Facebook: War on Spam

News Facebook: War on Spam

Spam, in its many and varied forms, has been the bane of web users ever since people realised that the internet could be used as a highly-lucrative commercial tool. Anybody who has worked in online marketing knows that the search engine giants (mainly Google, to be fair) have been ‘fighting the good fight’ for years now, and not only do their algorithm update announcements garner as much online excitement (and trepidation) as rumours surrounding a new James Bond movie, but Google’s  Webspam team head-honcho, Matt Cutts, has come to be revered as a kind of geeky Willy Wonka, guarding the secrets of ranking success (and the untold wealth that goes with it), complete with sometimes cryptically vague  announcements from the gates of Google’s chocolate factory (or via his heavily subscribed Youtube channel ).

Not wanting to be seen as ineffectual in the War on Spam, this time it’s Facebook’s turn to step up to plate (no pun intended). Yesterday they announced that they too would be cracking down on spammy stories in the hallowed (and often berated, especially after a slight change in format) Facebook News Feed. Unsurprisingly, their main focus is on commercial pages, especially those which purposely try to ‘game’ the News Feed in some way in order to get more exposure for their brand (i.e. most of them, but don’t panic just yet).

So, what practices are they actually going to be holding up to the light? And how can you stop your Facebook Business Page from falling foul to this newly punitive regime? Here’s a quick overview of the 3 main offending posts that they’ll be looking for:

1. ‘ Like-Bait’

Definition: when someone posts something with the sole purpose of getting others to ‘Like’, comment on, or share it (sound familiar?) thus ‘gaming’ the News Feed algorithm to generate more distribution and exposure “artificially”. In marketing, we call this a ‘call to action’ and it’s as common as seagulls on Brighton beach. Generally, when done well, it’s a very effective and audience-engaging marketing tool, but because the Facebook algorithm rewards such engagement and it’s relatively simple to get certain users to engage in this way without really offering them anything of any value, it’s quite easy to get like-baiting posts more visibility in people’s news feeds, which (according to Facebook’s research) is rather annoying to most Facebook users (who find such posts “15% less relevant than other stories with similar levels of engagement”). Because this keeps other more interesting stories off the news feed (and Facebook want the best experience for their users), their algorithm boffins will be making improvements to better detect and prevent low-value, like-baiting stories from getting the same exposure as they do now. So the message is this: if you have a call to action in your post, make sure it carries some value, interest and relevance to your niche and doesn’t just bark: “LIKE! COMMENT! SHARE! GO ON! DO IT!”

2) “Frequently Circulated Content”

By this they don’t mean (you’ll be pleased to hear) content which is shared by lots of different users in a completely organic way, but rather stuff that gets shared repeatedly, over and over again by you, the brand.

Again, this move is as a result of user data, and because these types of repeat posts were getting reported or ‘hidden’ (binned) by users, initial testing by Facebook to de-emphasise such posts has resulted in 10% fewer posts being hidden. The message: don’t keep chucking the same stuff at the wall!

3) Spammy Links

This is the spam ‘golden oldie’ but still a problem, unfortunately. If you are a business of any repute, you wouldn’t dream of doing this anyway, but it needs to be said all the same: don’t post misleading links! What do we mean? Well, if we posted a link that said “200 HOURS FREE WEB DESIGN!” (we would never do that, just so you know) and the link actually pointed to a spammy page full of adverts for timeshares in Torremolinos, this would constitute a spammy link. Facebook have already started detecting such links with more success and as a result there’s already been “a 5% increase in users clicking on links that take them away from Facebook”. The message: don’t ‘false advertise’ your links. There is no long-term benefit and people will shun your business in droves.

Summary

As the old adage goes, if you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve nothing to worry about. Facebook would like to reassure brands that “this update will not impact pages that are genuinely trying to encourage discussion among their fans, and focuses initially on pages that frequently post explicitly asking for Likes, comments and shares.”  So in exactly the same way that SEO has moved more positively and affirmatively in the ‘content is King’ direction, so it seems social media is to, which can only be good for the internet as a whole. Together we can purge the splurge of spam forever! We can dream, anyway…

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