February 1, 2018
Categories: Marketing, PR, and Social Media
kitten on computer

Shelters, rescue organizations, and other nonprofits are asking about changes on Facebook. What can animal organizations do to keep getting their message out?

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has expressed concern that people are made unhappy when they’re bombarded with endless news stories and announcements from brands, media outlets and businesses on their personal Facebook feeds. So he’s going to make changes to how the feed algorithm works, to emphasize posts by your friends and family and show many fewer posts by pages.

Although the rationale about making people happier is new, this change isn’t unanticipated. Brand managers have long discussed the advent of “Facebook Zero” — the day when page posts will be primarily treated as advertising rather than content. Facebook Zero may not have entirely arrived, but this latest news means it’s just around the corner.

While most discussion of the effect of this policy has been around large media companies and businesses, nonprofits, including animal organizations, are also affected, even though they don’t fit well into the “businesses, media companies, and brands” paradigm that Facebook’s advertising platform is built for.

Of course, nonprofits by and large aren’t making the types of posts Facebook is concerned with. They’re very likely to have a follower base made up of genuinely engaged people who are going to carry that engagement into real life, which is another goal identified by Zuckerberg. And those nonprofit groups’ engaged followings are their best tool to thrive in Facebook’s new environment.

Facebook has explained that comments, particularly threaded discussions with multiple replies to a comment, are going to be the new “shares” in terms of earning the post a spot in followers’ news feeds. And there’s nothing we have more of in the animal welfare community than passionate people who want to share and discuss ideas.

So, specifically, what is Facebook looking for in terms of granting organic (unpaid) reach to page posts? Taking them at their word, they currently want:

  • Discussions among users with a lot of back and forth
  • Posts that tie into real life/offline activity and community
  • Live (not pre-recorded) video

To which we’d add one more: They want money, in the form of paid promotion.

This means focusing on creating live video instead of making videos and then posting them. This is a great opportunity for animal nonprofits, as animals are incredibly telegenic and popular on social media.

It also means implementing a shift in Facebook strategy from posts that are one-way, aiming to inform or inspire your followers to share, like, click, or even get involved, to one that encourages ongoing discussions among a number of followers, with a lot of back and forth.

This obviously increases pressure on social media managers to curate content differently, as well as to encourage and take part in the comments section on their posts. This is a huge positive for building community, although it may make moderation more time-consuming.

These changes are also a strong motivation for organizations with some budget, even a modest one, to explore paid promotion. Used knowledgeably, Facebook’s ad platform is extremely robust and reasonably priced, so it’s worth spending time learning how it works and how to optimize your budget.

You can also utlize your organization’s newsletter to share short teasers, images and links driving people to important Facebook content and specifically inviting them to participate in the discussion. This is particularly helpful for events and video.

Another tactic is to give your followers a tip on how to increase the chances they’ll see your posts by choosing to “see first” for your page. Here’s how they can do that; feel free to copy and paste these instructions:

1. On a web browser, go to the page whose posts you want to see. Where it says “Following” under the top photo, click the little downward arrow and then select “see first.” Here’s what that looks like:

See first

2. On the iPhone app, visit the page, then click on “Following,” and then under “In Your Newsfeed,” click “See First.”

See first mobile

On the other hand, your best bet might actually be to follow Zuckerberg’s advice and emphasize getting your communications offline — or at least, off Facebook. In an earlier post, we offered a number of alternatives to social media that many nonprofits have been paying less attention to for the last 5-10 years, as Facebook and other social media platforms have come to dominate as communication channels. Those include:

  • Revitalizing your email and snail mail lists, and using them to communicate with your supporters
  • Keeping your website up-to-date and optimized for search engines
  • Taking advantage of Google and YouTube nonprofit programs

It’s a cliché because it’s true: You should never put all your eggs in one basket. Don’t let Facebook be your only channel of communication with your community. Build relationships with local media, actively recruit volunteers with marketing and communications backgrounds and seek a revenue stream that supports professional communications efforts.

In other words, diversify. The animals deserve all the help they can get, with or without Facebook.