When marketers get scared, at least we have the decency to give cool, fun names to describe our fears.
To the experts, the sky is falling.
"The Facebook Apocalypse."
"The Social Media Collapse of 2018."
Beyond these frightening headlines, what is truly going on, and is it really that bad?
The Panic and the Hype
Late Thursday night on Jan. 11, Facebook's founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg sent a terrifying shiver down the back of every social media marketing expert. His announcement, in summary, said that Facebook has lost its way in connecting people. "Posts from businesses, brands and media—(are) crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other." To combat this, Facebook is preparing a massive change, aiming to tweak what appears in one's Newsfeed.
In the scariest, most frightening, and quotable portion of the message, Zuckerberg states, "As we roll this out, you’ll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media."
Did he just say people would be seeing even fewer posts from my page?!? According to Facebook's own admission, less than 16 percent of my audience is seeing posts from my page now (and according to third-party analysis, it's actually less than 7 percent).
To the experts, the sky is falling. Ever since unveiling a new mission statement last summer, "Bring the world closer together," Facebook has had many of us so-called experts confused and nervous as things change behind the scenes. Our Insights fluctuate up and down, and down again, like never before.
If last summer's change was a hole in the dam, last week's news looked to be the dam bursting and the town flooding.
Rather than being coy about the coming changes, they just straight up said organic reach is going down, the need to pay is going up, and people will be spending less time on Facebook.
The news was so terrifying, reports over the weekend said it cost Mark Zuckerberg $3.3 billion as nervous investors ran screaming.
As I said in my presentation at the WFX Conference & Expo in Dallas last October, "Feeding the Robot: Unlocking the Facebook Algorithm for Fun and Profit," Facebook presents itself as an unfiltered group of people. They are just a group of your friends having a chat.
In this latest announcement last week by Facebook, however, they more transparently say what they are: An edited, curated stream of content; not too different from a magazine or entertainment website.
Just like those magazines and sites have editors, Facebook has its Newsfeed algorithm.
One job an editor does for their magazine is create a style that presents the magazine as it wishes to be seen. For example, consider the differences between The New Yorker and Mad Magazine. Both have cartoons. Both can be political, topical and satirical. Both make strong statements on culture.
But there is no way you would ever confuse the two.
The New Yorker is classy, high-brow, and well composed. Mad is gross, low-brow, and goofy. But despite differences, each magazine is carefully designed. They have carefully crafted their image over time by selecting content that appeals to their sensibilities, different though they may be.
That's what the Newsfeed is supposed to do for Facebook.
Facebook wants to be known for a certain style. And in a bizarre, self-aware moment, Zuckerberg has given us a look at how they want to see themselves and just how short of that mark they have fallen.
"We feel a responsibility to make sure our services aren't just fun to use, but also good for people’s well-being," noted Zuckerberg. Quite an admission. To spell out the subtext, he is acknowledging their services aren't fun and they are not good for people's well-being.
They used to be.
They want to be.
But Facebook is not currently fun and good. Can we really disagree?
At Christmas each year, the photo team at Crossroads Community Church in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, hosts free family portrait photos during our Christmas production. To make it easier for people to get their digital photo, we started uploading them to Facebook.
This Christmas, as I explained the process to families in line, I frequently heard a theme repeated time and time again, something I hadn't heard before:
"Oh, Facebook? I don't use that. It just stresses me out."
"Facebook? That's from the devil."
"Ugh I don't have Facebook. It's no good."
Think about everyone you go to church with Did anyone kick off 2018 with a "Facebook fast?" Has anyone on your team ever said to you that you won't be able to reach them on Facebook, because they need to disconnect for a while? Have you ever had to convince a ministry partner of the good in Facebook, because they see it as an evil in the world?
I'm sure you have.
Facebook has been listening.
They know what we think of them. It's time for a change.
If you read between the lines a little, though, there's more than a silver lining here. There's an opportunity.
Last summer, when Zuckerberg was on stage promoting the new mission statement, an official Facebook blog post laid out tools for strategically using Facebook groups. Since that day in June, Facebook's goal to build community focus has given groups have a special sort of priority. So what makes a group different from a page? A page is not a person. It usually uses the overly official and impersonal voice of a corporation.
Even for a church, the picture next to any post is usually a logo instead of a person. In a group, there is no brand disguising who you are talking with. Even the creator of a group must use their personal profile. It's a small difference, but one that underlines the entire strategy. No longer will the voice of authority come from a logo.
We're going back to talking to real people. That's good for us.
A church is not a building. A church is not a brand. A church is a group of believers. And now Facebook is set up to respect us as such a group.
This announcement also directly encourages live video instead of prerecorded video. Zuckerberg also noted, "We’ve seen people interact way more around live videos than regular ones."
Going live, even with your phone is now significant. Production value is not as important. Scripting every detail is not as important. Editing and post is definitely not important. Only the conversation you start is important. It's time to go live.
But the best news in the announcement is maybe the very first line: "One of our big focus areas for 2018 is making sure the time we all spend on Facebook is time well spent." Facebook has been a unique ministry field, because everyone is there. It gathered all the casual web users into one place so we could focus our energy.
After a few years of growing disappointment in the platform, though, Facebook is choosing not to take its audience for granted. Facebook doesn't want to frustrate users until we all quit. They want to give users a better value for their time. And that value comes from us, the content makers and conversation starters.
The Sky Is Not Falling
The truth is there is a powerful opportunity being laid out here. As long as we are not too attached to our business-as-usual mindset, we might actually reach our communities better. It will involve us going out to get them rather than them coming passively to us. But we are disciples of Jesus. That's what we do. Let's save the word "apocalypse" for more serious conversations.