Last week Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the social media platform will be making major changes to its news feed, focusing more on personal posts from friends and family and less on public content like news posts. According to Zuckerberg’s post, the company has done research that shows that connecting with each other strengthens our relationships, improving our well-being and happiness, but reading articles and watching videos ‘may not be as good.’ Content from businesses, brands and media will be featured less prominently.
‘We built Facebook to help people stay connected and bring us closer together with the people that matter to us. That’s why we’ve always put friends and family at the core of the experience. Research shows that strengthening our relationships improves our well-being and happiness,’ Zuckerberg wrote.
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‘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,’ he added.
Zuckerberg explained that he has directed his team to shift their focus to highlight more personal posts from family and friends, but it will take months for the focus to make its way through all of Facebook’s products.
‘As we roll this out, you’ll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media. And the public content you see more will be held to the same standard – it should encourage meaningful interactions between people,’ Zuckerberg explained.
‘Some news helps start conversations on important issues,’ Zuckerberg added. ‘But too often today, watching video, reading news or getting a page update is just a passive experience.’
‘Now I want to be clear: by making these changes, I expect the time people spend on Facebook and some measures of engagement will go down. 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,’ said Zuckerberg.
Adam Mosseri, head of news feed for Facebook, also addressed the changes in a January 11 blog post. Mosseri explained that, because space in the news feed is limited, Facebook will prioritize posts from family and friends over public content which includes videos and other posts from publishers and businesses.
‘As we make these updates, Pages may see their reach, video watch time and referral traffic decrease. The impact will vary from Page to Page, driven by factors including the type of content they produce and how people interact with it. Pages making posts that people generally don’t react to or comment on could see the biggest decreases in distribution. Pages whose posts prompt conversations between friends will see less of an effect,’ Mosseri wrote.
Posts from pages that generate conversations between people will be ranked higher in the news feed. Those that use ‘engagement-bate’ to encourage discussion will be demoted and shown lower in the news feed. Publishers can, however, ask their readers to choose ‘See First’ in their news feed preferences to make sure they see that publisher’s or page’s posts.
This is a significant change for Facebook and its users, but also for businesses, brands and media who rely on Facebook to share their content, engage readers and reach prospective readers. While Zuckerberg and company certainly have the right to change the algorithm to align with their values and goals, this change does not align with Facebook’s claims that it wants to work with publishers and help them find new audiences. In fact, it is counter to what Facebook says it is trying to accomplish with its Facebook Journalism Project, launched a year ago.
Each publisher will likely have a slightly different experience with these changes to the news feed. They will have to review their data to see where the biggest impacts are being felt and decide how to best combat drops in traffic. They can ask their readers to show their stories first in their feed, which may or may not prove effective, or they can strive to improve their posts to suit the new Facebook algorithm.
We anticipate some fallout and outcry from publishers as the transition continues, and rightly so. They were told Facebook wants to support them, yet when it boils right down to it, Facebook is judging their work as ‘not as good’ in terms of connecting us with each other. That’s a pretty harsh judgment and one that some publishers will – and should – take exception to.