3 Key Considerations in Facebook's Latest News Feed Tests
Facebook recently announced that they’re conducting a test of a new News Feed format which would remove direct Page posts from the main News Feed. This would mean your main feed would predominantly become updates from friends and family, with posts from Pages you follow available on a separate ‘Explore’ feed.
An example of how the 'Explore' feed is currently displayed to Slovakian users
As explained by Facebook’s head of News Feed Adam Mosseri:
“We always listen to our community about ways we might improve News Feed. People tell us they want an easier way to see posts from friends and family. We are testing having one dedicated space for people to keep up with their friends and family, and another separate space, called Explore, with posts from pages.”
The key clarification of note here is that Facebook currently has no plans to roll this test out any further than the six nations it’s being tested in. Those nations are Sri Lanka, Bolivia, Slovakia, Serbia, Guatemala, and Cambodia.
Again, as explained by Mosseri:
“The goal of this test is to understand if people prefer to have separate places for personal and public content. We will hear what people say about the experience to understand if it’s an idea worth pursuing any further. There is no current plan to roll this out beyond these test countries or to charge pages on Facebook to pay for all their distribution in News Feed or Explore.”
So, no need to panic just yet - Facebook, at this stage, doesn’t have any plan to broaden the test pool to other regions. Mosseri further clarified that the test will likely need to run for months before they have any definitive data.
But Facebook is conducting a test for the purposes of a potential broader rollout, if the results are positive, if the data shows that it helps boost the key metrics they’re looking to shift.
So far, the Pages within the test regions have reported massive declines in reach – but even then, there’s no reason to start shifting your resources away from Facebook just yet.
There’s a lot to consider in this test, both positive and negative - here are a few points to keep in mind when assessing the potential future of this Facebook test, and what it could mean for your Page reach and Facebook success.
1. The current format is likely not the final form of this test
Right now, users in the six regions noted above have their News Feed as normal, then they need to click through to the Explore feed to see Page posts.
Note the wording change on the 'Explore' header in the test regions
As explained by a user in Guatemala on the Social Media Today Page:
“…you can't see when someone comments or when someone gives a like to a post. You can only see posts or pages they share.”
So, if a user shares a post, it still appears in the main News Feed, however, other interactions don’t trigger a notification in the feeds of your connections.
This makes the separation between the Friends and Family feed and the Page feed fairly distinct. Reportedly, promoted posts still show up in the main feed too, but outside of these two variations (sharing and promoting posts), Pages can’t break into the main news feed.
But as noted by Mosseri, this is just a test, and the format, if they were to go with this, would likely be changed.
One of the biggest issues right now seems to be visibility – if users have to click through to a separate ‘Explore’ feed, then that significantly reduces Page reach. But what if they didn’t have to go to as much effort to find Explore. What if, for example, they could simply swipe right?
Facebook’s actually tried this option before – back in mid-2016, they tested out a new set of topic-based feeds, which enabled users to swipe across to get to the new listings.
If you had two feeds – a 'Friends and Family' feed and a 'Pages' feed, which you could more easily switch between, the impacts would likely be far less than they would in the current form, especially if Facebook made a specific commitment to educating users on the new process.
In fact, if users were educated on such process, and it became a more habitual behavior, it may actually help expose more Page content.
Again, as noted by a commentator in one of the test regions on the SMT Page:
“The truth is that I like it because now in the explore area I can see a lot of pages that I forgot I was following.”
If you had a separate feed for family and friends and Pages, it could, potentially, help increase exposure, and action. If Facebook could adequately educate users on the update usage process. That’s likely part of the reason why they’ll need months to test, because it will require a shift in user habits – but it worth noting that there are ways this system, if implemented, could work.
Also worth noting - according to Filip Struhárik, a writer for Slovakian publication Dennik N, while all of the major Slovakian media Pages have seen significant reductions in Page reach since the beginning of the experiment, 'traffic levels of most news portals have remained unchanged'.
"To Slovak publishers it became very clear that their Facebook Pages were not as important as they thought. Yes, if one dug deep into the statistics, one knew before this that the number of link clicks on a page is just a fraction of the total traffic from Facebook. Changes in the News Feed only emphasized this fact. What’s important are influencers and people who share articles. Facebook Pages help, but their impact is not dramatic."
