Facebook Change Reminds Us How Much Customer Recommendations Matter

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In a Washington Post Travel section story Sunday, the writer visiting Great Barrington, Mass., chose a restaurant by looking on TripAdvisor. At least weekly, someone in my Facebook network asks what to do and see in a place they're visiting. I have friends that look at Yelp for everything, from what vet to use to what road to take.

I've been reading my way through Facebook's latest algorithm change—which Ernie Smith, writing on Associations Now today, calls "inexplicably decid[ing] to play up friends' social shares over what I was actually reading "—and see it more as a sign of the times. And further evidence that any dependence on Facebook for hosting lots of our content is probably misguided.

"We've heard from our community that people are still worried about missing important updates from the friends they care about," wrote Lars Backstrom, Facebook's engineering director. "For people with many connections this is particularly important, as there are a lot of stories for them to see each day. So we are updating News Feed over the coming weeks so that the things posted by the friends you care about are higher up in your News Feed."

Facebook wants to focus on what they do best—showing us what our friends think and are up to. And we're interested! Kevin Durant just left Oklahoma City to play with guys he likes better in the Bay Area. If we're choosing a hotel, we want to see what others think. If we see people standing in line, it must be good. If we want news, we want to see what others are reading or attending.

"Just remember, folks trust recommendations and reviews from friends or connections over almost all other means, except maybe the word of mouth from a close friend or family member. Research has shown this time and time again," Aaron Kahlow, founder of Online Marketing Institute and more recently Mindful Order of Being, told us at last year's SIPA conference.

Here are a few ways publishers can encourage customer recommendations:

- Incentivize your best customers. "For every referral a customer gives us, we give them a free [membership] month," said Jessica Mah, co-founder and chief executive of InDinero. "We've found that, out of five customers, four won't send any referrals, but one will send 50."

- Be more specific with your social media platforms. "How much time are the editors and writers thinking about the platforms they're writing for and crafting it for there?" asked Brian Madden, VP of audience for Hearst Digital, earlier this year. "'Let me adjust it so it will work on this platform, this site.'"

- Ask attendees at your events to spread the word or live-tweet if they like something.

- Send out surveys and ask if you can use good stuff people say. I just filled one out from a tour that I went on.

- Use games and quizzes that get customers talking about you—a daily trivia question, a weekly quiz, a monthly photo contest. Remember March Sadness 2016, the bracket battle of sad songs (won by Jeff Buckley's Hallelujah over Tracy Chapman's Fast Car).

- Keep the conversation going. Follow up a good article with a live chat or webinar with the author.

Last year Kahlow was asked what the publishing landscape may look like in, say, 2020. "The hot topics will be a lot more focused on trust and authenticity than they are now," he said. "So gear up for gathering and engaging influencers and advocates that truly are passionate about your content and products."

"Let's not panic over what [Facebook's change] means for publishers," tweeted Mathew Yurow, now the director, portfolio performance for The New York Times and former director of audience development. "Facebook without media is just Instagram... I'd much sooner bet that Facebook is a media platform without photos of friends, than a platform for photos without media."

I might take that bet.

Ronn Are you subscribed to the SIPAlert Daily?
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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…