The company’s new feed algorithm will focus on user posts to increase engagement.
Facebook recently announced a change to its algorithm that will emphasize user posts over those from publishers. The move is designed to make the social platform’s news feed more family and friend friendly, but is likely to hurt publishers who increasingly rely on Facebook to drive traffic. Ultimately, increased engagement on the social network may benefit publishers, but in the short term, the move is likely to decrease the appearance of publisher posts.
“Facebook was built on the idea of connecting people with their friends and family,” Adam Mosseri, Facebook’s VP of product management, explained in a company blog post. “That is still the driving principle of news feed today. Our top priority is keeping you connected to the people, places and things you want to be connected to—starting with the people you are friends with on Facebook. That’s why if it’s from your friends, it’s in your feed, period—you just have to scroll down.”
The news reflects Facebook’s growing concern over user engagement and its fear over the rise of competitors like Snapchat. The move focuses the company more on the user experience and an attempt to provide users what they want, content that is interesting, informative, and entertaining. By promoting posts from users, the company hopes that people will share more as their posts are prioritized. It also based on the idea that posts from friends get better engagement than posts from publishers or brands.
Publishers can’t be happy with the change though as they have grown to rely on Facebook as a vital source of referral traffic. In April, digital publishing analytics firm Parse.ly released a report that found that 41.4 percent of publisher referral traffic comes from Facebook. That’s even more than Google’s 39.5 percent and much more than Yahoo’s 10 percent.
Earlier this year, social media publishing consultancy SocialFlow released a report that found publishers’ post reach dropped by 42 percent, after an earlier algorithm change that also emphasized user posts over publisher content. The new algorithm change is meant to enhance the promotion of user posts over publisher content further and could lead to a further decline in publisher reach.
The company is trying to assure publishers that the changes may affect traffic but don’t have to reduce publisher content interaction. Though it means that publishers have to work harder to identify stories that will be shared by users because that will make sure the stories end up in people’s news feeds.
“Overall, we anticipate that this update may cause reach and referral traffic to decline for some Pages,” Lars Backstrom, engineering director at Facebook, explained in a separate blog post about the update. Offering advice, Backstrom added, “We encourage Pages to post things that their audience are likely to share with their friends.”
Facebook’s user number is substantial, it remains the most extensive, most active social network, with 1.49 billion monthly users, but a big part of its success has been a focus on user experience and user engagement. Over the past year, the company has seen dips in engagement. A study last year by GlobalWebIndex found that from 2014-2015, status updates had dropped from 50 percent to 34 percent, and photo sharing dropped from 59 percent to 37 percent.
The company hopes that by promoting user posts, it will improve engagement. It also wants to keep the platform focused on family and friends as opposed to news. While many people use the social media network to get news, the company realizes that if it becomes all about news users may abandon Facebook, as they seem to be doing with Twitter.
By keeping the social media platform a social platform for users, it may help encourage engagement. And while in the short term the news may be painful for publishers, if it improves overall engagement, the publishers who can succeed may do even better than before.