15.01.2018 Facebook’s newsfeed changes explained:

What will splitting the ‘social’ from the ‘media’ mean for users and brands?

Nothing stands still in the world of social media, and nobody should be surprised by the changes Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg announced to the platform’s News Feed last week.

Recognising that the News Feed has seen updates from real world friends increasingly squeezed out in favour of content from publishers, brands and “fake news”, the revamped algorithm will prioritise “meaningful interactions” with friends and family.

The idea is we’ll spend less time scrolling through news stories and cat memes, and more time engaging with the people that matter to us.

The move comes in response to criticism that the platform’s 2 billion users were being overwhelmed by fake news, Russian-funded propaganda and mindless memes.

In announcing the changes, Mr Zuckerberg warned shareholders that the revamped News Feed will see the amount of time people spend on the platform fall. But he said this is the first step in making the time users DO spend on Facebook “more valuable”.

“If we do the right thing, I believe that will be good for our community and our business over the long term too.”

Mr Zuckerberg’s decision comes on the back of the company’s own research, which found that social media is best for users when they are actively connecting, rather than scrolling passively through a sea of information.

While this may make for a better user experience overall, what do these changes mean for brands and publishers whose content will inevitably receive less eyeballs as a consequence?

Users will see in-app separation of ‘social’ and ‘media’

Facebook has already experimented in several territories with moving publishers’ content into an entirely separate section of the app, similar to the process used by Snapchat’s Discover feature.

How users, used to seeing a mixture of personalised content served up in one stream, will react to these changes remains to be seen. Snapchat’s recent design resulted in 83% negative reviews in the app store.

The lesson? Mess with an interface users are accustomed to at your peril. 

Expect less traffic and views

Publishers are rightly concerned that the new-look News Feed will result in less traffic for their content – although many will be hoping they will be exempted as “trustworthy media”.

Brands and publishers alike will be scrambling to adjust their content strategies to ensure their content is seen as promoting “meaningful engagement” (as usual, the power is with Facebook to define “trustworthy” and “meaningful” in this context).

Meaningful content – that is, the sort of content that results in high volumes of likes, shares and comments – should be at the heart of your content strategy anyway. But if your content hasn’t been inspiring users to engage, then you’ll need to work even harder to make sure it does from now on.

Ads COULD become more expensive

If people spend less time on the social network, there will be less opportunity to show them advertisements. There are, of course, many other places the firm could place ads – including on its photo-sharing app Instagram and messaging app Messenger.

Considering Facebook’s dominant market position alongside Google — the two companies were estimated to account for a whopping 84 per cent of digital advertising spending in 2017 by media buying agency GroupM — this decrease in opportunities to advertise may allow it to increase prices, following the age-old scarcity principle.

Any such intentions haven’t been confirmed, but it’s worth watching this space closely as the News Feed changes are rolled out more widely.

Brands will have to get creative to reach users

Many publishers and brands will be forced to find ways to go directly to their readers. Jeff Sonderman, deputy executive director of the American Press Institute, has already suggested warning followers they might see less from the publisher’s page in their feed, and encouraging them to click the “see posts first in News Feed” option.

This of course relies on your audience base taking action, and assuming they WANT to hear from you first (and that’s a big assumption!), communicating what they need to do via as many channels as possible will be crucial to ensuring people know the changes are coming and what to do to ensure they are still served up your content.

Other options include asking them to sign up for an email newsletter.

What next?

As The Verge points out in this great piece, Facebook is a company that has always been “defined by ruthless ambition”. It’s fascinating to see it set a new goal; shrinking, or at least slowing down its rate of growth.

The result will see a News Feed populated by fewer links and videos, and more conversations; meanwhile, an army of social media managers will be scrambling to ensure their content strategies will survive the latest revolution.

After its role in the US elections came under huge scrutiny, alongside a growing debate on the impact of the platform on mental health of users, the socially-conscious Zuckerberg  (who has talked openly about wanting his daughters to believe Facebook is a force for good in the world) is clearly serious about doing the “right” thing.

We predict we’ll see more changes before the year is out.