If your Facebook strategy includes asking users to share or comment on a post to win a prize, or tag their friends, or vote on their favorite something or other--beware. Over the  next several weeks, Facebook will begin demoting posts like these in its members' news feeds.

"This tactic, known as 'engagement bait,' seeks to take advantage of our News Feed algorithm by boosting engagement in order to get greater reach," according to a post today in the Facebook Newsroom blog. And, the company explained, users have said they don't like it. "So, starting this week, we will begin demoting individual posts from people and Pages that use engagement bait."

Where exactly does Facebook draw the line between engagement bait and everything else? Its News Feed Publisher Guidelines describe some specific types of engagement bait that will start getting demoted immediately:

1. React baiting

Facebook's example of react baiting is a post that says, "LIKE this if you're an Aries or LOVE this if you're a Leo to find TRUE LOVE!!!" That's pretty obvious, and pretty silly. But you'll also have to watch out not to write anything like, "Like this post if you agree that sexual harassment is a major problem." If you're accustomed to asking for likes or other Facebook reactions as an informal poll of your friends and followers' sentiments, you'll have to stop that now.

2. Comment baiting

Facebook defines this as "asking people to comment with specific answers (words, numbers, phrases, or emojis)." Its example is a post that says, "Comment 'YES' if you love rock as much as I do." Seems harmless enough, but Facebook has a point that inviting simple one-word comments encourages more people to comment and the more people comment, the more prominence your post gets in people's news feeds--up until now. No word on whether this also applies to all those posts that help you come up with, say, your wrestler name by combining the color of the shirt you're wearing with whatever you last ate, which isn't a specific word or phrase, but is certainly engagement bait. (It can also be fun.)

3. Share baiting

Needless to say, this applies to posts that ask people to share. Facebook's example says "Share with 10 friends for a chance to win a new convertible!" Presumably it also applies to those fake posts by Bill Gates or Warren Buffet that they "want" you to share. And also to those posts about motherhood that you're supposed to "share if you love your Mom." In general, from now on, just don't ever ask people to share your posts, at least not within the text of the post itself.

4. Tag baiting

These are posts that ask you to tag people in an image where they don't actually appear. Facebook's example features a painting of a girl and the request: "Tag friends who look like her. If enough people comment, I get to keep the painting!" Which is both tag baiting and comment baiting in one post.

5. Vote baiting

These are posts that invite users to vote on something via their comments or reactions. In Facebook's example, users are invited to vote for their 2018 goals (get a promotion/find love/be fitter/move cities) by reacting with one of four emoji. Vote baiters can also ask people to vote by posting comments (so that vote baiting is also either react baiting or comment baiting). 

It's worth noting that Mark Zuckerberg first came to prominence with a site called "Hot or Not" that invited users to vote for which was the hotter of two people based on side-by-side photographs. Times change.

The Facebook post adds that not all demotions will be equal: Pages that are repeat engagement bait offenders will be demoted more than others. And it adds that it won't demote posts that ask users to share the alert for a missing child, or ask to raise money for a cause, or seek advice. And, at least for now, its algorithms can't address people or companies who ask their audience to engage on Facebook but do the asking outside of Facebook. (An example would be a newspaper ad that says, "Share our post on Facebook for a 5 percent discount.")

Still, this will have a pretty big effect on many companies that use Facebook to promote their products or services. If yours is one of them, now is the time to change your strategy.

Published on: Dec 19, 2017
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