The new urgency to create sticky content for Facebook

sticky content for facebook

One of the challenging things about marketing today is that the rules of engagement are constantly shifting. Often, a strategy that worked yesterday will not work today.

Just when you think you’ve figured out Facebook, it moves and morphs in interesting new ways. A few days ago, Facebook announced that the algorithm it uses to determine which content is prioritized in user News Feeds will now take into account how long users spend viewing posts.

In a company blog post, Facebook explained how the new ranking factor will work:

For example, you may scroll quickly through your News Feed and like a photo of your friend’s graduation, followed by sharing a funny post from your sister. You keep scrolling and happen upon a post your cousin shared detailing everything she did and saw on her recent trip. Her post even includes a photo.

You spend time reading her post and the interesting discussion about the best places to eat that had broken out in the comments on this post, but you don’t feel inclined to like or comment on it yourself. Based on the fact that you didn’t scroll straight past this post and it was on the screen for more time than other posts that were in your News Feed, we infer that it was something you found interesting and we may start to surface more posts like that higher up in your News Feed in the future.

This should not be a surprise to anyone following Facebook closely. The move supports the fundamental economics of the platform and its strategy to be a deeper source of news. And, it makes sense. If you are spending more time on content, it’s probably a reliable indicator of good content!

But what’s surprising is the relative lack of reliable research available on what types of content attract the most time on Facebook. Remember a few years ago the strategy was multi-photo albums and other rich photo content. Then video was the conventional wisdom. More recently, some people have opined that they were having more success posting links.

Sticky is the new cool

The answer is, there probably is no single answer! Any content that provides “stickiness” for Facebook will have a better chance of surviving the ruthless News Feed editing process.

And I should mention that different rules might apply for brands. In the announcement, the company stated “we do not expect Pages to see significant changes in distribution as a result of this update.”

But it probably makes sense to consider stickiness in anything that you create, right?

Facebook provides analytics on reach, clicks, and likes, but it doesn’t yet provide insights on time spent on a post. As the quote from the Facebook blog suggests, likes and comments are not necessarily indicators that people are spending time on your content.

So let’s go back to basics. What do we know about content that we can apply to this insight that time on a post matters?

The mysteries of engagement

We know that creating engagement on a post can increase “votes” that it will rise up in a news feed, but what is the impact of engagement on the time factor?

I’d guess that people will not spend a lot of time on inane posts like “What is your favorite lollipop flavor” even though they might leave a comment and “engage” with it. So, measuring time on post might be a way for Facebook to push down the stupid stuff like this even if the post gets a lot of engagement.

However, in a really hot debate, I might spend an enormous amount of time on the comments. In fact, I might come back to a controversial post several times in a day.

So one lesson might be — don’t post for the sake of meaningless engagement. People spend time with content that provides meaningful, and perhaps even provocative, debate. An interesting angle for brands — do they really want provocative debate? Don’t the lawyers usually discourage that sort of thing?

Go deep

Facebook’s desire for story stickiness has been boiling for a long time. The Facebook Instant Articles initiative, for instance, encourages important publishers like The New York Times to offer content and share in the ad revenue. It’s probable that Facebook could use analytics data from Instant Articles consumption to determine what articles its users are most likely to be interested in, and prioritize those in their News Feeds.

It’s not hard to figure out that Facebook is looking for longer, more meaningful content because of course people will spend more time on something like that instead of “my dog just threw up.”

But posting long-form content (and not just a link) creates a new tension between our companies and Google search — which is exactly what Facebook wants, of course. If we publish on Facebook instead of our own sites, or even in addition to our own sites, Facebook possibly neutralizes any advantage from Google. Our companies might be making content decisions like “Is this strategically more important to post on Facebook, and what is the impact on Google SEO?”

Viewing this article on Facebook registers no traffic to my site, which is also my business. Yikes.

Video strikes again

We are in a video world and this content form has risen steadily in popularity as quality and quantity have increased. Both Twitter and Facebook have their own video players now so you don’t have to leave the site to enjoy the latest adventures of cats and their cardboard boxes. Facebook is already getting 4 billion video views per day, rvialing YouTube!

It’s a good bet that video will play a major factor in content stickiness but again, that has big implications for content strategy and SEO.

Rising emotions

In my new book The Content Code, which is an examination of strategies to get your content to move, there is one word that comes up over and over — emotion. Content that makes you feel deeply — awe, fear, joy — will also be content you will want to share. I don’t believe it is too far of a leap to project that you will read, and spend time with, the content you share.

