As part of its ongoing effort to keep people engaged, and active on Facebook for longer, The Social Network has announced two News Feed algorithm updates this week, one focused on increasing the prevalence of posts from your closest friends, and the other aimed at reducing shallow, click-bait style content in feeds.
First off, Facebook's aiming to show users more content from the people they care about, by adding in additional feed signals based on user research.
As explained by Facebook:
"We’ve [recently] begun surveying people on Facebook to ask them to list the friends they are closest to. We look at the patterns that emerge from these results, some of which include being tagged in the same photos, continuously reacting and commenting on the same posts and checking-in at the same places. We then use these patterns to inform our algorithm."
Basically, Facebook's now using more signals, and re-prioritizing their algorithm calculations, in order to better uncover the friends you want to hear from most.
The end result, ideally, will be that users see more of their closest friends' content. Since the implementation of the News Feed algorithm, Facebook has been consistently criticized for hiding important updates, and failing to keep people in the loop on key events within their social circles. This change aims to help Facebook improve on this front.
Of course, in doing so, it may also lead to another problem - a viral hoax on Facebook, which you've likely seen surface in your own feed from time to time, claims that Facebook limits the reach of your Facebook posts to the same group of 25 people, and that the only way to 'break the spell' is to comment on said post.
That's not true, but because of the way the algorithm does work, in trying to show you more content from your most relevant connections, it can actually seem that way.
Facebook issued an official explanation to debunk this myth back in February, and its included a note which appears to allude to it again in this update:
"This doesn’t mean News Feed will be limited to posts from only certain people and it doesn’t mean you will necessarily see more friend content. Rather, you will likely see posts from those you have close relationships with higher up in your News Feed."
Will that explanation infiltrate the tin-foil hats of Facebook conspiracy theorists? Probably not, because definitely, with this update, users are going to see more posts from their closest connections - which, again, may well seem like Facebook's limiting reach.
In practice, more relevant updates in your feed, in theory, Facebook's implementing reach restrictions. I suspect the first point is more relevant for the company either way.
The second announced update relates to the quality of content in News Feeds, and demoting posts and links which users have said are not 'worth their time'.
Last month, Facebook published an update on the efforts it's making to improve the quality of the News Feed, and the relevance of the content people are shown on the platform. Part of that process involves user surveys, with Facebook asking its audience to note which updates they find most relevant and helpful.
"The answers will help us understand who wants to see more, or less, of different types of content."
The key point here is 'less' - Facebook can use this insight to determine not only what's more relevant, but to reduce the reach of less engaging, less fulfilling link posts. Which is what this new update is all about.
"Based on these surveys, we're updating News Feed to show people links we predict they will find worthwhile."
It's similar to how Facebook has sought to weed out clickbait and quizzes in the past - users may be enticed to click on these posts, but ultimately, they find them less engaging, and less satisfying overall. With clicks being a key News Feed signal, the algorithm would previously help boost these posts further, based on engagement, but this qualifer will see the system take into account the types of content that users have said are ultimately not engaging, despite those initial clicks.
For Pages, it underlines the importance of avoiding clickbait, and ensuring that you publish relevant, valuable content, with titles that match what's on offer in your related links.
According to Facebook, the update is not aimed at reducing the reach of Pages, but that will be the impact - Pages which regularly publish shallow clickbait will see their News Feed distribution reduced as a result. Which, really, is better for every other Page that doesn't publish such content, as there'll be less clutter in feeds, and more room for their updates.
But it could be another blow for publishers which have built their business exclusively on Facebook. You may recall that last year, Facebook-focused publisher Little Things, which shared simple, feel-good stories and updates, was forced to shut down after Facebook's 'friends and family' algorithm update.
Little Things had essentially worked with Facebook's algorithm to fuel its growth strategy, posting content that generated lots of shares, Reactions and comments. That content, outside of those metrics, was largely empty, and would likely be the type of material that users would say wasn't ultimately 'worth their time'. Publishers in the same boat could face more challenges as a result of this change.
On the opposite side, the update doesn't necessarily mean that Pages who don't publish these types of posts will see improved reach as a result - especially if Facebook gives more weight to posts from friends, as noted in the first point. But lessening the flow of spam, and the sharing of junk links, could help improve your opportunities to reach more people with your posts, as there'll be more space for other content.
As with all of Facebook's News Feed algorithm tweaks, there will be reach impacts, and it's important to note the changes, and to monitor any significant shifts in your analytics. Again, the Pages most likely to be impacted will be those posting light, shallow content - which, hopefully, doesn't apply to your business. But if you do see and significant reach dips, it may be worth re-assessing your approach.