The New Facebook, The Same Charities – our live panel discussion

Facebook Panel Discussion Featured

We brought a panel of social media experts together at JustGiving yesterday for a special social media panel discussion.

The group gave their expert opinions on

  • Facebook’s news feed algorithm changes
  • how their charities ensure their content is seen by as many people as possible
  • whether Facebook will soon be no place for small charities

Watch the panel discussion, or enjoy the full transcript below.

Full transcript

TOM DE FRAINE: Good morning! Welcome to JustGiving Live.

I’m joined this morning by a panel of experts to discuss the Facebook changes to the newsfeed, how this affects your charity, and what this means for the longer social strategy for large, medium, and small charities.

The focus in the feature will be on organic posts and Facebook will be taking preference over people rather than pages, and that’s a kind of important distinction to make.

I’m going to get my panel to introduce themselves and run through a few questions, and then we will wrap it up.

We’ll start on the end.

JOE FREEMAN: I’m Joe Freeman. I’m the assistant director of digital engagement at Breast Cancer Now. We’re dedicated to funding research to help ensure that, by 2050, no one dies from breast cancer.

DAVID PEARCE: I’m David Pearce. I’m the director of fundraising and marketing at Dignity in Dying, and we’re a campaign to change the law to allow assisted dying for terminally ill, mentally competent elders in the UK.

JO EDEN: I’m Jo Eden. I’m from the British Heart Foundation’s social media team. We fund lifesaving research to change the face of cardiovascular disease in the UK.

TOM DE FRAINE: Thank you, everybody. We’ll start on the end with Joe.

How do you think these changes are going to affect specifically your organization?

JOE FREEMAN: I think they’re going to affect us in term of how much time we spend engaging and replying, encouraging conversations with people. I think we know, from what we’ve seen come out of Facebook in terms of the changes is that, meaningful interactions between people is going to be a real key factor in how content performs. So, looking at how we can adopt on our community strategies to encourage people to talk to us and to each other as well and amongst our content.

I think we’ve seen a slight dip in our engagement and reach over the past few weeks already. Whether that’s down to this or down to other factors, we’re not sure. It’s a bit early to tell, but we know that kind of engagement and that driving of conversations is going to be really key. So, we’re looking to focus on doing a lot more of that.

TOM DE FRAINE: And how about you, David?

DAVID PEARCE: I think the jury is out on how much it will affect us. I think, historically, around twelve months ago, we did see a bit of a decline in reach. But, equally, where we are now in terms of the marketplace is a pretty good place. So, I think that reaches about 5 percent is good whereas, for us, 10% is good, and we regularly get 20% of our fanbase reach by a single post.

Just last month, we got a post where the reach was half a million. We have around 300,000 fans or followers, and I think that’s because we’ve always focused on engagement rather than reach. That’s the metrics that we’re interested in, and we treat each post as the start of a conversation. And so, there’s always been a lot going on below each post and we’ve always engaged with that, and I hope that that’s interlayered somewhat from previous changes.

As this change rolls out, whether that will still be the case, that remains to be seen, but we’ve got a few things in place to react, if that does happen.

TOM DE FRAINE: How about you, Jo?

JO EDEN: We really haven’t seen any impact specifically yet. I think we’re going to keep a very close eye out to see if we do.

For us, our reach is kind of, on average, somewhere around 8, 10 percent of our audience. So, yeah, we’re just going to have to kind of ride the wave and see what happens next. Like Dave says, we are planning for it, and I think we’re trying to come up with new ways that we can deal with the dip if and when it hits. But, for now, it’s just, yeah, wait and see.

TOM DE FRAINE: And given the fact that we know these changes are coming, we have a kind of preempt them, do we think that there’s an argument for other platforms? Do we think other platforms can kind of fill that void?

JOE FREEMAN: I think Facebook is always going to be important. It’s a major player just purely through numbers and the people who use it and the potential around that. So, it’s always going to be a part which is why it’s so important to pay attention to these changes and how you mitigate against them.

We’re looking at investing more time on Instagram to see how that works. A bit more strategic thinking around what content works. Give the audience what they want to see. So, we’ll be spending a bit more time focusing on that and how we can use that to ideally drive conversions or interest or engagement with the right content.

