Content discovery is one of the key challenges faced by social platforms. While more and more material is being uploaded every day, users don’t necessarily have more time to consume it, which means that the platforms themselves have to work to build systems which highlight the best content to each individual user, in order to keep them engaged and on-platform for longer.
Facebook’s notorious algorithm is the best example of this – as Facebook continued to grow, and users made more and more connections, they needed a system that would sort the most relevant material from the mass of potential posts they could show - which, by extension, also gave Facebook a convenient way to motivate businesses to pay for exposure and ensure reach.
Instagram also now utilizes an algorithm, as does Twitter, as does LinkedIn – at some stage, every social network has to incorporate some form of sorting, and the better they’re able to uncover uniquely relevant material to each person, they better their longer-term business prospects (i.e. more time on platform = more exposure to ads).
But it’s not easy. Despite Facebook’s success with their algorithm, in terms of its ongoing growth, the company still faces challenges, as evidenced by their major algorithm re-think announced earlier this year.
Facebook knows that if engagement drops, users will drift - and they do not want to go the way of MySpace. That’s why the platform is so proactive in trying out new ways to keep users around for longer.
Their latest experiment on this front is a new ‘Posts from Across Facebook’ prompt which some users have seen appear mid news feed.
Once you scroll past this notification, a white bar remains along the top of the feed, which notifies you that you’re searching the top posts, relative to your interests, as opposed to Pages and people you follow.
The option is along similar lines to their alternate Explore Feed which they experimented with early this year, providing another way for Facebook to push more content into your feed.
But then again, it also runs counter to the platform’s wider News Feed focus – the aim of the News Feed changes was to prioritize content from friends and family, not random discovery of other content you might like.
This comes back to the difficulty of optimizing a feed – on one hand, people are more likely to engage with content from friends and family, while on the other, they’ll probably stick around longer if you can show them more relevant content, especially video.
Which provides the best long-term outcome for The Social Network? Which will users appreciate more?
Again, it’s not an exact science, hence the constant testing, but this latest experiment may give some hope to publishers than all is not lost in regards to Facebook reach. If the platform is still trying to highlight Page content within feeds, that shows they still need it, and it would provide new ways for businesses to gain exposure – if, of course, users respond positively.
Another recent prompt which has been coming up in Facebook Live videos is this:
Facebook’s very keen to promote more content sharing, and while variations of this type of push message have been around for a while, it’s interesting to see how overt Facebook is now being in terms of nudging users towards interaction.
This is not major, of course, the prompt comes by and moves on soon enough, but it does highlight the constantly shifting nature of Facebook, and that no one, even their engineering team, knows what will work best to incite more engagement.
As ever, Facebook remains a shifting landscape. On one hand, that further underlines the importance of limiting your reliance on the platform to build your brand, and connect with your audience. On the other, it also shows that brand content is still important to Facebook, and that those who can generate engagement through these evolving methods will be working to help the platform achieve its ultimate goals.
Something to think about as you plan out your social strategy.