Breaking news has always been problematic for Facebook, with the flow of News Feed sharing, and the added technicalities of the News Feed algorithm, impeding real-time updates and making it difficult for users to stay up to date. Twitter’s generally the platform of choice for this type of content, but Facebook – which more than 45% of US users turn to for news content – has long been looking for ways to boost this type of usage, with its ‘Trending News’ module the most prominent of these.
But with Trending being dumped, Facebook’s now seeking another option – this week, The Social Network has outlined a new process which would enable users to follow a specific breaking news story, and get update notifications in their Facebook feed.
As explained by Facebook’s Head of News Products Alex Hardiman:
“Posts in News Feed are generally ranked according to their relevancy to each individual, not strictly by chronology or by how any given post relates to the other posts that appear beside it. So when a news story stretches across multiple days and multiple updates, people on Facebook can end up getting that story in scattered, potentially out-of-order bits and pieces.”
The problem is illustrated in the image below – while Facebook can help uncover breaking news content, particularly through the use of the platform’s new ‘Breaking News’ tag, it’s the latter part of this chart that’s difficult, helping users to stay on top of updates.
Facebook’s new test expands on the Breaking News tag by also enabling users to ‘follow’ specific updates:
“Each update appears as a new post in News Feed, but users who choose to follow the overall story — by clicking a button on any of the individual updates — receive a notification whenever new content is shared. That notification links to a page where people can view all of the related updates in chronological order.”
The new process is currently being tested with 14 publishers in the US, Australia, Canada, Great Britain and India, while Facebook notes that more than 100 publishers, in various regions, are already using the breaking news label.
If successful, the new option could help Facebook become a more relevant destination for news updates, which could also provide traffic benefits for publishers on Facebook. But then again, publishers are also growing increasingly wary of Facebook’s traffic flow – the platform’s major News Feed algorithm update announced earlier this year has reduced Page reach significantly, even (reportedly) putting some publishers out of business because their referral clicks have been cut.
That’s the constant ebb and flow of Facebook for publishers – on the one hand, 2.2 billion users is pretty much impossible to ignore, but Facebook can and will change its algorithm with little notice, cutting into traffic numbers and hurting overall performance.
But as highlighted here, Facebook does want publishers to keep posting, it is working to build relationships with publishers and other businesses to help them improve their Facebook performance, and keep them coming back to the platform. Which, of course, makes sense – Facebook needs active businesses to pay for ads – but every time they reduce Page reach, they also lose a little bit more trust, and push more brands towards their owned traffic options, like e-mail lists and subscriptions.
Of course, brands are always going to use Facebook. Even if organic reach was reduced to zero, the amount of usage and attention Facebook garners would still attract ad spend. But you’d think that providing more organic share, and maintaining a stable level of reach for Pages within the algorithm, could only work to Facebook’s benefit in maintaining brand relationships and luring further ad spend.
It’s hard to know how Facebook sees this, and what they might do next, but this test clearly shows that Facebook wants to facilitate more breaking news coverage, benefiting both publishers and users.