Change is coming once again to your Facebook feed, with the Meta-owned platform looking to switch up its approach in line with evolving media consumption behaviors.
According to an internal overview from Facebook App chief Tom Alison, which was obtained by The Verge, Meta’s looking to incorporate more AI-recommended content into Facebook feeds, based on overall engagement and popularity, not your personal connections. Which is similar to how TikTok sources content from a wider pool than your immediate network, while Facebook’s also working to streamline content sharing, by bringing more messaging tools back into the main interface.
As explained by Meta:
“The Home experience will balance both connected content and unconnected content. We’re working to clean up top-of-feed and make it just as easy to see Stories from friends as it is to discover new content in Reels. We’re also exploring a Community Panel to give direct access to the communities you care about most. Finally, we’re testing a product to give you predictable access to your connected Feed, with the ability to sort in chronological order and filter by Groups, Pages, and Friends. Internally we call this “Mr. T” and I’m excited about the progress the team is making.”
Which sounds interesting - but as Mr. T himself once said, ‘I pity the fool’ who pushes too hard on major product shifts, which could risk major elements of the core app experience.
The Verge provided its own overview of how the updated Facebook feed will work:
“The main tab will become a mix of Stories and Reels at the top, followed by posts its discovery engine recommends from across both Facebook and Instagram. It’ll be a more visual, video-heavy experience with clearer prompts to direct message friends a post. To make messaging even more prominent, Facebook is working on placing a user’s Messenger inbox at the top right of the app, undoing the infamous decision to separate the two apps eight years ago.”
The updated strategic shift is pretty much entirely influenced by TikTok, which continues to gain more usage momentum, to the detriment of Meta’s own apps. Those trends are now too significant too ignore – and it’s not just the focus on short-form video itself, it’s the broader habitual shifts that this causes, in terms of reduced attention spans, and new user habits, informed by TikTok’s compelling ‘For You’ feed.
If it wasn’t clear already that Meta’s doing all that it can to keep up with TikTok, it’s about to become a lot more obvious, based on the proposed changes to your main feed.
In his overview of strategic priorities for the app, Alison outlines the proposed shift towards AI-fueled content discovery, based on your interests, as opposed to what’s shared by your friends.
“Historically, Facebook has taken an entity-centric approach to discovery. We help you connect with the friends, groups, and pages you care about most, then updates from those connections are ranked in Feed. Unconnected content in Feed was surfaced via reshares from the friends, groups, and pages you follow, but unconnected recommendations weren’t historically a core part of the Feed experience. However we did invest heavily in unconnected content discovery on adjacent surfaces, i.e. through search queries or recommendations-first products like Watch, News, and Marketplace.”
The shift, which Alison describes as a ‘discovery engine’ approach, will aim to highlight more interesting content in the app, ‘regardless of whether it was produced by someone you’re connected to or not’.
Meta has already been making investments on this front, with Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg noting in its Q1 earnings call that:
“While we're experiencing an increase in short-form video, we're also seeing a major shift in feeds from being almost exclusively curated by your social graph or follow graph to now having more of your feed recommended by AI, even if the content wasn't posted by a friend or someone you follow. Social content from friends and people and businesses you follow will continue being a lot of the most valuable, engaging and differentiated content for our services, but now also being able to accurately recommend content from the whole universe that you don't follow directly unlocks a large amount of interesting and useful videos and posts that you might have otherwise missed.”
That follows TikTok’s lead in surfacing more content, which is a better experience for creators (who get more views) and users (who get access to a wider breadth of content), but it’s a fundamental shift away from Facebook’s long-standing key point of differentiation – that it has the biggest user base of any platform, by far, which is why it’s so valuable as a connection tool.
TikTok has upended this, and while platforms like Reddit have capitalized on crowd-sourced recommendations for a long time, TikTok’s algorithm has effectively systemized user interests, showing you more of what you like without you having to explicitly communicate such through following certain profiles and/or communities.
That essentially dilutes Facebook’s strength, and while the app remains a key connective tool, it’s now looking to evolve its systems in line with this new paradigm shift.
A key focus in this respect, of course, is Reels, which is Meta’s fastest growing content option.
Reels already makes up more than 20% of the time that people spend on Instagram, while video overall makes up 50% of the time that people spend on Facebook. And now, as per Alison’s outline, Facebook will look to lean into this even more.
“Today’s genre of public short-form video opens up new ways for people to create and discover content. While Facebook’s discovery engine is designed to support many different formats (text, photos, video, and eventually Metaverse experiences), our biggest gap today is around short-form video and that’s why we’re focused on integrating Reels in Home, Watch, In-Feed Recommendations, and Groups.”
In other words, expect a lot more Reels, in a lot more places, in Facebook’s apps.
If you don’t like short-form video, you’re now in the minority, and again, the habitual shifts that the rise of shorter content has caused means that all video platforms need to conform to these new consumption behaviors, or risk losing audience as a result.
This will require a significant change in approach from Meta, which, again, has thus far relied on providing content recommendations based on your explicit interest signals, i.e. the people, groups, and businesses that you’ve chosen to connect to in its apps.
The switch to algorithmic recommendations is far more risky, as getting it wrong can see engagement plummet fast. But getting it right, as TikTok has shown, can have major benefits.
Another core risk for Facebook, however, will be the amplification of more controversial, sensationalized content, which might perform well in algorithms, but might not be the most savory material to be showing to its 2.9 billion users.
This is also a problem on TikTok, with users regularly being shown, for example, highly sexualized videos of young creators, who are incentivized to post such for more likes and reach. In some ways, TikTok gets away with such, because of its focus on younger audiences, but you can bet that Facebook won’t receive the same leniency if it starts algorithmically amplifying questionable clips.
Putting more faith in the algorithms could end up being a major problem for Facebook in this respect, with the platform already viewed as a key hive for conspiracy theories and misinformation, largely due to the engagement that sensationalized content sees in the app.
Right now, Facebook’s able to argue that these types of posts are largely limited by personal sharing, but a more all-encompassing algorithm will change that dynamic, and see Facebook pushing these posts out to more users.
Is that a good approach for Facebook to take? Time will tell, but I’d be willing to bet that more problems and concerns will arise as a result.
On another front, Alison also notes that helping people realize economic opportunities is another strategic focus, with commerce remaining a key long-term for Meta and Facebook.
“It’s also strategic for Meta as more on-site commerce experiences help us mitigate the ads signal loss [and] it’s one of our major products that has good market fit with YA. We will continue investing in both organic and business-driven commerce products, and there is growing opportunity to integrate delightful commerce experiences into products like Groups, Live, and more as part of our effort to democratize economic opportunity on Facebook.”
In summary, more Reels, more product listings and more content from people you’re not connected to in the app.
It makes sense, when considering broader web engagement trends, but there are some big risks for Facebook within this, which could backfire on the app.