Facebook moves to ‘fix’ the News Feed by de-emphasizing commercial content

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Facebook has had a tough year. Despite the fact that revenues are soaring, engagement has declined, and there’s less personal content sharing on the site. In addition, the societal discussion around Facebook has turned sharply negative since the election of 2016.

Earlier this month, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said his goal for 2018 was to “fix” the product:

Today feels a lot like that first year. The world feels anxious and divided, and Facebook has a lot of work to do — whether it’s protecting our community from abuse and hate, defending against interference by nation states, or making sure that time spent on Facebook is time well spent.

My personal challenge for 2018 is to focus on fixing these important issues. We won’t prevent all mistakes or abuse, but we currently make too many errors enforcing our policies and preventing misuse of our tools. If we’re successful this year then we’ll end 2018 on a much better trajectory.

The twin goals of increasing user engagement and fending off “fake news” and foreign manipulation prompted the company to announce a major change last night. Facebook is going to prioritize content from friends and family and de-emphasize content from brands, businesses and media publishers (so-called “public content”):

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.

One question being raised in the wake of these changes is whether they will increase the “echo chamber” effect that has been decried by many critics. In other words, will people simply see posts and content that reinforce their existing ideological positions and beliefs? That may be inherent in the nature of Facebook itself, however.

Zuckerberg said in his blog post that he anticipates “some measures of engagement will go down” for brands, media publishers and small businesses. While some have speculated that Facebook’s business interests may be harmed by the move, it will probably drive more advertising to reach audiences.

In a “News Feed FYI,” Facebook’s Adam Mosseri recommended several things to brands and businesses:

Page posts that generate conversation between people will show higher in News Feed. For example, live videos often lead to discussion among viewers on Facebook — in fact, live videos on average get six times as many interactions as regular videos. Many creators who post videos on Facebook prompt discussion among their followers, as do posts from celebrities. In Groups, people often interact around public content. Local businesses connect with their communities by posting relevant updates and creating events. And news can help start conversations on important issues.

Using engagement-bait to goad people into commenting on posts is not a meaningful interaction, and we will continue to demote these posts in News Feed.

In other words, the advice to publishers and brands is:

  • Create more longer-form video.
  • Spend more time producing genuinely relevant and engaging content.
  • Don’t try to trick people into engaging with content.

The market sees the change as negative (perhaps temporarily), and right now Facebook’s shares are down in pre-market trading.

After initially dismissing Facebook’s role in the “fake news” and Russian influence controversies surrounding the 2016 election, Zuckerberg has become increasingly disturbed that the company he built is doing more harm than good. He and his team are trying to correct that and restore Facebook’s reputation and its value to users, which has continued to decline, even as the company’s business has grown dramatically.


About The Author

Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog, Screenwerk, about connecting the dots between digital media and real-world consumer behavior. He is also VP of Strategy and Insights for the Local Search Association. Follow him on Twitter or find him at Google+.



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