Facebook did it again. Change its news feed algorithm, that is.
Facebook’s Engineering Director, Lars Backstrom, announced that:
“we are updating News Feed over the coming weeks so that the things posted by the friends you care about are higher up in your News Feed”.
This move goes in the opposite direction of that announced by Mark Zuckerberg, in 2014, when he said that the company was:
“focused on driving success for partners, whether they’re news organizations that are publishing content that people share or public figures and individuals who are engaging directly on Facebook”.
Backstrom justified the move by saying that user feedback indicated that
“people are still worried about missing important updates from the friends they care about”.
So, seemingly, this recent development is about giving Facebook users what they want. Though, the sceptics among us would point out that, if user feedback mattered, Facebook would stop tinkering with users’ privacy settings, and would let users choose once and for all whether they want their news feed organised by ‘top stories’ or by ‘most recent’.
What else could explain this move, then?
According to technology news website The Information, Facebook users have been sharing less on the website. In 2015, Facebook users shared 5.5% less content than in the previous year; and, most importantly, they shared 21% less personal stories, like announcements, pictures and personal thoughts. This downward trend is particularly significant amount users 30 years old or younger.
The downward trend creates three problems for the social network.
First, it provides Facebook with less insight into its users’ desires, thoughts and other valuable information for its targeted advertising profiles.
Second, it reduces engagement (likes, comments, …) and, simply, reasons to visit the network.
Third, it means that people are moving their personal sharing to other platforms where the audience is less broad than on Facebook – so much so that, according to Statista, Snapchat is now the preferred social media platform for US teenagers.
What will this move mean for users?
This initiative means that personal posts will be given more visibility in the users’ news feed, than generic posts from other users, and even more than posts from institutional pages.
This move, alongside other initiatives such as prompts to share recent photos, prompts to revisit personal posts from previous years, and live video are, indeed, likely to increase the instances of personal, original content in users’ news feed.
However, attention is limited. Hence, with more and more personal content on the news feed, there will also be less and less time and attention for third-parties’ content. This is worrying because more and more people use social media as a source of news and, so, they will end up with a narrower and narrower view of news, debates and opinions. Or, as Wired put it, the latest algorithm tweak means that the
‘Facebook echo chamber just got a whole lot louder’.
What will this move mean for institutional page owners?
For charities, businesses and other owners of institutional pages, it means that their pages’ reach will decrease. To get Facebook users’ attention, page owners need to invest in display advertising, and pay for their content to be boosted.
Other than that, the best chance of having content placed on users’ organic feed is if it is shared by other users. So, page owners might want to incentivise users to share their content – for instance, against entries into a sweepstake.
Finally, it is even more important for page owners to:
- Pay close attention to analytics, to understand what topic and format most resonates with the audience;
- Post content tailored to the users’ interests, over and above the reasons why they buy your product (e.g., hobbies);
- Keep posting new content, both upping the frequency of posts and posting at a time when the target audience is most likely to be accessing the platform;
- Create content that generates a reaction. Questions are good for this, as are posts where users are invited to tag friends. It is also important to remember that people are most likely to share content that makes them look good;
- Understand the type of content that the platform is prioritising. For instance, video content with subtitles and headlines.
Over to you: as a Facebook user, are you happy with this move?