Back in November, Facebook started a new test of a ‘Breaking News’ tag for selected publishers, which enables them to highlight news as it’s happening with a red indicator in the News Feed.
After seeing initial success with the tags, Facebook’s now expanding the test to more than 50 additional publishers in North America, Latin America, Europe and Australia, with a view to adding more again if this broader roll-out proves successful.
It’s another reminder that while Facebook is actively reducing the reach of Page and publisher posts in the News Feed, in favor of person-to-person, ‘meaningful’ engagement, the platform still needs publishers, and their content – though the controversy surrounding the misuse of their platform during the 2016 US Presidential Election has forced them to re-assess the role they play in the broader information chain.
As explained by Facebook:
“Publishers in the test will be able to label Instant Articles, mobile and web links, and Facebook Live as breaking news. They can use the indicator once a day, setting how long the story is marked as breaking for (up to 6 hours). Publishers also have an extra pool of 5 indicators per month. The posts will appear in News Feed and there will be information in Page Insights so that publishers can track how their tagged posts perform. Readers will also be able to provide feedback when they don’t consider a story to be breaking news by clicking in the top-right drop-down menu of a post - this feedback will help us improve the way we show breaking news.”
Facebook also notes that while the chosen posts will feature the prominent ‘Breaking’ tag, the tag itself will have no direct impact on a post’s News Feed ranking, though that is something they’re considering in future.
So how does Facebook define success with their initial test of the ‘Breaking’ tag?
According to their data, Facebook says that people have engaged more often with posts that are labeled as breaking news, including a 4% lift in clickthrough rate, a 7% lift in Likes and an 11% lift in Shares. They’ve also seen a 4% lift in Comments, which, given their focus on engagement, could be the most important metric of the four – though it’s difficult to say exactly how Facebook measures ‘meaningful engagement’ at this stage, particularly considering they, apparently, don’t know themselves.
But they have more provided insight on this front – this week, on Twitter, Facebook’s head of News Feed Adam Mosseri responded to a question about their definition of meaningful content:
In general friend content gets more interactions per view than public content, which is why there is overall downward pressure on publisher content. For publishers interested in reach I think exploring different ways of generating conversations would be interesting.— Adam Mosseri (@mosseri) March 5, 2018
And for news publishers we're focused on the ideas of trustworthy, local and informative news. Not all of these apply to every publisher, but to the extent they do it would be good to think through what that might mean for your publication.— Adam Mosseri (@mosseri) March 5, 2018
That description still seems a little cryptic, and subjective, but still, it provides some insight into Facebook’s thinking around this aspect, and how they’re approaching the changes to the News Feed.
For the majority of Pages, the expansion of the ‘Breaking ‘ tag will have little impact – though it will be interesting to note how it’s used, and whether Facebook actually does move to eventually give those posts tagged as ‘Breaking’ a News Feed boost. If Facebook finds that those posts are generating more engagement, as the news happens, that could mean they give them increased focus, which could mean less room in News Feeds for other Page content, further limiting reach.
But even for Pages that are not included in the test, the above advice from Mosseri is worth noting – Facebook is looking to spark conversations, which should be a key focus for all Pages looking to best manage reach declines.