This is another interesting consideration - it may be that Facebook knows something publishers don't, and that reach is not as critical a metric as it may seem.
Again, there's a long way to go with the test before we see anything like its possible final form, if Facebook were to go this way.
2. Facebook needs engagement
One of the key problems Facebook has been looking to address in recent times is the decline in original content sharing – i.e. the sharing of personal updates and photos from users.
According to leaked reports back in 2016, the sharing of personal updates on Facebook had fallen by 21% between mid-2014 and mid-2015, with a rising number of people shifting their personal interactions to more private group conversations and/or on other apps - most notably (among young users at least) Snapchat.
That lead to Facebook reportedly formulating a team to address what they’d labeled ‘context collapse’, and since then we’ve seen a range of tests and updates aimed at boosting personal sharing, with this latest News Feed test the latest along this line.
So why is personal engagement so crucial to Facebook?
Again, as explained by Adam Mosseri:
The key thing is that if people consume less overall, which is a real risk, there will be less ad inventory, and in turn less revenue.— Adam Mosseri (@mosseri) October 26, 2017
If Facebook starts to see a decline in engagement, they lose, which is why they need to adjust to user trends in order to further encourage on-platform engagement.
Will this new test do that? It’s hard to say – definitely Facebook has noted that shares of publisher content have grown at a faster rate than original sharing, and previous research has shown that those personal updates and connections are what keep people around on a platform for longer.
Publisher content is a big part of Facebook’s eco-system, for sure, but fostering interpersonal connections is arguably the most critical element. If Facebook continues to see declines on this front, and users switch across to other networks, that could become a much bigger problem overall, where everyone loses out.
For this reason, the test makes sense – Facebook’s even acknowledged that such a change, if implemented, would likely impact their revenue, in the short term at least.
Facebook know the risks - but they also know the risks of remaining stagnant. That might not help reassure brands who are concerned about the possibility of seeing their Facebook reach decline, but in a bigger picture sense, anything Facebook can do to encourage more personal sharing will help.
3. Additional opportunities
The last key point I think is worthy of note is that if Facebook could encourage a behavioral shift like this, it could open up a lot more opportunities – for the platform and for Pages.
Traditionally, the News Feed has been Facebook - it’s the first thing you see, and for most, it’s the only consistent interface they interact with. But Facebook has grown into a massive network, with a range of feed options and tools, many of which users are simply not aware of. By encouraging behavior beyond the main feed, Facebook could become a more all-encompassing option, showcasing the many ways in which you can use The Social Network’s tools.
For example, if Facebook were to implement a swipe right style feed and see positive results, that could make it easier to add another option to that process – maybe Marketplace listings relevant to you, Groups. Maybe even a trending news module on personally relevant topics.
Yes, this is a significant change, and the impacts for Pages could be negative, but there may be ways in which Facebook can use this to re-educate their audience on how to use News Feed, which could actually lead to more in-app engagement in their various options.
That could be hugely beneficial for Facebook – but in order to enact that shift, they need to make some significant steps, and see how people respond.
That’s what this test is about – really, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for Facebook to completely cut off Page reach, as Pages buy more ads based on getting a taste. For example, you post something that reaches a couple of thousand people, but could reach ten times that through paid boosting, that’s a pretty good carrot for Facebook to hold out in front of advertisers.
But if your organic posts are reaching no one, fewer businesses will be as willing to pay up, as there’s less initial incentive. And even if you do pay, if you’re not generating organic reach and engagement at all, you’re only setting yourself up to keep paying in future.
Facebook needs some level of organic reach to keep businesses engaged - it makes sense for them to facilitate this as well as personal engagement. The key lies in finding the right balance, which Facebook clearly doesn’t feel they have yet.
But there are ways this could work for regular uses and brands, it’s not the doomsday scenario some have proclaimed – at least, not yet.
Facebook have built their network into a massive, multi-billion user platform, a tool that’s become almost essential to modern business. They’re not likely to kill that off by turning their back on businesses entirely.
There’s a lot more to come from this experiment, it’ll take a long time till all the data is assessed. But it’s likely not the beginning of the end for Facebook reach entirely.
There'll be much more to come before we see any such change rolled out on a global scale.
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