What is engagement bait and why is it being targetted?
We’re all familiar with ‘click-bait’; a link with an eye-catching picture or headline that invites a look in order to find out something interesting, which then fails to deliver on that promise. Facebook has coined the phrase ‘Engagement Bait’ and declared war against it. But what is Engagement bait?
Those of us who use Facebook for marketing know that we can target advertising at people who interact with our content on the platform and gain useful insights which can help us to properly target future marketing efforts. Additionally, Facebook’s algorithms up to now assumed content which people are engaging with as being ‘quality authentic content’ and position them higher in various newsfeeds.
Getting people to engage can be done in a variety of ways, but Facebook is increasingly being flooded with vacuous posts eliciting people to engage and to effectively spam their friends but offering little of value in return in an effort to game the system. Clearly, this is negatively impacting the user experience, so Facebook has been working on its AI to identify such posts and to take action against them.
Facebook has divided Engagement Bait into five categories;
Typically a question or statement will be followed by a composite image divided into four quarters, each having a Facebook ‘reaction’ assigned to it and inviting the user to vote by selecting their choice of reaction. It was a really clever idea when it first appeared, but it’s been done to death since and has now been declared Engagement bait.
Similar to Vote baiting, but asking users to use the available reactions to signify how they feel towards a particular post.
Asking users to share a post with (read spam) their friends increases the reach of the post, getting it seen by eyeballs which wouldn’t ordinarily give it a look. ‘Share to win’ has been against Facebook rules for some time now, but the reward for spammy posts has so far been far greater than the risk of Facebook finding and penalising offenders. This looks set to change.
If you get tagged in something, chances are you’ll check it out. So asking users to tag (again, read spam) their friends in a post is a sure way to get people to look at whatever it is you’re posting. Effective? Certainly. Annoying? Definitely! So from now on, Facebook will be clamping down on this too.
Making a statement or showing an image, possibly both and encouraging or enticing users to comment is another tactic, known as comment baiting, that Facebook is looking to disincentivise. It might be a fun looking post asking for a one word comment, a depiction of something everyone would be for/against and asking for a comment to ‘prove’ the user supports/condemns it. These are particularly dark and cynical when disturbing imagery is used and guilt tactics engaged to deliberately make the user feel bad about not commenting.
What will happen to those engaging in Engagement Bait?
Facebook wants its users to see authentic conversational content on its platform, but with the sheer volume of traffic added daily, it’s impossible to make sure that every piece of content is vetted by human eyes, so decisions on what content adds to the user experience and what detracts from it must be made algorithmically.
Facebook are satisfied that through machine learning, the algorithms can now successfully identify the difference between, for instance, a page constantly making statements inviting a comment and that friend (we all know one) who constantly posts vague statements of anger or despair and get’s a reassuring response along the lines of “You ok hun?” from dozens of their contacts. Similarly, genuine posts circulating important information about missing persons, raising awareness for charities or asking for recommendations will apparently be distinguished from disingenuine content and not be marked as engagement bait despite sharing many of the hallmarks.
Effective immediately, Facebook will begin to reduce the visibility of content it identifies as engagement bait and pages which produce content which constantly falls into this category will find not just their posts, but the page which publishes them similarly demoted.
How to avoid the engagement bait ban hammer
If you find an effective marketing tactic and spammers start using it, it’s probably time to find another one. Those of us with years of marketing experience beneath our belts will no doubt have seen this coming. When a smart idea starts to become a little too mainstream, it’s usually time to jump off the bandwagon before the wheels fall off.
If you’ve been using any of the various bait tactics described above to drive post and page engagement, then now’s the time to retire these practices and try something different.
The SEO community has known for some time that there’s little that can beat engaging original content and Facebook are increasingly embracing this idea too. If you concentrate on producing authentic, genuine and accurate content which is meaningful and informative, the likes and shares will come. Most importantly, you won’t fall foul of Facebook’s latest AI algorithm and see your page disappearing into obscurity.