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New Facebook algorithm deepens problems for public sector engagement


What just happened?


Although it’s estimated that by 2020, 52 per cent of the UK population will be on Facebook, today one of Facebook’s core statistics does not look good. Time spent on the network — a number that drives the tech giant’s revenue — is down by an estimated 50 million hours per day, globally.

In addition to the reduced dwell time of constituents on the social networking site, public sector organisations currently using Facebook to engage local people must now contend with a change to the algorithm that brings significant ramifications. As Facebook commits to promote more personal interactions (over business) and to combat fake news, organisations can no longer rely on the platform as an effective means to share important updates with customers. The viewership of organic posts is taking a nose dive.

In January 2018 Facebook announced changes to the algorithm that dictates what users see on their newsfeeds, putting a sharp focus on personal interactions between family and friends instead of allowing posts from businesses, brands, media and government to dominate. This move aims to help combat the spread of inaccurate stories and information, and reconnects the user experience of the platform with its original social purpose. Mark Zuckerberg cited “a responsibility to make sure our services aren’t just fun to use, but also good for people’s well-being” as justification for the change.


A decline in audience reach and engagement for public sector orgs


Public sector organisations are lumped into the category of private businesses on Facebook, therefore their posts will largely be filtered out of citizens’ newsfeeds. This means fewer people will see updates in their newsfeed from their local council, police or fire service, and the number of citizens absorbing important news about public service changes, or getting involved in the opportunities promoted, will decline with the reach.

If Facebook is to yield any meaningful citizen awareness, understanding and action for an organisation’s digital engagement strategy, organisations must find other ways to be part of users’ experience on the platform. Only those with significant ad budgets and/or the ability to engage through individual staff members (and advocates) participating in Facebook community groups may be able to make Facebook “work” for them.

According to a recent GovTech article, government organisations are already feeling the effects of the algorithm change. One local government (with 1,700 followers) revealed they experienced a 5x decline in post views.


Social vs email engagement rates


Besides the changes to the content being prioritised on Facebook, the public sector cannot afford to privilege social media outreach over email and text messaging. Even before this algorithmic change, studies by Oglivy and Edgerank Checker suggested that organic reach for each Facebook post was between 2 and 6 per cent of a page’s following (lower if you have a larger following), demonstrating the limited potential impact of organic posts.

For organisations in need of a more reliable and impactful communication channel, email updates sent from local government in the UK to citizen subscribers achieve an average open rate of 32 per cent and an engagement rate of 56 per cent. To fan the flames a little more, do keep in mind that 37 per cent of British adults do not use social media regularly and 77 per cent of citizens over 65 do not use any social media [source: Ofcom].

Given that 93 per cent of adults in the UK has an email address and almost everyone can receive text messages, solutions such as the GovDelivery Communications Cloud (by Granicus) will be even more critical to the public sector’s ability to connect with constituents. The Communications Cloud is already serving 150 UK organisations, connecting 12 million citizens. Granicus customers deliver timely and on-brand multi-channel digital campaigns that inform, engage and move the public to make better decisions and take positive action.

How is your organisation planning to deal with the Facebook change? What kind of engagement metrics are you seeing? Do you need a more reliable and effective means to engage constituents in your services and programmes?

If you’ve been looking for a reason to justify the purchase of a new communications platform, the new Facebook algorithm is definitely the final green light you need. Public sector organisations must diversify their communications now or risk an inability to reach and engage citizens at scale.


The reliable engagement tool you need


Please get in touch with Granicus today to discuss your organisation’s digital engagement strategy, current strengths and weaknesses, and what you want to achieve next. We’re ready to help you.