TOM DE FRAINE: Thanks, Joe.

How about you, David? Do you think Instagram is a good solution there?

DAVID PEARCE: It’s something historically we’ve not really done very much of. We’re quite a small team – only three of us doing digital and only two of those doing it full-time. So, we’ve been quite ruthless with channels and, really, historically, we’ve only done Facebook, Twitter, and email. But we’ve got a very distinct audience. So, I think, if we moved into Instagram, it would probably be to reach a different audience to the one we are on Facebook, and that’s something that we’re willing to sort of experiment with, but it would be sort of starting from scratch almost for us on that.

Of course, Facebook owns Instagram. So, you know, these kinds of changes might find themselves on that platform as well.

TOM DE FRAINE: Yes, and how do you feel about Instagram, Jo?

JO EDEN: I mean, we are very clear on what works for us on Instagram now. I mean, the development of the insights that we can gain on how our content’s performing has been really helpful, but we know, really, it’s fashion, food, and celebrity. So, I don’t think Instagram is going to be the way that we’ll look at replacing that reach that we get from Facebook.

Instead, I think we’re focusing more on personalizing content for our supporters and warmest audiences – whether that’s through social or through email and giving them the tools to come up with the goods for us. I know I’ve read a lot of articles recently about the algorithm change and people are focusing more on influences and making use of them. I think, for us, it’ll not only be that, but it will be advocating from our warmest audiences.

We know that that has a bigger impact on cold audience than saying, “We’re great. Please support us.” So, if we can do that through really engaging content but place that on people’s personal channels and ask them to do it for us, then we’ll cut through the noise and we won’t have that negative impact of Facebook punishing brands because we are going to be focusing on personal feeds.

TOM DE FRAINE: Yes. I guess that kind of comes back to almost like this grassroots activism kind of level. The way Facebook is going, if it’s going to prioritize conversations, i.e. comments between individuals, do we think there’s something – kind of the approach that David’s using – which is every post should start a conversation. Do we think that’s kind of the way it should be going? And do we think, again, kind of what you said Jo, you know, arming your supporters with this kind of toolkit to engage more people online? Do we think that is kind of going to fill that void?

JOE FREEMAN: Yes, I think it will. I think this conversation is going to be really important, but it’s not always going to be appropriate. So, I think, looking at how you’re going to stage your content and plan the questions and the engagement to boost up your reach because you’re getting that interaction with your content. And then, kind of playing the game with the algorithms a bit with that content as well, you know subsequent posting will also perform well. So, kind of sequencing your content with your ask at the end of that could work quite nicely. You’re going to see greater engagement hopefully on the ask because you’re able to engage with the previous content.

I think kind of creating the advocates is always going to be important. So, knowing, again, linking back into our online community manager and then what you know you’re kind of champions of that platform are and trying to replicate that for Facebook and engaging with the people whose names you see pop up all the time in comments and just trying to drive that, encourage them to help out.

TOM DE FRAINE: Yes, and I guess the big question then, really, for me and kind of what I’ve got with my kind of small charity hat on is, you know, it is with this reduction in reach that is coming and the impact that’s going to have on the smallest organizations, do we think it’s fair to say that small charities should be on Facebook? Is that a pointless place for them to be?

JOE FREEMAN: I think, just by looking at the numbers of users on Facebook, there’s always going to be an opportunity for charity, regardless of size. I think it all comes down to knowing your audience and what content interests them. If you nail that, then you can negate any changes that Facebook make because good content will always win, regardless of any prioritization that Facebook may have.

DAVID PEARCE: You know, I think depends on what you mean by “small” because there’s a lot of variation between what people call small charities. We’re a sort of million-and-a-half-pound organization with twenty staff and Facebook is really important for us. Other small charities I’ve been involved with are so busy trying to, like, provide their service and not go out of business and they don’t do anything on Facebook.

But, if I was sort of starting out now and I was a small community organization, I’d probably consider using a group rather than a page because Facebook seems to be indicating that groups with meaningful engagement are still going to be quite prominent in the newsfeed whereas perhaps branded pages are less so. So, I think that’s something worth exploring, certainly if you’re starting out and you’ve got a community around a specific problem or issue.

