How Aflac overcame changes in Facebook’s algorithm

Facebook limits the organic reach of brands on its platform, so how can you still engage its massive user base? Aflac’s Chris Ehrhart has these tips.

Facebook’s new algorithm is a major headache for communicators trying to reach big audiences on its platform.

The organic reach that brand managers once enjoyed has evaporated as the platform has tried to monetize its tools. If you want to make waves, you have to spend to boost a post. On top of that, Facebook is now prioritizing posts from friends and family over news updates from brand managers and publishers. 

This dramatic change was felt acutely by Aflac’s content team as it tried to build awareness of its Aflac Childhood Cancer Campaign. The team had to adapt to the new reality of Facebook’s algorithm; its ensuing campaign was the winner of PR Daily’s 2019 Digital Marketing and Social Media Awards in the Facebook category.

One of the campaign’s architects, corporate communications consultant Chris Ehrhart, spoke with PR Daily about how brand managers can overcome Facebook’s new priorities.

“In this digital environment, all avenues lead to content,” Ehrhart says, “and the quality of your content is important, but when it comes to building a company’s reputation on Facebook, I would lead with the following three focus points: authenticity, transparency, and an ‘others-centric’ approach.”

Setting priorities 

For Ehrhart, the key is to put your audience first.

“The question you should ask is whether you are considering your audience’s interests rather than using social media as a tool to merely pump out information about your business,” he says. “Numbers are important in a world where everything is measured, but long-term success comes from creating a page that is trusted and shares positive, informative content that provides value to the organization and their audience.” 

A good social media manager should do plenty of listening and a little detective work to discover what his or her target audience wants from content. 

“When in doubt, think about the pages that you follow on your own personal accounts,” says Ehrhart. “Why do you follow them? Usually because the content is meaningful or informative in some way.”

Striking a balance 

That doesn’t mean you can never promote yourself and your products. 

“Social media is a conversation, and like any good conversation, there is certainly room for talking about yourself,” says Ehrhart. “However, always look for ways to demonstrate you care about your social constituency’s interests by finding out where their interests and yours intersect.”

Ehrhart points to Aflac’s campaigns of an example of these principles in action.

“As an example, one of Aflac’s key audiences on Facebook is the childhood cancer community,” he says. “Since 1995, we’ve given more than $134 million to the cause and have developed My Special Aflac Duck®, a robotic friend available free of charge for kids with cancer in the U.S. 

“We like to talk about our efforts in this area, because it’s important to us,” he continues, “but we also know it’s important to a large population of our audience. As a result, we like to share pediatric cancer community stories outside of our company, including stories of brave young cancer patients, their loved ones raising money for the cause, and even furry therapy dogs.”

How often should you post?

Ehrhart stresses moderation when developing a content calendar for Facebook.

“A little temperance goes a long way,” he says. “A reasonable goal is posting content on Facebook an average of four days a week and no more than once per day. You want to establish a presence but not be construed as ‘spammy.’” 

Ehrhart is skeptical of the idea that timing your posts can make a big difference. “While the time when you post can be important,” he says, “especially when spanning multiple time zones, Facebook’s algorithm often may not show a post in a user’s feed until a much different time than when you disseminate it.” 

What does success look like?

Ehrhart warns that metrics such as page follows and post views aren’t a true test of your message’s success.

“Keep in mind, success is not merely about numbers,” he says. “For Aflac, success is found when our message resonates with our audience and leads to engagement, especially taking time to comment or send a private message.

“Engagement tells us that what we’ve just talked about as a company is important enough for that parent of a child enduring cancer treatments to stop what they are doing and take the time to thank us for supporting them,” Ehrhart says. “It’s the independent agent licensed to sell our products who is enthused about our insurance policies, services and brand reputation. And it’s the individual who wants to comment to share gratefulness that their insurance policy was there to help when they needed it most.”

An eye on engagement 

For brand managers looking to address the loss of reach from changes to Facebook’s algorithm, Ehrhart suggests focusing on engagement as a solution.

“Interaction with your content is a better gauge of its value to your audience than if they happened to scroll past it while looking at the latest meme their friend posted,” he says. “Compare your engagement number to the overall reach.” 

So, what should your engagement stats look like? 

“Experts say if engagement is 1% of reach, you’re doing well,” says Ehrhart. “This number naturally informs your content development, providing opportunity to adjust a post that underperforms or even take note of those that get the job done better than others.” 

However, you shouldn’t rest on your laurels once you find success. “It seems sometimes that by the time you figure out what works, Facebook changes its algorithm again, so there is no room for complacency,” he says.

For measuring the effect of your posts, Ehrhart says that Facebook’s native tools are a great place to start.

“I try to keep things as simple as possible,” he says. “Facebook seems to be doing a decent job of helping business users see what works and what doesn’t with content through their native tools. This is not only true of reporting on overall metrics but is also true for developing ads and boosting posts. The platform is good at letting page managers know what does and doesn’t work—helping me to adjust quickly to what does work.”

Building a content calendar

What you post to Facebook depends on your organization’s goals, but Ehrhart has some resources to help you decide what the focus of your social media content should be.

“The editorial calendar for Aflac’s corporate Facebook page content is based on our interpretation of reports from Reputation Institute, considered the gold standard of corporate reputation measurement,” says Ehrhart. “Their RepTrak model identifies seven dimensions of how people perceive a company: products and services, workplace, citizenship, governance, leadership, innovation and performance.” 

Ehrhart says that Aflac’s customers care about the good that the company is doing in the community, and that’s why much of its social media content focuses on corporate social responsibility (CSR).

“Our annual corporate social responsibility survey indicates that consumers want to do business with companies that value doing good in their communities,” he says, “and that’s why we focus the majority of our Facebook content on the dimensions that best communicate our CSR efforts (citizenship, workplace and governance). This focused approach has proven successful for us in strengthening our core audience and developing relevant, timely, engaging content for them.” 

Ehrhart stresses the need for patience when working on social media, especially with Facebook’s constant tweaks and changes.

“Communicating within any medium, including social media, is a marathon, not a sprint,” he says. “In the case of Facebook, the course is constantly changing. There will be moments when you trip or have to pause over which way to go next, but what matters most is that you keep moving, staying aware through education and talking with peers in the social trenches, and having an open mind.”

How are you using Facebook to spread your organization’s messages, PR Daily readers?

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