About a month ago, Facebook announced an update to their News Feed algorithm. According to the announcement, the latest update serves to favour personal posts by friends and family that drive more interactions. Which — I suppose — is something that many users prefer over a passive stream of news articles, videos and click-bait crap with questionable origins.
While the tweaked algorithm will likely provide users with a more personal and interactive feel to their News Feeds; something like the old Facebook used to be, prior to the era of ‘fake news’, hatemongering and hyper-individualised echo chambers, it will also be costly to publishers that built their business around the platform. Especially the ones publishing mainly videos.
Wired’s Fred Vogelstein addressed the social media behemoth’s update in an interview of Facebook vice president Adam Mosseri.
“Facebook says users will see more content from friends and family, and less from brands and publishers”
— Fred Vogelstein, Wired
In the interview, Mosseri told there will be an increase in communal content, focusing on “friends and family”. He claimed that “communities on Facebook are becoming increasingly active and vibrant”. While that may be true, the activity comes with a price — it’s a bloody jungle out there! Ever participated in a neighbourhood buy-and-sell group on Facebook? If not, let me suggest you never do, unless you bear some seriously masochistic tendencies.
News Feed vs Group Pages
Even if there’ll be more ‘communal’ content shown, Facebook is nevertheless all about the News Feed, not really about the group Pages.
Once you scroll over a bit of content on your Feed and miss the notification — which is most of the time, as you well know. I mean, how often do you, for example, click on those countless invitations to random events, really? — there’s no retrieving that link. Not unless you actively pursue to find it through the group Page. Which, like said, hardly anyone ever does.
Almost all that happens on Facebook, happens on the Feed.
As the family and friends’ content see a push, your company Page posts will take a hit in organic reach. As Mosseri admitted: “There will be less content directly from (professional) Pages.”
A publisher’s view
I interviewed a friend who works for an international publisher in Finland. The publisher has relied heavily on Facebook as the main aggregator for their content. The insight they provided indicates a new kind of struggle for organic reach.
While their data shows clear downward trend in “the number of people who saw any posts by your Page or about your Page” — likely due to a myriad of issues not all related to Facebook’s algorithm changes— the drop is most apparent from the end of 2017 onwards. What is striking is the utter lack of any peaks to the curve since late November, which is suspect (to say the least) as the number of their followers hasn’t significantly decreased.
Video the one to suffer
While less than a year ago Facebook announced its plans to emphasise the role of video on their platform to promote community, the tide has since turned.
“There will be less video. Video is an important part of the ecosystem. It’s been consistently growing. But it’s more passive in nature. There’s less conversation on videos, particularly public videos.”
— Adam Mosseri, Facebook
Indeed, (expert) video content is less likely to spur a flood of comments than a personal post by a mate. But is engagement all there is to sharing information, building knowledge and bringing us closer to each other? When did ingestion become ‘too little’?
What’s next for publishers?
As a representative of a publisher providing video content for your audience, what is it you should do, then?
At very first, dependency on a platform you can’t fully control isn’t necessarily the smartest move. Thus, investing in an owned and operated media environment may suit your needs better. TechCrunch published a piece of advice for publishers, emphasising O&O initiatives:
“Publishers will buckle down on their owned-and-operated properties and ensure that they are creating the best user experience on the destinations they can actually control.”
— Michael Rucker, TechCrunch
Social media will, nevertheless, continue to serve as an aggregate for publisher contents across the spectrum. However, without a massive increase to native ad budgets, dependence on Facebook as the platform don’t seem like a reliable strategy.
Is there a way back to the personal?
Facebook is soon approaching its teens, and many of us have now spent over a decade on the platform. We’ve hoarded a list of ‘friends’ far exceeding our real friends and family.
Before the time of our crippling dopamine addictions, demanding continual likes and comments to let us feel any vague sense of existence, we used to post personal stuff about our lives without much anticipation for engagement. It was fairly honest and innocent. Now it’s bloated, inflamed, co-dependent and damaging.
In this light, can we really return to the old way, even if the News Feed suggestions support it by promoting the ‘personal’ over the informative/insightful?
Moreover, should the knowledge sharing and connectivity paradigms depend on us feeding the beast with our incessant, shallow interactions?