9 Things Publishers Need to Know About Facebook's Coming News Feed Changes
On January 11th, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced a coming, major shift in the way Facebook will sort posts in it's News Feed.
In a nutshell, posts from brand and publisher Pages are set to be de-prioritized in favor of person-to-person interactions, which will likely mean a decline in organic reach for businesses.
Here are nine things you need to know about the impending News Feed changes.
1. In the near future, posts from brand and publisher Pages will be scored differently from posts from friends
Facebook determines which status updates you see and in what order they appear in your News Feed, by calculating a post ranking score for each status update.
The score is based on various elements - your relationship with the poster, your interaction history, the type of content, etc. - and is calculated via Facebook's News Feed algorithm. Basically, Facebook wants you to be glued to Facebook as much as possible, so it uses your engagement history to determine which posts are most likely to keep you clicking.
Going forward, the weightings of signals in the News Feed algorithm will change. Posts from family and friends will be much more prominent, and posts from publisher Pages will see less reach as a result.
2. Zuckerberg is doing it to save Facebook
Earlier this year, Zuckerberg acknowledged the potential damage the Facebook community could be causing in the world, saying "Facebook has a lot of work to do" on this front. Zuckerberg has made fixing Facebook his personal challenge for 2018.
3. The effect on post-engagement will be significant
Some are saying that the change won't be a big deal, as Facebook organic post reach has been declining for many years now anyway.
We estimate that currently, average page reach per post is approximately between 2% to 5% - meaning that if 100 people opted in to "liking" your page, only two to five of them are likely to see each of your posts.
But Zuckerberg says that publisher posts in aggregate still account for most of the content people see in their News Feed. This is because publishers post substantially more updates than regular users do (e.g., 10, 100, or even 1000 per day). So even if individual post reach is low, Facebook overall still generates an enormous amount of free exposure for brands.
Since Zuckerberg is saying that Facebook would like most updates to come from friends, we estimate that publishers will see a significant reduction in Page reach, clicks, and engagement. This, potentially, could be devastating for publisher engagement, despite falling engagement rates over the past few years.
4. Time spent on Facebook will decrease
Zuckerberg says that "by making these changes, I expect the time people spend on Facebook and some measures of engagement will go down."
5. Ad prices will rise
Zuckerberg adds: "But I also expect the time you do spend on Facebook will be more valuable." This is true not only for users but also advertisers.
If people are spending less time watching funny videos and consuming fake news on Facebook, it means that there's going to be less ad inventory to purchase. Furthermore, desperate brands and publishers will likely resort to spending more on Facebook ads to revive their declining organic reach.
We estimate that Facebook ad costs have increased by approximately 41% in the past year, given the increased popularity of Facebook ads alone. The new change could increase ad prices even more going forward.
6. Facebook acknowledges that spending time browsing videos and news on Facebook is bad for your health
Zuckerberg also explained that Facebook, when used for mostly passive consumption, can be bad for your health.
"We feel a responsibility to make sure our services aren't just fun to use, but also good for people's well-being. So we've studied this trend carefully by looking at the academic research and doing our own research with leading experts at universities."
The research shows that when we use social media to connect with people we care about, it can be good for our well-being - we can feel more connected and less lonely, and that correlates with long-term measures of happiness and health. On the other hand, passively reading articles or watching videos - even if they're entertaining or informative - may not be as good.
7. Publishers that resort to engagement-baiting will be punished
Many advertisers bait users into engaging with their content with offers that promise a coupon code or other incentive for liking a publisher post, as a way to manufacture artificial engagement.
8. Meaningful discussion among friends matters the most
Facebook says that "liking" a post is a passive activity, and is therefore a less meaningful signal to use for ranking purposes.
The company intends to prioritize posts on the basis of how much meaningful discussion they generate - for example, posts that require longer-form responses and subsequent follow-up replies from your friends are the type that will do well.
9. Users can still opt-in to seeing posts from the Pages they follow at the top of News Feed
Users who want to see more posts from Pages they follow, or help ensure they see posts from certain Pages, can choose "See First" in News Feed Preferences.
Given the coming changes, it's time to re-think our Facebook marketing strategy and tactics. The exact impacts of the change are not yet known, but what is clear is that Page post reach will decline. How significant an impact that will have on your content distribution and performance will come down to your approach.
A version of this post was first published on Inc.com.
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