Facebook is stamping out spammy “engagement bait” posts it says are gaming the system.

In December 2017, Facebook announced that posts that goad people into interacting with likes, shares, comments and other actions were taking advantage of the News Feed algorithm, using engagement bait tactics in order to achieve greater reach.

You know, spammy posts like this:

Taco engagement bait

So starting in mid-December, Facebook began demoting posts from people and pages that use engagement bait.

But what exactly is engagement bait? And should you be worried that your posts might get inadvertently caught up in the mix and penalized?

Let’s take a look at how Facebook has defined engagement bait and the five different types of posts that are being demoted. And why you’re probably safe sticking to what you’re already posting if your focus is sharing quality content.

What is engagement bait?

Facebook is on a mission to make the platform a more authentic place, so much so that Mark Zuckerberg has made it his personal challenge this year to fix Facebook.

Stamping out engagement bait is one of the social media giant’s first moves since Zuckerberg’s announcement. In order to do this, the company reviewed and categorized hundreds of thousands of posts to inform a machine learning model that detects different types of engagement bait.

These spammy posts aren’t banned exactly, but Facebook is now demoting them in the News Feed so you should see fewer of them as you scroll through posts.

This automated system looks for engagement bait posts that fits into one of these five models:

1. Votebaiting

Since Facebook added reactions to the platform in 2016, they’ve become increasingly popular with marketers and businesses as a way to draw in and engage users who like to get involved in conversations, but don’t necessarily want to give a thumbs up or leave a comment.

Vote baiting is when a post asks people to vote using an unrelated reaction, as in the following example where leaving a Wow, Love, Haha or Like indicates your 2018 goal.

Facebook’s issue with vote baiting is that it asks people to use reactions in a way that don’t genuinely reflect their true feelings towards the post, i.e. reactions emojis are being used for something other than sharing an honest reaction.

Vote engagement bait

Facebook actually has rules regarding the use of reactions and makes it crystal clear that they shouldn’t be used as a voting mechanism. Interestingly, before the engagement bait announcement Facebook’s guidelines previously stated: “Don’t associate a Reaction with something that doesn’t match its emotional intent (ex: “choose angry if you like the cute kitten”).

If you want to run a poll on your page but are worried you will be penalized for vote baiting, it’s best to share a URL to your poll and ask people to visit on off-Facebook site to vote. This way, you can still draw attention to your vote without asking people to engage or vote directly on your Facebook post.

2. React baiting

Like vote baiting, react baiting asks people to react to a post using a reaction. The only difference is that by reacting, you’re indicating how you would describe yourself as per the post’s rules, as shown in this image:

Again, the issue here is that this type of engagement bait encourages people to use reactions inappropriately. Basically, Facebook just wants everyone to stop using reactions for anything other than sharing a genuine, honest reaction to a post.
React engagement bait

3. Share baiting

Asking followers to share your post for a chance to win a new car, a holiday to Hawaii or some other incredible prize is the third type of engagement bait that Facebook wants to stamp out.

For some time now, encouraging people to share posts widely has been a win-win for marketers. After all, more users seeing posts and scoring brownie points with Facebook’s algorithm in terms of engagement is a win-win. A great result, right?

Well, not exactly. The problem here is that by asking people to share something simply so they can win a competition, they’re not sharing the kind of authentic, meaningful content that would be interesting to others. Content using this tactic clogs up the news feed for anyone who isn’t interested in the contest.

Share engagement bait

It’s worth pointing out that simply encouraging people to share your content on Facebook hasn’t been banned. It’s absolutely fine to ask for shares, as long as your content is actually genuine and interesting.

4. Tag baiting

Tagging people in the comments of a post allows you to grab someone’s attention and bring them into a conversation. But if you’ve seen a tag baiting post, you’ll know that the comments are usually filled with dozens of names and zero conversation. The aim of the game with this type of engagement bait is to pull as many people into the post as possible and rack up a stack of engagement with very little effort.

This is just another way of gaming the system. And so tag baiting is now a no-no. Posts like the one displayed below will be heavily penalized.

For now, there’s no indication from Facebook that people simply tagging each other in posts will negatively impact reach. But if you’ve been asking your followers to tag each other, it’s best to stop now before you get penalized.

