Facebook's updated Like buttons and News Feed algorithm could be a rose and thorn for marketers, depending on their social approaches.

Facebook has been making a number of changes that could have serious implications for brands’ social media marketing campaigns. It recently removed the thumb from its Like buttons, and if one major overhaul wasn’t enough, it also announced an algorithm update.

Designed to give news content more exposure and (potentially) push low-value posts like cat memes out of site, the Newsfeed ranking system is expected to help Facebook offer users superior experiences.

As the dust settles on these releases, it appears there are both ups and downs for marketers, depending on how well they execute social strategies.

FB algo checks source quality – Not content type

Facebook’s initial announcement about the algorithm update was slightly unclear about what kind of content exactly would take prominence. It referenced links, newsworthiness and quality copy as factors in posts that will get more exposure in News Feeds.

“Our surveys show that on average people prefer links to high quality articles about current events, their favorite sports team or shared interests, to the latest meme. Starting soon … high quality articles you or others read may show up a bit more prominently in your News Feed,” the press release reported.

Even with the new ranking system in place, users might see 10 percent fewer memes or 10 percent more news articles.

To shed some light on what’s expected to surface above the fold, Facebook’s News Feed manager Lars Backstrom recently spoke with Peter Kafka from AllThingsD. Backstrom ultimately said these change won’t be as dramatic as people anticipate. Even with the new ranking system in place, users might see 10 percent fewer memes or 10 percent more news articles.

As a point of clarification, Backstrom said marketers can’t cheat the system by publishing content as ‘news.’ The algorithm is less focused on the content type and more concerned about the source quality. What Backstrom described sounds similar to Google’s Quality Score, which surfaces brand content from high-quality sites over pieces from lower-quality sources.

In another move to discourage cheap tactics, Backstrom said Facebook posts that beg for engagement will fall out of sight. Content that asks users to “Like if you like puppies” or other blatant CTAs are being weeded out, which means marketers must create content that grabs followers’ attention all on its own (Think: Great writing, interesting topics, relevant data).

Good news: No thumbs means more engagement
Facebook removes thumb from 'Like' buttons and social marketing engagement is up.

The thumbs have come off Facebook’s Like buttons, and users are responding positively. Shareholic tracked proprietary engagement data since the graphic changed and noted a dramatic spike in social referral traffic, up 47.77 percent in the past month.

This uptick comes after steady growth in shares throughout the year, accounting for over 6 percent of visits in November 2012 and more than 17 percent of visits in November 2013. Shareaholic’s Danny Wong posits this improvement is due to Facebook’s new button, but also its ongoing efforts to provide users with valuable experiences on the network.

The takeaway: Facebook can’t be an afterthought

Social media is no longer the new kid on the marketing block and brands must recognize how it’s evolving if they want to succeed. Marketers must perform due diligence to determine what their audiences are seeking through brand interactions and find ways to exceed their expectations.

Lauren Kaye is a Marketing Editor at Brafton Inc. She studied creative and technical writing at Virginia Tech before pursuing the digital frontier and finding content marketing was the best place to put her passions to work. Lauren also writes creative short fiction, hikes in New England and appreciates a good book recommendation.