Last week Facebook announced that it had once again updated its News Feed algorithm, this time to prioritize our friends' profile posts over Page posts. What this means is that posts from Pages will be pushed further down on your News Feed, making it less likely you'll see them. This puts increased pressure on Page owners to get people to directly share their content (as it then comes from a friend) while it also boosts the incentive for Page owners to pay to promote their posts.
And while most of the coverage on this development has focused on the impact this will have on media outlets, virtually nothing has been written on the impact it'll have on political candidates and advocacy groups.
In response to my initial Facebook post about this change to the News Feed, a fellow traveler in the digital campaign world, Colin Delany of epolitics.com, suggested that the change would be small. But given that Facebook is the biggest driver of traffic for publishers, even a small drop translates into a lot of clicks, and for political candidates in tight races - which would include the Presidential contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump - a small drop in traffic could translate into a significant shift in voter support.
Remember, when it comes to presidential elections, it's the vote within each state that matters for the assignment of Electoral College votes. So in the ever-talked-about swing states, a small shift in the vote could spell doom for the final election results. And for congressional candidates in tight races, the problem is much the same - a slight shift could change the outcome of the election.
You might think that all the campaigners need to do is increase their Facebook ad spending, but the truth is electoral campaign budgets are set at the beginning of the process, and increasing spending on Facebook ads may simply not be possible mid-campaign.
For advocacy groups, while they generally have more budget flexibility, most don't have any extra budget to spend. And for the smaller groups (which are most of the advocacy groups), relying on direct sharing from their Page and website remains as big a challenge as it ever was.
Facebook's timing on changing its News Feed algorithm is problematic, not just because of the inflexible candidate budgets and the limited resources of small advocacy groups on the cusp of a national election. Facebook's come under increased scrutiny in respect to its ability to sway voter behavior. In 2012, Facebook ran an experiment which demonstrated its ability to persuade people to vote. Critics of this experiment noted that Facebook demonstrated its ability to selectively target which voters were shown Get Out the Vote (GOTV) triggers. That's a lot of power in the hands of a publicly unaccountable private corporation. More recently, Facebook has faced criticism over alleged filtering of conservative news media outlets out of users' News Feeds. Not surprisingly, these allegations threw gasoline on the fire with respect to criticism of Facebook's power and bias with respect to politics.
Given both the potential impact that even small changes to the News Feed algorithm can have on the election and advocacy groups - as well as the rising concern that Facebook is wielding a lot of, if not too much, sway in shaping America's political behavior - we should all take notice. And while Facebook has been talking with campaigns about the impact of the changes, it would still behoove The Social Network to publicly address the impact its News Feed changes will have on the elections and policy advocacy. All this said, in the end how well your Page does will depend on how good your content is and how well you engage your audience (both on your Page and on your website).