Those are a few thoughts but I’m sure we all have much more to learn with this strategy. I would cherish your thoughts in the comment section. What is your strategy to produce sticky content for Facebook?

Illustration courtesy Flickr CC and Teresa Williams

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  • Adam

    This change will definitely benefit users. It will also help businesses that don’t have “shareable” services like auto repair or maintenance. I look forward to seeing what metrics Facebook develops to help measure this change.

  • christinegeraci

    I’m actually really liking this change. Before, if no one interacted with your post, it might as well have not existed at all. This changes that notion and will hopefully help brands better gauge the value of their content. Admittedly, I’m one of those users who does a lot of reading but doesn’t necessarily engage. I’m also one of those people who might write out a whole comment but not publish it because at the last minute I decide I don’t want to become embroiled in a pointless online debate—but I’ll still take time to read the comments from others. It’s smart for social platforms like Facebook to recognize that form of innate engagement and throw some algorithmic weight behind it.

  • Hopefully the battles of the titans don’t leave too many of the users (who they need to survive) lying “dead in the ditch”. Everyone needs to be aware of monopolistic strategies as the end result is bad news for users, even if you pick the winning titan.

    To validate this, all you have to think about is Uber’s strategy for dominance in China. To compete, they are subsidizing every ride by 80% so fares are competitive with the current taxi model. If successful, and they “kill” the competitive taxi business, do you really believe they’ll continue the subsidies? Nope, fares will quadruple, the user will pay the price and Uber makes out like the proverbial bandit at the expense of the consumer.

    Like you’ve clearly identified in “The Content Code”, strategies are now becoming very platform specific. I hope users realize that they need multiple channels to reach audiences and learn how to leverage the uniqueness of each. It’s always best to never have all of your eggs in someone else’s basket.

    Google’s response to this clear attack on its core business is going to be interesting.

  • aderojas

    Nice article. I would just be careful with the numbers of Facebook videos. I think it just counts a view after 3 seconds, which considering the autoplay setting seems to be counting as views almost anything.

  • Me too Adam. Interesting times.

  • I’m with you. I think this is a very interesting development. Will also be interesting to see if companies try to game it : ) Thanks for your comment Christine!

  • Thanks for the very thought-provoking comment Steve. I didn’t know about that Uber strategy.

  • Good catch. Thanks for adding your wisdom to the discussion.

  • Pauline Baird Jones

    And then there is someone like me, who gets distracted and leaves my feed sitting there while I answer the phone or an email that pops up…I wonder if there is a Facebook gnome somewhere that I’m driving crazy. Good article, though it makes me want to bang something that it’s all changing again.

  • JebediahJuice

    Wait, isn’t everyone tracking dwell time already? Facebook is a bit late to this party, though the announcement does provide focus on the metric.

  • Oh I think the change has just begun : ) Thanks for commenting. I appreciate you Pauline.

  • Thank and congratulations on having the coolest name in the comment section today.

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  • Great post, Mark. Although to assume that Facebook’s algorithm change will favor dwell time versus simply including it in the calculation is risky. User behavior itself doesn’t show they people are willing to spend a lot of time on multiple items in a feed. The base behavior is still to scroll and preform low barrier behaviors such as comments and likes. That’s where Salty Content comes to play, which is much better than Sticky!

    Arguably the biggest challenge for brands (not my cousin and her recent trip) is to get people to share content. This is for two reasons. For one, shared content can get posts above the 5% reach ceiling that Facebook holds on brands pages. Secondly, content that is shared is content that connects with the user (their worldview, personality, or lifestyle). There are a number of tactics to make effective Salty Content; content that works in series, empowers the user, and doesn’t waste their time with clickbait, or FOMO tactics. It just takes some times and forethought.

  • Good point and is this is exactly what the Content Code book addresses — the first book dedicated to the art and science of content sharing. So obviously, I agree with you. : )

  • Really enjoyed reading this, and the discussion that has followed. I find it brain aching to try and fathom out Facebook algorithms; therefore we really aren’t supposed to are we? Also loved the picture of the sticky buns!

  • stevewillinger

    Thank you Mark, I enjoyed the learn

  • Thank you Mark for this very helpful, and thoughtful post!!! ~Rae

  • Yeah it seems like Facebook will weight the engagement stuff higher, but also give some weight to “sticky” stuff. If you were to rank enjoyment, the stuff you engage on would go before stuff you were kinda interested in. I’ll be on the lookout for more changes, but will try to focus on engagement.

    Man, Facebook is a never ending battle lmao.

  • Pingback: Why You Need a Facebook Video Strategy Right Now - DigitalMarketingNewzDigitalMarketingNewz()

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