Here’s one that’s sure to raise the blood pressure of social media managers everywhere – Facebook is experimenting with a new, alternate News Feed set up which would remove all direct Page posts from the main News Feed and shift them across to the newly expanded ‘Explore Feed’, which would likely make it harder than ever for Pages to generate reach.
The above is a screenshot from Facebook’s expanded ‘Explore Feed’ in Slovakia – note the difference in language in the two descriptions.
Thus far, the experiments we’ve seen with the Explore feed have been interesting, but not overly engaging – the Explore Feed available in most Facebook feeds showcases posts from Pages which are similar to the ones you follow, giving Facebook another opportunity to highlight potentially relevant content.
This new experiment – which is running in Slovakia, Sri Lanka, Serbia, Bolivia, Guatemala and Cambodia – takes a far more disruptive approach. As you can see from the description, the Explore Feed in these regions now includes posts from Pages you follow – while Pages posts are also, as noted, removed entirely from the main News Feed, leaving it as only content from your personal profile connections.
Facebook have confirmed the test in a post by News Feed chief Adam Mosseri:
“People tell us they want an easier way to see posts from friends and family. We are testing having one dedicated space for people to keep up with their friends and family, and another separate space, called Explore, with posts from pages.”
Mosseri also notes that they have no plans to expand this test any further at this stage.
But still, if Facebook were to find the results of these tests positive, the potential impact for brands could be significant.
“Pages are seeing dramatic drops in organic reach – [the] sixty biggest Slovak media pages have 4 times fewer interactions (likes, comments, shares) since the test. It looks like the effect in Guatemala and Cambodia is the same.”
With the Explore Feed being an alternate section of the app - which users have to not only be aware of in the first place, but also click through to – exposure to Page content is taking a hit.
Of course, Facebook could change their approach on this, they could look to better promote the Explore Tab or even add it to the bottom function bar of the app, as they’ve tested previously.
But even then, if this change were to be rolled out to all users, Pages would likely see a significant drop in organic reach.
And ‘organic’ is the operative word here – while direct Page posts are eliminated from the main News Feed as part of this experiment, ads are not. Essentially, this could definitively take Facebook to a ‘pay-to-play’ model to maximize exposure.
In some ways this is no surprise – Facebook Page reach has been dropping for years, and the end game seemed to be that Pages would one day see zero organic reach, forcing them to pay to connect with Facebook’s audience.
But on the other hand, it seems like a risky move for Facebook.
While, on the surface, it looks like it could become a key revenue driver for The Social Network, it may also see broader investment in Facebook decline, as more businesses look to alternatives, rather than building any reliance on Facebook’s ever-shifting field of play. Sure, Facebook would argue that they’re only working with user trends, and users want to see more posts from their friends and family, not brands, but a significant portion of people follow Facebook Pages for a reason, they do want to see Page content in their main feed.
If Facebook were to pull the rug out from under brands again, you can bet that more of them will scale back their Facebook investment, which could, in the long run, mean Facebook actually sees less ad revenue - because if businesses aren’t building any reliance on Facebook traffic in the first place, they’ll likely be less inclined to spend money on ads.
But then again, at Facebook’s scale, maybe they make the rules - maybe, with more than 2 billion users, brands will pay whatever Facebook asks for exposure, and if they promoted the Explore Feed a bit better, they could still provide a steady stream of organic traffic. Maybe that’s all they need to stick with it.
The change could also, as noted by BuzzFeed’s Alex Kantrowitz, put more reliance on shared links, as opposed to direct Page posts, which, again, would underline the need to understand your audience and create content that appeals to them. While direct Page posts would be relegated to the secondary feed, shares would likely still remain, which could mean that the content that is shared generated more discussion (Facebook's aim) and only those that see limited interaction don't make the main stage.
Either way, it’s very early days with this experiment, and it doesn’t seem, at this stage, like something that’s likely to get a full rollout. But the data will tell the tale. If engagement goes up in these six test nations, Facebook will look to broaden the test.
It might not be the end of organic reach as some are proclaiming, but it may be another prompt to consider your strategy, and where the majority of your referral traffic is coming from.
In other news, Facebook’s also testing out some new, keyword-triggered animations.
So Facebook giveth and Facebook taketh away, I guess.