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Facebook's Experimenting with Alternate News Feed to Boost Content Discovery

The presentation of content and tabs in Facebook’s app is an ongoing, ever-evolving experiment, with the platform’s engagement experts using the constant influx of response data to refine, improve and get you coming back to Facebook more and more often.

Facebook Experimenting with Alternate News Feed to Boost Content Discovery | Social Media Today

Some variations of Facebook’s tab options

And for the most part, the numbers would suggest they get it right – the average time spent, per user, on Facebook’s apps increased from 46 minutes per day in early 2015, to 50 minutes per day a year ago – and that’s despite Facebook adding over 150 million more users in that time.

As the platform has evolved, The Social Network’s engineers have learned what works, what needs to be done to test and refine their approach, and how to launch a new element with a high probability of success.

Which is why I’d be hesitant to write off the addition of Facebook Stories just yet.

But what’s also interesting to note in their experiments is what Facebook’s team are focused on, what elements they’re looking to amplify with their updates. While it’s all just testing, the experiments which do make it to live production do so for a reason - they represent an opportunity that Facebook’s looking to capitalize on. And that’s important, both from a marketing perspective and in terms of trying to understand what shift might be coming next more generally.

The latest experiment seen out in the wild is this:

Facebook Experimenting with Alternate News Feed to Boost Content Discovery | Social Media TodayYou may not have that little rocket tab in your feed – in fact, going on reports, you probably don’t – but some users are seeing this new option appear.

When tapped, the rocket tab takes you to a listing of posts which Facebook thinks you might be interested in, based on your behavior and the actions of those within your network. The listing includes articles, videos, images, all from sources you don’t follow, but that Facebook thinks you might want to see.

Essentially, it’s a trending discovery tab, similar to, say, Twitter’s ‘Explore’ feed, but more focused, using Facebook’s vast data inputs to uncover content more likely to be of relevance to you. And really, that could be where Facebook’s aiming with this, to create a real-time feed of trending content outside of your algorithm-defined News Feed, which can often bear little connection to chronology. Despite Facebook’s ubiquity, Twitter remains the leading platform for real-time content – maybe, if Facebook could uncover more relevant items faster, they could also fulfill this need for users.

Interesting to note too, this appears to be one of the first experiments that's actually added a new tab to the bottom navigation bar. As you can see from the above images, there are five tabs in your Facebook feed, but the rocket tab isn't replacing something as they normally do, it's actually been added in. Maybe Facebook's not only testing whether the function is of interest, but also whether users have a problem with another tab to use. 

This is not the first time Facebook has tested a discovery option – Mashable reported that Facebook was testing a secondary News Feed on Android earlier this month, while users in some regions were given access to a whole set of topic-based alternate feeds last year, which have since disappeared.

Facebook Experimenting with Alternate News Feed to Boost Content Discovery | Social Media TodayThat would suggest that Facebook hasn’t perfected them as yet, but the fact that they’re still persisting underlines that this is a key area they’re looking into.

Facebook confirmed the test to TechCrunch, saying that:

“We're testing a complementary feed of popular articles, videos, and photos, customized for each person based on content that might be interesting to them. We’ve heard from people that they want an easy way to explore new content they haven’t connected with yet.”

As we’ve reported previously, search is a key area of potential growth for Facebook, and uncovering relevant content could be part of that.

And if it succeeds, it could present significant opportunity for Facebook marketers.

For one, Facebook could eventually sell promoted content space within this new tab - although that might go against the utility of it. But even without dedicated ads, it could become a whole new area for potential discovery, putting more emphasis on generating engagement on the platform in order to ensure your content makes the list.

Engagement is already a key focal point of Facebook’s algorithm, and a key way to improve your opportunities for reach, but adding a dedicated trending tab would give brands another avenue through which to reach more users. This could essentially double your prospects of being found – there’d obviously be a new algorithm in play, a new process to understand. But a dedicated discovery tool could be a boon for those who can work with Facebook’s systems.

Right now, there’s not a lot to go on, and it could fade away, just as their previous topic feeds experiment did. But it’s a positive that Facebook’s looking in this direction, and that they may be adding a new discovery tool, in some form, in the near future. 

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