I’ll admit it, I'm guilty of using and recommending these tactics for clients in the past.
But not anymore, and you know what? I'm glad about that.
With one update yesterday, Facebook changed the game completely.
They have unceremoniously picked up and dumped all ‘like and share’ posts out of the window, forcing page owners and social media managers to up their craft to a whole new level.
All in one, small sentence:
"Starting this week, we will begin demoting individual posts from people and Pages that use engagement bait."
'Engagement bait', what's that?
It used to be Social Media 101; the first step in getting more page likes and engagement.
A way to hack Facebook’s mysterious, magic algorithm.
‘Always include a Call To Action in every post,’ went the advice from Social Media Gurus.
‘Run a like and share contest for a ton of page likes.'
‘Don’t pay for ads when you can do this and hack engagement for free!’
All that is now consigned to the bin – Facebook has finally grown tired of the incessant stream of like and share competitions to win meals for two, hotel breaks, event tickets and other forms of ‘engagement bait,’ inviting users to react in a certain way to an image/video or tag friends in something.
To the casual observer, these posts might seem like just ‘a bit of fun’ but if you look deeper the motives are actually faintly sinister.
Like and share competitions? An easy way to get people to like a page they’d otherwise never be interested in, for free.
‘Game’ posts where you are asked to love/like/laugh etc to show your response = a way to trick Facebook into thinking you are genuinely interested in that page’s posts and therefore show them as a higher priority in your news feed.
So, what will happen in future?
Facebook will downrank any posts of this type, as it considers them an indicator of ‘low-quality’ content, designed purely to try and game the algorithm rather than provide genuinely relevant and meaningful content.
If your page or business isn’t strong enough to generate engagement on its own without resorting to these kind of tactics: tough.
Put a proper strategy in place rather than just posting at random.
To take it even further, persistent offenders who continually try to use engagement bait will find themselves penalized, with ALL their posts being downranked.
Clearly, some posts inviting a response should be excluded from this crackdown, as Facebook themselves have stated:
“Posts that ask people for help, advice, or recommendations, such as circulating a missing child report, raising money for a cause, or asking for travel tips, will not be adversely impacted by this update.”
However, this exclusion would not apply to the scaremongering, copy and paste message I've seen circulating over the last couple of days ('A quick favor please...' which you've probably spotted looked fishy as last time I checked, we spelt it 'favour' in the UK/Ireland); a post that also makes it sound like Facebook choosing what we see is something new or a revelation.
If you really find someone that interesting, go onto their profile and on the 'Following' dropdown, select 'See First' - which works the same for business pages and has been there for a good while now.
In short - be genuine, guys.
And does copying and pasting a post from some random person in America to try and 'trick' the Facebook algorithm sound genuine to you?
Sceptics may say that rather than the honourable-sounding stated aim by Facebook of killing off engagement bait ‘improving user experience’, this is just another move pushing business pages towards having to spend money on ads to get anywhere.
Some may even suggest that this is in some way related to the backlash over Facebook’s recent experiment with their ‘Explorer Feed,’ which would have reduced organic post reach from the current 5-15% zone to stone cold zero; a backlash which forced them into a very swift denial that it was anything other than an experiment.
I’ll be brutally honest here, if you don’t have time to devote to crafting genuinely engaging posts and building an engaged audience – and yes, part of this will have to be done via ads – there’s little point your business being on Facebook from now on.
Previously, businesses could get by through lazy re-posting and use of occasional like and share competitions to generate a load of engagement and page likes, but this is now a thing of the past.
The only way to survive and thrive will be through creating genuinely useful, engaging content which takes three things: time, skill and effort.
This will require people who know and understand their audience/customers and will also separate the wheat from the chaff in terms of social media managers who have a real ability to search out and produce engaging content, rather than just churning out tag/like/share ‘games’ and contests.
I admitted earlier that I’ve recommended/used these for clients in the past, which is true (I did write this on 4 Ways To Get Page Likes back in May).
But it always felt kind of cheap and not quite right – as Facebook themselves put it in the article I linked to above, they value ‘authenticity’ above all else – and having to resort to begging for likes/shares/comments/tags is about as unauthentic as you can get.
A B2B web hosting company asking followers to ‘heart’ for Cornflakes or ‘like’ for Weetabix as their favourite breakfast?
Mortgage lenders asking people to comment with their favourite Christmas movie (and don't forget to tag a friend, too)?
Do me a favour.
The lack of authenticity is the main reason I’ve never run a like and share comp on my Run DMG page.
Unless you have a product or service with a universal appeal, the vast majority of the likes/interactions you gain will be totally pointless, and people will most likely unfollow you soon after.
Which makes sense doesn’t it, seeing as the only reason they hit the like button in the first place was to win a night at that fancy hotel down the road or a three-course meal for two at the nearby Michelin star restaurant; not because they have any interest at all in your accountancy/IT solutions/bespoke hand-carved chair/recruitment business.
In fact, I’d rather spend £200 on page like ads (which I wouldn’t generally recommend) and get 100 targeted likes, than the same on a voucher for that hotel or restaurant and get 1,000 random ones.
Long-term, those 100 targeted likes will be far more likely to engage with your page’s posts than all those random ones and guess what, when they do so their connections – who have a higher chance of also being interested in your product – will see it too.
Not to mention they might actually buy from you, as well.
Either that or make your prize something at least vaguely related to your business, although whenever I suggest this to clients but warn they will get fewer likes than a more general prize, funnily enough, nine times out of ten they go for option B.
However, authenticity is now the name of the game on Facebook.
It’s harder and takes more time, which means any lazy, half-hearted attempts at engagement will look even worse now in comparison to those getting it right.
I’ve seen a few grumblings already about these changes but people will just have to get used to them and quickly – this is Facebook’s playground and they run it, not us kids fighting over the swings, the football and who gets picked last.
But above all – be authentic.
That's the name of the game for Facebook going into 2018.
Gil is a Digital Marketing Consultant specialising in social media marketing and Facebook Ads. He has worked in sales, marketing and business management for over 12 years and has been a Facebook user since 2006, when his sister made the whole family create accounts just to keep up with her as she travelled the world for a year. Otherwise, he might still be on MySpace. You can also find Gil on LinkedIn here