Facebook has introduced major changes to the types of posts, videos and photos that will appear on the News Feed of its more than two billion users. The company said on Thursday that it would prioritise content that has been shared by friends and family while de-emphasizing content from publishers and businesses.
The changes represent the most significant alteration of Facebook’s News Feed in years. According to the social media giant, the move is designed to encourage people to interact more with the things that they actually do see. The idea is that users are more likely to comment and engage with a post shared by family members or friends over ones shared by a business or publisher.
“Recently we’ve gotten feedback from our community that public content — posts from businesses, brands and media — is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other,” company founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained in a public post on Thursday.
Zuckerberg conceded that the change will mean that time spent the platform by users will go down. He added, “but I also expect the time you do spend on Facebook will be more valuable. And if we do the right thing, I believe that will be good for our community and our business over the long term too.”
Who will this affect?
The announcement could affect on everyone from publishers, businesses to the company’s own investors:
- This will majorly impact publishers who rely on Facebook for traffic, or businesses who use the platform for marketing. Facebook is telling both these entities that their content will not get the same kind of reach online as it used to. It is hard to imagine this will sit well with publishers who on Facebook’s urging, spent time, effort and money to structure their content for the social media platform. Many publishers even used Facebook’s Instant Articles to publish directly inside the platform. All that hard work could come to nought.
- Video content like viral compilation clips and video snippets could might be majorly impacted. Under the new system videos are seen as what Zuckerberg described “passive content”, things you sit back and watch rather than interact with. “The demand for video led to the proliferation of fast, cheap video, which meant lots of stock footage with captions over it. This sort of video is one of the obvious losers in today’s announcement,” the Verge’s Casey Newton writes.
- Zuckerberg admitted that he expects people to spend less time on the platform, this could strike a sour note with investors and advertisers. Facebook makes money by selling ads and people spending less time on the platform equates to people consuming fewer ads. All this leads to Facebook making lesser money from advertising.
- Commenting and reacting will replace sharing as the primary element in influencing a post’s reach. Earlier the more shares a content got the more likely it was for it to go viral. From now on content that encourages discussion and invites reaction will be king.
The moves are being seen as a reaction by the company to a major controversies that affected the platform in 2016 and 2017.
“The company has been dogged by questions about how its algorithms may have prioritized misleading news and misinformation in News Feeds, influencing the 2016 American presidential election as well as political discourse in many countries. Last year, Facebook disclosed that Russian agents had used the social network to spread divisive and inflammatory posts and ads to polarize the American electorate,” The New York Times reported.
It’s not the first time Facebook tried to tweak what content appears on user’s News Feeds. In 2016, the company announced it would favor posts shared by people you know over those shared by pages owned by publishers and other businesses. In 2015, it introduced changes that also reduced the reach of public pages in favor of friends and family.
Is Facebook done with Instant Articles?
This move could effectively cripple the floundering Instant Articles platform, that the company had launched as a way for publishers to release content natively on Facebook. Most major publishers around the world joined the platform and this helped Facebook become the primary driver of traffic to these sites. But things changed last year with Google’s introduction of the “open source” Accelerated Mobile Pages publishing platform.
The summary slide on my @BostonGlobe 2017 strategy deck doesn’t include anything re: Facebook pages. Pages are ineffective as they don’t cultivate community and relationships. We’ve known this for years. pic.twitter.com/9bj47VS5PB
— Matt Karolian 💻&🗞 (@mkarolian) January 12, 2018
As reported in December, Google beat Facebook to reclaim the title of the main source of external page views for publishers in 2017. Facebook had usurped Google as from the top spot a few years ago but a report by Parse.ly, a digital analytics company says that referrals from Google went up by 17% while the same dropped for Facebook by 25% in 2017. In January Facebook provided nearly 40% of all external traffic to publishers, by December that was down to 26%. And Google which started the year at 34%, climbed up 44% by the end.
“Facebook put a lot of effort into wooing publishers and brands to its platform. And publishers and brands put a lot of effort into being there. But in the end, Facebook didn’t get all that it wanted out of them. Sensationalized, partisan or flat out bogus news stories mislead people. Branded content made people reticent to post their dirty-mirror bathroom selfie when for fear it would end up adjacent to a professionally shot video with a $3 million budget. Meanwhile, passive consumption of articles and videos made them just feel bad,” Alex Cantrowitz of Buzzfeed News speculated.
If you are a user these changes will probably not seem drastic. And many publishers have already noticed a slump in organic Facebook traffic over the last year or so. But this announcement will probably convince businesses and publishers to pivot away from Facebook as a core platform for reach.