When you give people an inch, some will take a mile—and these are the folks who ruin it for everybody else. Such is life, and the reason behind some big changes to Facebook links that are coming down the pike.
If you manage your company’s Facebook page, you are likely familiar with the capabilities of Facebook links. You write your post, paste in your link, and the platform automatically generates a link preview. From there, the link headline, preview copy, and photo have been editable, which can be helpful when these fields don’t auto-populate quite how you expect. For example, maybe you are linking to a blog post, but the auto-populated image is unrelated to the topic, having been pulled from the page’s header, sidebar, or another area altogether. Facebook has allowed you to swap out that image with one of your own to “fix” the way the link appears so that it looks professional, purposeful, and relevant to your audience. This is about to change (if you haven’t noticed changes already).
(In the above screenshot, I am still able to click on the “+” sign to upload my own photo to accompany my link.)
Unfortunately, some Facebook users have utilized these customization features for dishonest reasons, swapping out link headlines, preview copy, and photos for things that are completely unrelated to the content that is actually included on the linked webpage. This is called “clickbait,” essentially a bait and switch. These users take advantage of compelling images or headlines to garner traffic on their webpages—pages that would not have attracted as much traffic on their own. Most of us have probably fallen victim to this at some point. “WOW! YOU’LL NEVER BELIEVE WHICH CELEBRITY IS QUITTING THE BUSINESS!” reads the headline, with a photo of Oscar-winner Leonardo DiCaprio pasted above. Click on it, however, and it takes you to a slideshow of B-tier actors who, over the years, have left show business for one reason or another…and Leonardo DiCaprio is nowhere on the list. This practice was also heavily used (and criticized) during the 2016 presidential election season, contributing to the current war against “fake news.”
Facebook is waging its own war on clickbait by removing the capability to edit link previews going forward. Some pages may notice reduced editing permissions already, as Facebook rolls out the changes across its platform. Most—if not all—users can no longer edit the headline or preview copy. By September 12th, 2017, the capability to replace images will be removed as well.
What can Facebook users do about these changes? Well, not a whole lot—except adapt. The move to less customization means that social media managers will need to be more diligent about vetting links to ensure the auto-populated images and copy are acceptable for their brands. And when writing headlines—for blog posts, articles, web pages, and more—teams will need to write them with social media in mind (which is a good practice anyway). Webmasters will also need to ensure that page title and meta tags are up to snuff to avoid links that look like this:
As shown above, the copy that auto-populated does not generate any interest in this link to our McDougall Communications blog page. The page title/headline is non-specific, and the preview copy is pulled from one of the blog posts on the page, instead of being representative of the blog as a whole. It took some updating on the backend of our website to ensure that the blog page preview now looks like this:
There are a few tools that can be of use in preparation for these changes. Facebook has provided a “Sharing Debugger” tool, which enables you to preview what your links would look like before posting them (and you can check out this blog post for more information on how that works).
In the end, we can all appreciate what Facebook is doing to crack down on clickbait and fake news, but it’s important to recognize how it impacts all of us who are working to represent our brands in the Facebook community. We’re prepared, so the only thing left to do now is wait to see how these changes take shape. Good luck out there! And let us know if we can help.
By Heather Kowalczyk