Facebook algorithm updates have a huge impact on the reach that brands and news publishers can get through the platform and this immediately had many worried.
In a statement early this year, Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook’s algorithm would emphasize posts from family and friends to refocus on the primary purpose of why the network was built. Moreover, the platform would prioritize “high-quality and trustworthy” news, relegating other content to the sidelines.
“Since there’s more public content than posts from your friends and family, the balance of what’s in News Feed has shifted away from the most important thing Facebook can help us do — help us connect with each other,” said Zuckerberg in a Facebook post.
Zuckerberg cites human well-being as a key motivator behind the algorithm updates, stating that “passively reading articles or watching videos” correlates to a decrease in measures of human happiness and health.
What do these algorithmic updates mean for the world’s top news publishers and content marketers?
Understanding Facebook Algorithm Changes
For many industry-leading publishers and media companies, Facebook is a primary content distribution channel. In the wake of these algorithm updates, publishers responded with worry and apprehension.
“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,” continued Zuckerberg.
So, what are “meaningful interactions” exactly?
Facebook defines “meaningful interactions” as content that generates valuable conversations between people. For example, live videos frequently inspire discussions; meanwhile, private groups spark dialogue between users who hold a shared interest.
Other “meaningful interactions” include:
1. Comments: Are users commenting on the post?
2. Reactions: Are users selecting “active” emotions — haha, wow, sad, angry — when interacting with the post?
3. Replies: Are users responding to comments?
4. Shares: Are users sharing the content to their wall or the in-suite messaging application?
Impacts of the Facebook Algorithm Change
In a recent report, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism analyzed the effect of Facebook’s algorithm update. The report suggests that, after years of continuous growth, the use of social media for news has started to fall. Facebook usage fell by nine percent; meanwhile, alternative applications and messaging platforms including WhatsApp, Instagram, and Snapchat experienced sharp growth.
Slate revealed that their referral traffic from Facebook dipped by a whopping 87% from Jan 2017 to May 2018 although that included a reduction in traffic from a marketing campaign which featured Facebook posts by celebrities / influencers.
“Since then, a number of publishers have reported a further substantial decline in referrals. One publisher, LittleThings, went out of business in early 2018, citing Facebook’s algorithm changes as a critical factor,” reports Reuters.
LittleThings, which started as a pet supplies e-commerce site, acquired 50 million unique visits in just three years. The company marketed to middle-aged women with inspirational quotes and playful imagery. Unfortunately, LittleThings’ success was short-lived.
“Our organic traffic (the highest margin business), and influencer traffic were cut by over 75 percent. No previous algorithm ever came close to this level of decimation. The position it put us in was beyond dire,” COO Gretchen Tibbits told Business Insider.
How Publishers Can Fight Back
What can publishers do to increase their odds of success on Facebook? Just one week after announcing that the News Feed will refocus on items shared by friends and family, Mark Zuckerberg issued a second announcement that Facebook will identify and promote “trusted sources” based on community feedback.
“There’s too much sensationalism, misinformation, and polarization in the world today,” said Zuckerberg in a Facebook post. Social media enables people to spread information faster than ever before, and if we don’t specifically tackle these problems, then we end up amplifying them.”
To combat the rise of fake news and misinformation, Facebook introduced a two-question trust survey:
1. Do you recognize the following websites? (Yes / No)
2. How much do you trust each of these domains? (Entirely / A Lot / Somewhat / Barely / Not at All)
Facebook doesn't depend solely on survey results, however.
“Embedded in the trust question are additional user characteristics: Facebook is looking at how trusted a news organization is, by a range of users, with a range of news consumption habits,” says Shan Wang, contributor at Nieman Lab.
As a result, publishers must take the necessary steps — creating informative and well-authored content — to boost their trustworthiness in the eyes of consumers.
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