NEW FRIENDS: What big changes to Facebook mean for public sector communications

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As the late David Bowie once sang: “Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes, turn and face the strange.”

Almost five decade old lyrics that can help you navigate the ever changing ever evolving landscape of social media.

Facebook announced a change of direction a few days ago. It came in a blog post from Mark Zuckerburg and it has led to a fair degree of fear and uncertainty. It heralds a new direction for how people will consume content on the channel.

More than 50 per cent of the UK population have a Facebook account, Ofcom say, so an announcement on how your audience will use the channel is hugely important to everyone who wants to use the channel to reach them.

One thing is striking about this announcement. It is light on detail. It is vague in places. Frustratingly so. But after reading a stack of takes on the blog and giving this careful thought here’s a few things that public sector people need to know.

I’ll be talking about these points in more depth and coming up with solutions at SKILLS YOU WILL NEED FOR LIVE VIDEO in London on February 2 and at ESSENTIAL DIGITAL SKILLS FOR COMMS on January 26 in London, on February 15 in Leeds and Birmingham on February 27.

Facebook’s focus will be on friends and family not businesses, brands and organisations like the public sector. What your friends post is going to be dropped into your timeline more often. That’s at the expense of content from organisations. You can count the public sector in that.

Your Facebook page will reach fewer people unless your posts are genuinely engaging. As the squeeze on pages kicks in you’ll reach fewer people through organic posts. The broadcast content that ticks a box for someone? It’ll work even less. Reading what Zuckerburg it needs to be genuinely engaging. So, the Sandwell Council discussion on Snow Champions where people share pictures and discuss where salt can be got looks the best bet. This will need a re-think for many people. It’ll also mean you need to engage.   

The public sector person who shares work content to their network will cut through. If friends and family are important to Facebook, the shared message from an employee who lives in the patch will be more important. Of course, this is a fraught area and one where HR have had a field day in recent years. Your policy may not be for people to share work content. You may not even let them during work hours. But the email to the 100 librarians about that library content you’ve posted for them on a Facebook page feels like a sensible thing to do.

The internal comms of social media feels more important. If friends and family are more important, internal comms as a discipline overlaps further with social media. Tapping into staff’s networks of friends and family feels like an optional bonus nice to have. It may only reach small numbers per person. But in a 1,000-strong workforce even half bringing 10 each may represent an audience.     

Facebook Groups are more and more and more important. In 2018, your strategy for how you map, search and interact with groups will be mainstream if you want to use Facebook sensibly. This is something I’ve written on before and I’ve been carrying out some detailed research in the field. The Facebook group admin in your area are as important as journalists and other influencers. They have been for some time and the Facebook announcement is a klaxon wake-up to this. Make friends with them where you can. Think what content would work for them. Don’t spam them. The 500 members of the New Parents Facebook group are the right audience for new parent content. Join a group yourself and interact directly.  

The new approach can be summarised in this short video. Although it is longer than Facebook’s optimum 21 seconds. But that’s fine.   

Facebook Live video will be more important. Zuckerburg talks about the explosion of video as being significant and he’s especially keen on live video. Why? Simple. It carries more interactions. An encouraged route to your audience on pages is live video. This could be a Q&A, a behind the scenes tour. The body of experiment and case study is growing. Learn and add to it.

Facebook engagement rates will go down. That’s not just for the public sector, that’s right across Facebook. This is one of Zuckerburg’s clearest predictions. Lerss time but more valuably spent. So, as you see your stats dip remember that you are not alone, okay?

Facebook advertising feels more important. Advertising is not mentioned through the Zuckerburg post. As an organisation that is highly skilled at extracting cash from business, brands and organisation this is notable. The detail will follow, I’m sure, but I can’t imagine that Facebook won’t turn down the chance of allowing brands to beat the changes by advertising. As blogger Jon Loomer has speculated, this may lead to more competition to get into people’s timelines. This may lead to a spike in costs. Or it may not. 

Drive your traffic to email. Greenpeace Unearthed sponsored a Facebook post to encourage people to sign-up to their email list as a way of combating the change. That’s a natty approach. Credit to Jo Walters in spotting that.

That’s not the end for your Facebook page. This may be the start of using it more creatively and using it as one element of your overall Facebook strategy that inckudes groups, pages and internal comms and a higher barrier for posting better content.

You can find me @danslee on Twitter and by email dan@comms2point0.co.uk.

Picture credit: Trixi Skywalker / Flickr


One Comment on “NEW FRIENDS: What big changes to Facebook mean for public sector communications”

  1. johnpopham says:

    I am surprise Lauren Scissors’ contribution didn’t get cut from that video 😉


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