to their users.
In this article, we’ll take a quick look at some typical examples of engagement bait that brands have to steer clear from. Then, we will discuss some strategies that can yield great engagement for brands.
What is engagement bait?
Here’s Facebook’s definition of engagement bait:
Engagement bait is a tactic to create Facebook posts that goad people into interacting, through likes, shares, comments, and other actions, in order to artificially boost engagement and get greater reach on News Feed
However, not all posts that ask their audience to like and share will be demoted by Facebook. Teams at Facebook manually categorized posts that used engagement bait. This informs the functioning of the machine learning model that flags posts that contain engagement bait.
What is not engagement bait and why?
Before we look at the different kinds of engagement bait, let us quickly look an example of content that will not be penalized even if it asks people to ‘like’ or ‘share’.
AXA People Protectors is a branded community portal that fosters the sharing of ideas by ordinary people for the betterment of society. In this post, the page urges their followers to spread the word about an initiative to develop solar-powered shelters for the homeless.
A post like this will not be demoted because it is trying to spread awareness about a socially-committed initiative. Similarly, posts that can benefit people by spreading the word about an issue, calling for action (missing persons, calamity) or advice (travel tips etc) or contribution to a cause will not be demoted.
It is still soon to say how intelligent these models are or how efficient they will be in understanding languages other than English. For instance, will the algorithm demote one of the most engaging pieces of content from 2017, posted by Dum Dums?
However, it is quite safe to say that marketers should refrain from using engagement bait in their content from now on, rather than risk demotion.
What kind of posts qualify as engagement bait?
Facebook has identified 5 types of engagement baiting. Let’s discuss each type using a typical example.
This type includes any post that asks people to hit like or any other reaction (love, haha, wow, sad, angry). In 2017, brands have posted around 11.3K posts asking people to ‘like’ their posts.
Similarly, comment baiting involves getting your audience to comment on your posts with specific answers (words, phrases, emojis or numbers). Even posts that ask people to comment to enter a contest qualify as comment baiting.
Some brands ask their audiences to share their posts with their friends. Again, this is often seen in contest and giveaway posts. In the example above, you can see that the brand is evidently trying to increase the reach of the post and to promote their custom hashtag to aid discovery. There were around 12.7K such instances in 2017 alone.
Recently, a large number of brands have been using tag baits. They invite their followers to tag their friends who might appreciate a particular piece of content. This way, the brand can grow the reach of their post to people who are most likely to be interested. Nearly 44,000 posts used this shortcut last year.
When Facebook introduced Reactions, several brands used this opportunity to get more engagement. They got their audience to vote (their favorite product, color, football player, celebrity hairstyle…) using reactions. This too falls into the content types Facebook wishes to see less of.
How is this going to impact brands?
With each update to the Facebook algorithm, it is becoming harder for brands to get good organic reach. Brands, on the other hand, have to post a steady stream of relevant content to remain top-of-mind. While marketers have grudgingly accepted the fact that they need to boost at least a portion of their content, they still look for ways to get the most out of their organic content.
The different types of engagement baiting listed by Facebook are shortcuts they use for this purpose. With this move, Facebook is definitely raising the bar on content standards. It is also, not very subtly, indicating that brands have to pay to get guaranteed reach.
In conclusion, brands have to concentrate their energies on creating truly engaging content for their audience and support it with a budget for promotions.
How can brands create ‘truly engaging’ content?
Facebook’s move to demote lower quality content is not just a way to get more brands to promote larger portions of their content. They are placing emphasis on authenticity of experience.
Relevant content has always received better engagement that those that employ baits and shortcuts does not come anywhere close to the stellar engagement that relevant content receives. Take a look one of the most engaging pieces of branded content from 2017:
This crazy stunt by Red Bull received close to 2.3 million shares, 157 million views and 1.3 million reactions. The brand gave their users something that was original, in tune with the brand’s ethos and purely entertaining. Even without the brand explicitly asking for it, Facebook users engaged with it.
The way forward for brands on social lies in content of this sort. In order to create ‘truly engaging content’, brands need to:
Know what their audience is engaging with
Understand what their peers are talking about on social and how successful they have been
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