Could the Cambridge Analytica Scandal Impact Content Marketing Efforts?

Facebook is in a lot of trouble right now.

Allegations that it allowed Cambridge Analytica to mine user data in order to influence elections has forced the social media giant to defend itself.

Share prices dropped by eight percent.

MPs have summoned Mark Zuckerberg to appear before a select committee.

And the Facebook CEO might be rethinking his plans, which he denies ever existed, to run for President in 2020.

This controversy, whilst mainly a political issue, will undoubtedly affect marketers.

Facebook has been under scrutiny with regards to the role it may or may not have had in the 2016 US election for the past 18 months.

Accusations of Russian-bought political ads, and the ease in which ‘Fake News’ goes viral, prompted Facebook to change its algorithm.

This happened as recently as January 2018.

It happened before that in June of 2017.

And whilst we cannot yet measure the effects of the most recent update, Buzzsumo has compiled a report that analyses how Facebook’s algorithm changes last summer have impacted marketers.

It’s not good news.


It’s Now Much Harder for Your Content to Earn Facebook Engagements

The highlight finding is that social sharing is down by 50% since 2015.

So any content published in 2017 earned, on average, half as many shares as it would have two years prior.

This poses a significant challenge to marketers who rely on Facebook to bring traffic to their website.

Take a look at BuzzFeed. An outlet known for its clickbait, list-post, quiz-focused content that is easy to consume, and popular amongst Facebook users.

Here’s how the algorithm change affected BuzzFeed:

From a high of 3.1 million, to 0.25 million. A 91% decrease in shares.

The algorithm change, which made it harder for a publication’s organic posts to appear on people’s feeds, has had a drastic effect on one of the most popular websites in the world – almost literally over night.

How are the rest of us supposed to cope?


Potential Solutions – New Headline Formats, Better Content, and LinkedIn

By the end of 2017, Google had overtaken Facebook to become the number one driver of traffic to publishers (Facebook had previously overtaken Google in 2015).

So your SEO campaigns are more important than ever.

But if it’s social engagements you want, there are significant strategic changes you need to make.

Based on other insights found in the Buzzsumo report, here are a few things we, at Latitude, are going to be trying over the next few months.


Experimenting with Headlines to Avoid the Algorithm Filter

One of the key aims of the algorithm change was to reduce the amount of clickbait that appears on people’s feeds.

Facebook began to demote headlines that “withheld information”. Or “exaggerated with sensational language”.

You can see why BuzzFeed took a hit.

Personally, we’ve never been a fan of the BuzzFeed style of clickbait headlines.

But at the same time, you do need to entice a user into clicking on your content.

So finding that balance between a good, tempting headline – and one that doesn’t fall foul of the Facebook algorithm – will be a challenge.

But we can experiment. Test headlines to see what gets punished, and what doesn’t.

Is Facebook targeting certain phrases – such as “You’ll never guess…”?

Or is it smarter than that, measuring the bounce rate on websites that offer an alluring headline, but not the high-standard of content to back it up?

Hopefully this will become clearer over time.


Producing Better, More Original, Even Long-Form Content

The answer isn’t as simple as “produce better content”.

Buzzsumo’s report shows the likes of Buffer, Moz and Social Media Examiner have all been hit by the algorithm change.

Websites that are known for high-quality content.

But other publications (Buzzsumo highlights the Harvard Business Review, the Economist and The New York Times) have seen an increase in Facebook engagements over the last year.

Is there anything we can learn from them?

Well, they typically publish what we might refer to as ‘intellectual’ content. Hard-hitting opinion pieces, long-form original research posts.

And then there’s the Donald Trump factor.

The New York Times in particular has seen a surge in readership since he entered office.

This doesn’t really help us. We certainly don’t have any clients that consider Donald Trump to be relevant to their industry, and their readership.

But it’s worth considering one insight – that people are becoming pickier about what they share.

They want to ensure a piece of content in well-researched, original, are of sufficient quality before they post it on their feeds.


Embracing the Power of LinkedIn (For B2B Clients, at Least)

Although Facebook has become a difficult nut to crack, the same is not true for other social media platforms.

LinkedIn presents opportunities for B2B businesses to expand their presence online.

Comments, likes and shares on LinkedIn are up 60 percent year-on-year.

Publications such as Business Insider, Forbes, and even The New York Times, have all benefitted from LinkedIn – even if the latter is not what you would call a ‘B2B business’.

This is a platform mainly limited to B2B. But if you have a client that does fit this profile, it’s worth formulating a LinkedIn strategy.

It’s certainly something we’re going to be looking into more.


What Next for Facebook?

It’s far too soon to see if Facebook’s January 2018 announcement has had an effect on content, and marketers.

We also don’t know if the Cambridge Analytica scandal will force Facebook to make even more changes to its algorithm.

In an interview with CNN yesterday, Mark Zuckerberg said he was “sure” someone would attempt to use Facebook to meddle in the 2018 mid-term elections in the United States.

This was something he says he wants to “get in front of”.

What his and Facebook’s solutions might be, we have no idea and what the full impact on marketing will be - time will tell.

Until then, we can rely on Buzzsumo’s comprehensive report to help us tackle these challenges.

March 22, 2018|

About the Author:

Matt is the leading copywriter for Latitude Digital Marketing, and has worked at the agency for two years. He recently graduated from the DMA's Future Copywriters'