JO EDEN: I think my experience with small charities as well has been that, often, the supporters of those charities are incredibly engaged, and they do that job of bringing in people.

And I think the thing to come back to as well is that every big charity has started as a small charity because it’s the nature of growth. So, I think every charity, depending on how it’s run and the aim behind it, has the potential to grow into a big charity. And, I think, looking at those channels that everyone makes use of, the principles are all the same.

So, yes, it may not be for every charity, but that might just be because Facebook has played a massive part in the kind of sustained supported development and journey.

TOM DE FRAINE: I want to focus again on groups and looking at that. Are you all using groups? Is it something that’s a bit of an experiment at the moment? Or do we think that that’s kind of where you see things going more and more? Is there a lot of power in them?

JOE FREEMAN: I think there have been changes to how groups operate and their functionality over recent months. We use them for quite specific things. We have a running one, a cycling one and a volunteering one. So, we encourage people to take part in those events and there’s volunteers to join these group and can interact with us.

I think what will become important is how pages and groups interact with each other and how you can use your advocates within the group who are focused on a very specific thing to make them look at how they can engage with the page content and share it and that sort of stuff is going to generate those meaningful interactions with that kind of already warmed up key audience.

I reckon Facebook will probably look at how groups get prioritized in newsfeed, I think. I joined a group recently and that’s all I see and it’s getting a bit annoying. But I think kind of just making a plan to switch from having a page to a group, for example, for a charity is probably not the best idea at this point in time. I think it’s all still up in the air and it all comes down to I think the point about just the engagement with the content and engage with that. It’s the same whether it’s a page or a group in terms of it gets seen. So, I think the same principles of the quality of content apply.

TOM DE FRAINE: How about you, David? Are you using groups? Is it a bit of an experiment at the moment?

DAVID PEARCE: Yes. I mean, we started, but it’s not a sort of thought through strategic approach. It’s more like dipping our toe in and seeing what works with our audience organically.

So, it’s not something that we’re pushing on our page to get people to join. We’ve done a couple of posts. Got about 1,500 members of the group and we’re sort of working with them really to see how things progress.

But, unlike Joe, we haven’t got lot of challenge events going on across the country. So, we might have two a year, so we can’t really coalesce around, say, running even though running is something that runners love talking about – really, a good group for a big organization.

Ours is more about a specific person and this particular campaign that we’re getting behind. So, Noel Conway is challenging the law in court on assisted dying. He’s dying, he’s seriously ill, so he’s not going to be able to do a lot of campaigning. So, the point of this group is to get behind him and give momentum to his campaign and see how we can support him. And, as that goes to the court uphill, well, I think over the next few months, we’ll see how that group can coalesce around that issue and, if it works, it’s huge.

TOM DE FRAINE: How about you, Jo? What kind of role are groups playing now? Do you think they’re going to play a bigger role in the future?

JO EDEN: Similar to David, we don’t have a kind of strategic plan of how groups will come into BHF’s social plan, but we are experimenting with them at the moment. It’s going to be a kind of wait-and-see thing for us.

We also have a really thriving event page focus on our Facebook page and I want to see how that’s affected by the algorithm as well because, very similar to groups, people are opting into this and they’re showing that they’ve very engaged and they tend to share it with their own friends and family.

So, we know that things like the London to Brighton Bike Ride that’s coming up in June will have a lot of engagement going to that event page, so I wouldn’t want us to say, “Well, we know that groups are potentially going to be a priority for Facebook. Therefore, we set up a Facebook group for it because then we’re splitting ourselves across two different aspects of Facebook.”

So, yes, it’s going to be a bit of experimentation going forward and then just trying to keep up with it as much as we can without really knowing what’s happening.

TOM DE FRAINE: Excellent.

So, I think that’s all we’ve got time for this morning, so I’m going to thank my panel for their insight and their knowledge.

Thank you to Joe, David, and Jo for joining me this morning.

Thanks very much for tuning in!


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Matt Collins is managing director at digital marketing agency, Platypus Digital, and tweets @charitychap