Social media managers rejoice – Facebook has announced that it’s ending its controversial ‘Explore Feed’ experiment which saw them introduce a separate News Feed for Page and publisher content in several countries.
As explained by Facebook’s News Feed chief Adam Mosseri:
“We constantly try out new features, design changes and ranking updates to understand how we can make Facebook better for everyone. Some of these changes - like Reactions, Live Video, and GIFs - work well and go on to become globally available. Others don’t and we drop them. Today, we’re ending one of those tests: the Explore Feed.”
Mosseri says the Explore feed experiment – which was tested in Slovakia, Sri Lanka, Serbia, Bolivia, Guatemala and Cambodia – was a response to consistent feedback they’ve received from users saying that they want to see more from friends and family in the News Feed.
But splitting Page content into a separate feed, as it turns out, is not the answer:
“In surveys, people told us they were less satisfied with the posts they were seeing, and having two separate feeds didn’t actually help them connect more with friends and family. We also received feedback that we made it harder for people in the test countries to access important information.”
That second point is particularly interesting – according to Pew Research, 67% of Americans report that they now get at least some of their news content on social media, with Facebook “outstripping all other social media sites as a source of news”.
By splitting out that content, that could actually leave people less informed – essentially, Facebook’s ubiquity has lead to a reliance on the platform for a range of content, including news. Changing that could have significant impacts, which may outweigh the benefits of increased engagement alone.
As you’d expect, the Explore feed experiment had significant impacts for publishers in the test regions.
According to Filip Struhárik, a writer for Slovakian publication Dennik N, their Facebook traffic decreased by around 9% across November and December (the test began in late October), while traffic to some other (mostly smaller) sites fell by “tens of percentage points” after the Explore Feed test started.
The initial announcement of the Explore Feed test sparked a wave of concern among social media managers, which Facebook sought to quell by clarifying they had no plans to roll it out any further – which has now been officially underlined. But Facebook has, of course, announced their ‘Closer Together’ News Feed update, which will put more emphasis on person-to-person engagement, over person-to-Page. That’s similar to the Explore Feed approach anyway, though in a much more watered down way.
In essence, the move to cancel the Explore Feed experiment will have little impact on those outside of the test regions, other than in a re-assuring sense. Page managers will still have to contend with Facebook’s broader News Feed shift, which will reduce Page reach, but it does mean that Facebook now knows that users do want Page and publisher content in their feeds, at least in some capacity. That likely means we won’t be reaching the dreaded ‘Facebook Zero’ – no Page reach at all without paying for it – anytime soon.
This actually reinforces the theory that the way people use Facebook has changed. While Facebook may want to increase interpersonal engagement, more people now conduct such interactions in more private social settings, like within messaging apps.
Given this, Facebook may now be more of a home for passive sharing - catching up with the latest videos shared by friends, photos from vacations, etc. So while, as Facebook has noted, passive consumption on social may be bad for us, that also could be what Facebook now is. They can work to change this, of course, as they are by re-jigging the algorithm, but there’s no guarantee that will work. Maybe, Facebook needs publisher and Page content more than they think.
Really, the move to shut down the Explore Feed test merely lessens the threat of Facebook further restricting reach, though any change on this front will still be keenly felt. Facebook’s still going to try things out, Pages will still be at their mercy – over-reliance on Facebook will remain a risky proposition.
The whole test in itself serves as a reminder of the need to diversify your digital marketing efforts - and that remains truer than ever in the current state.