Tag engagement bait

5. Comment baiting

Comment baiting – you guessed it – encourages people to leave a comment.

What’s wrong with comment baiting, exactly? Well, it’s manipulative for a start – these posts provoke people to leave a comment and make you feel like if you don’t say “Yes!” then you obviously don’t love rock, as in the example below. Anyone who loves rock feels obligated to comment or consider themselves a “bad fan”.

Your posts should evoke an emotional reaction from readers, but they shouldn’t be designed to manipulate emotions for the sole purpose of increasing engagement.

Comment engagement bait

These types of posts take up valuable space in news feeds, pushing aside genuine posts shared by friends and family. And it’s for this exact reason why Facebook is cracking down on engagement bait.

This type of content isn’t engaging, thoughtful or interesting in the slightest. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s vacuous and I’m glad Facebook is fighting it.

But what about posts that accidentally use engagement bait tactics?

In its announcement, Facebook made it pretty clear what it doesn’t consider to be engagement bait, specifically:

Posts that ask people for help, advice, or recommendations, such as circulating a missing child report, raising money for a cause, or asking for travel tips, will not be adversely impacted by this update.

So if you’re asking for engagement in a post but it’s for a really good reason, i.e. you’re genuinely asking people for help or you’re supporting a social cause that’s for the good of humanity, then Facebook’s automated system should overlook your post.

Essentially, Facebook wants to know you’re using its platform in an authentic way and sharing content that is meaningful. If this is what you’re already doing, then you shouldn’t have anything to worry about when you share content on Facebook and promote your content.

But if you are using engagement bait tactics and encourage people to mindlessly interact with your content in order to boost your reach, then you should be worried. Pages and individuals that use engagement bait tactics in their posts should expect to see their reach dramatically decrease, if it hasn’t already. Similarly, pages that repeatedly share engagement bait posts will also experience a drop in reach.

Facebook is rolling out the page-level demotion over the course of several weeks to give publishers time to adapt and avoid inadvertently using engagement bait in their posts. But moving forward, Facebook has indicated it plans to scale its efforts to reduce engagement bait.

Remind me again – what is authentic content?

According to Facebook:

One of our News Feed values is authentic communication. We’ve heard from our community that authentic stories are the ones that resonate most — those that people consider genuine and not misleading, sensational or spammy.

In other words, Facebook is going to penalize anyone misleading or sensationalizing their stories, and spam is going to be systematically removed from the platform. Most of these tactics are shady and should be avoided anyway. Now you just have a little extra incentive.

If you struggle to get people interacting with your page without resorting to engagement bait tactics, check out our guide to writing compelling content for social media.

This move towards authentic content in the News Feed is a big deal for Facebook after it admitted to circulating Russian propaganda during the 2016 presidential election.

Last October, Facebook released a handbook for publishers that describes the company’s principles for journalism. Facebook’s VP of News Feed, Adam Mosseri, said the guidelines emphasized “meaningful content” over clickbait.

It’s also worth noting that Facebook has been working to stamp out clickbait headlines and links to low-quality web page experiences. This latest algorithm update is another move towards lifting the quality of content we see in our News Feeds.

What do you think about engagement bait?

This algorithm update is a big deal for marketers and businesses that have relied heavily on engagement bait tactics. If you regularly use these 2012-era tactics, the jig is up. Facebook has made it clear that it only wants meaningful and authentic content on its platform. Anyone seeking to game the platform will see their reach drop.

If you’re looking for ways to grow your reach and maximize engagement, consider using Facebook video and implementing our collection of Facebook business page tips.

For every day Facebook users, this update will be a welcome change for those who loathe scrolling through their News Feed and seeing engagement bait.

What do you think about this change to Facebook’s platform? Are you glad that Facebook is fighting engagement bait? Do you think the update will impact you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Author Image

By Raelene Morey

Raelene Morey is the founder of Words By Birds, a digital writing agency that works with startups, SaaS, B2B, and WordPress businesses, turning your tech speak into words that convert. Formerly managing editor at WPMU DEV. Computer science grad turned newspaper journalist. When she's not taming browser tabs she likes brunching and bushwalking.

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