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Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

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Digital fears for charities over Facebook changes

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It is unclear what effect a new policy by the social media giant will have on content created by third sector groups, experts have said

Facebook rule changes have resulted in digital uncertainty for charities.

Last week, the social media site’s kingpin Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook would be going back to its roots of focusing on personal rather than public content.

This has left many publishers and companies fearing the new policy could result in a major drop in their online audiences, with the third sector fearful about how the new rules will affect publicity for campaigns and other news.

In a blog post, Zuckerberg said that users will see a major change to their news feeds – with less news from organisations and more of a focus on updates from friends.

He said: “We started making changes in this direction last year, but it will take months for this new focus to make its way through all our products. The first changes you'll see will be in the news feed, where you can expect to see more from your friends, family and groups.

“As we roll this out, you'll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media. And the public content you see more will be held to the same standard -- it should encourage meaningful interactions between people.”

The changes are likely to see audience figures fall dramatically for organisations such as local newspapers – with some publications attracting more than 75% of their digital readers through Facebook – meaning that stories featuring charities are likely to go out to less users. It is unclear however how the new rules will affect readership of content that is posted directly by organisations.

Eve Smith, communications manager for disabled access website Euan’s Guide, said that it is difficult to prepare for the changes, and digital strategies will need to be amended once they become apparent.

“The challenge is to not become the clutter that Facebook is trying to reduce on news feeds,” she said. “This will take time and a little more effort from those who run pages, which for small charities can be especially difficult when it is often just one person looking after social media when they can.

“What has stood out to me so far is that engagement is going to be key in 2018. Especially comments and shares. Charities may want to think about encouraging more shares of their website content by making sure the content is engaging and relevant, and ensuring there are social share buttons clearly visible on the page.”

The changes could result in charities producing more relevant and refined content, meaning that organisations may be able to streamline their content and better reach those who will take notice and engage. The need for paid advertising on social media is also likely to increase though.

“It goes without saying that paid content is going to be more or less unavoidable now,” Smith added. “But charities don’t have to spend a fortune. Also, it may be worth considering hosting more community and offline activities. People tend to mention organisations in posts which involve them, so if people enjoy your events or activities, the chances are they’ll be talking about them on Facebook.”

Ross McCulloch, founder of Third Sector Lab, said that charities will need producing better content than ever to gain traffic on social media.

He said: "Facebook's algorithm has been evolving over the last few years, with a focus on engaging content and a move away from simply being able to broadcast to fans. The latest news feed changes will make it even harder for charities to reach users, putting the focus firmly on friends and family - the real reason most of us have a Facebook profile. If you have limited budget to promote posts these changes mean your content needs to be good, really good, to hit newsfeeds."

Tom Lillywhite, chief executive of engagement agency Wilder Digital, feels that the changes provide a better opportunity for groups to connect with their supporters.

“Changes to the Facebook news feed are a huge opportunity,” he said. “The future of effective social media campaigning lies not with broadcasting messages from the centre, but in equipping supporters on the ground with the tools, content and confidence they need to be the voices of our cause, sharing messages with the authenticity and passion they deserve. Packs of micro-influencers already amplify content from the causes they care about most. Their continued success, and the campaigning success of the causes they support, rely on our ability to mobilise and organise them in an effective way.”

Ross McCulloch's tips on how to flourish on Facebook

Find a role model: Is there another organisation out there with a cause and audience similar to yours who is absolutely killing it with their Facebook content? If so learn from what works and think about how you can emulate their approach with your users.

Make use of Insights: The analytics tool built in to your Facebook page is a simple way of figuring out which past content was a success and which content was a failure. Do more of the good stuff.

Facebook Live needs to be part of your strategy: Livestream content has the highest priority in Facebook's algorithm right now, your charity needs to take advantage of that. You could livestream a Q&A with a health expert, livestream your CEO's talk at a conference, livestream a fundraising're only limited by your imagination.

Consider groups instead of pages: If your aim is to create a community of users, volunteers or supporters then a group can often be a better approach as it is built for peer-to-peer communication. Also consider what existing groups exist and engage in those - go to where your audiences are, don't expect them to always come to you. This could be geo-specific local groups or thematic groups, say for a specific health condition or a group for dads.

Be interesting and useful: Seems obvious right? You need to give people a reason to want your posts on their personal timeline. Build engagement around your key issues and become an invaluable resource for your users.



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