Facebook Newsfeed Changes Have Publishers Worried

Jan 12, 2018

Article ImageHow much of your traffic comes from Facebook? Whatever your answer is, it’s about to change. Facebook has officially announced changes to its Newsfeed algorithm that will put content from friends ahead of, well, everything else. So, whether you’re a media outlet or a marketer, your social media strategy is about to get a big shake-up.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a post: “But 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.”

The move, as pitched by Zuckerberg, is about getting back to Facebook’s roots and putting the well-being of users ahead of numbers. He wrote: “The research shows that when we use social media to connect with people we care about, it can be good for our well-being. We can feel more connected and less lonely, and that correlates with long term measures of happiness and health. On the other hand, passively reading articles or watching videos -- even if they're entertaining or informative -- may not be as good.”

In other words, Zuckerberg is changing Facebook’s focus from “…helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful social interactions.” He continues: “We started making changes in this direction last year, but it will take months for this new focus to make its way through all our products. The first changes you'll see will be in News Feed, where you can expect to see more from your friends, family and groups.”

Zuckerberg is clear. He expects the time people spend on Facebook, and levels of engagement to go down. But it’s also clear that this move hopes to improve the quality of eyeballs brands do get on Facebook: “Some news helps start conversations on important issues. But too often today, watching video, reading news or getting a page update is just a passive experience.” Zuckerberg also makes the point that people interact more with live video than with pre-recorded video, which suggests you might see more Facebook Live in your feed. 

The Response

Media outlets and marketers alike have come to depend on social media platforms in general, and Facebook in particular to help spread their content, so these news changes have some people worried.

“In response to all the recent changes from Facebook, publishers are doubling down on channels they can more directly influence such as direct, referral and email. We always recommend publishers have a well-rounded and diverse footprint for distributing content -- whether it's Facebook, Google, Twitter, Apple News, partnerships, email, search or another route,” says Vipul Mistry, senior business development manager at Intermarkets. “We expect to see a resurgence of pre-social era strategies which emphasize the power of the brand and trust. Publishers creating engaging content and meaningful relationships with their readers will have the greatest success.”

“Analysts believe publishers are going to lose web traffic because of Facebook’s new algorithms and that will make it even more imperative to engage readers directly with their content,” says David Speer, industry consultant of media and publishing, North America, of MPP Global. “Readers loyally pay for news they can trust and will be forced to get it directly from those trusted sources, rather than third parties.”

Publishers have long had a love-hate relationship with Facebook. For many, this change just makes a bad situation worse. FT CEO John Ridding says, “But a sustainable solution to the challenges of the new information ecosystem requires further measures - in particular, a viable subscription model on platforms that enables publishers to build a direct relationship with readers and to manage the terms of access to their content." 

Fake News

While this move has been presented by Zuckerberg as a way to get back to Facebook’s original mission of connecting people, it’s hard to remove the specter of Fake News from this decision. Speer adds, “While Facebook may want to get away from heated political debates and recover some of the credibility lost by ‘fake news’ hacks, many publishers are correct in feeling that the algorithms controlling the News Feeds are not as independent as advertised. These equations work off parameters human beings set and any assumptions or biases inherent will factor in as well.”

One has to wonder how this will really impact the spread of Fake News, especially if your friends and family are the kind of people who share without verifying? Sure, maybe it will be harder for Russian operatives to pay for propaganda to show up in your news feed, but how will Facebook stop your nutty uncle from continuing to spread nonsense? That question has yet to be answered.

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