Facebook Updates News Feed Algorithm to Focus on Authentic and Timely Content
Just when you think you're working it out, they switch things up again.
Today's update focuses on giving more precedence to "authentic and timely stories", which is aligned with Facebook's wider efforts to combat the spread of fake news, the first measures of which they outlined last month.
Here are the new factors that their adding to the News Feed calculations, and an overview of their potential impacts.
"New Signals to Identify Authentic Content"
As explained by Facebook:
"One of our News Feed Values is authentic communication. We've heard from our community that authentic stories are the ones that resonate most - those that people consider genuine and not misleading, sensational or spammy."
To help ensure they're showing more authentic content, Facebook's adding new signals into the algorithm to help determine the authenticity of each post.
The qualifiers they're using here are based on existing spam behavior - Facebook first identified a list of Pages that regularly post spam or seek to game the algorithm by asking for Likes, comments or shares. They then used the posts from these Pages as the training data for a new model which can better identify the key traits of such posts, helping to weed out inauthentic content.
"For example, if Page posts are often being hidden by people reading them, that's a signal that it might not be authentic."
This is one of the signals Facebook is using, but there's no doubt many more which they're not likely to communicate (as detailing how they detect spam will only help spammers avoid the restrictions).
With this in place, Facebook will be able to better identify spam or "inauthentic" posts and reduce their reach in the News Feed.
"Updates to Real-Time Signals"
Facebook's also looking to put more emphasis on timeliness, with an update to the algorithm which will boost the exposure of content which is gaining a lot of attention in a short amount of time.
"With today's update, we will now take into account how signals change in real time. So now if there is a lot of engagement from many people on Facebook about a topic, or if a post from a Page is getting a lot of engagement, we can understand in real-time that the topic or Page post might be temporarily more important to you, so we should show that content higher in your feed."
The change has two potential impacts.
The first is on real-time news - Facebook could now look to boost real-time coverage in order to generate more discussion and exposure on the platform. This could be particularly important for live news - and live video programming, which Facebook is also looking to make a focus.
The change could also benefit live video more broadly, as those posts have the most potential to generate a lot of comments and responses in real-time. That said, the update does cover all post types, and notes posts from Pages specifically.
The change could also help Facebook take on Twitter as a real-time news source - if Facebook can highlight trending content to more people faster, their breadth of coverage (through sheer network size) could help boost active sharing and engagement around that event.
And an interesting note here - as we recently reported, five of the top 10 Facebook Live streams of 2016 were static graphics, with the real value of those posts coming in the comments and surrounding discussion. It wasn't so much the video that was of interest to these "viewers", but the fact that people knew that the comments stream was also live and that they could interact about the topic in real time. This was likely part of the impetus behind this update.
In addition, the emphasis on velocity could also prompt more Pages to pay to boost posts quickly in order to tap into that engagement and get an additional organic boost, though hard to say how much of an impact this might have till we've seen it in action.
Facebook notes that they expect the impact of these changes to be minor:
"We anticipate that most Pages won't see any significant changes to their distribution in News Feed. Some Pages might see a small increase in referral traffic or outbound clicks, and some Pages might see minor decreases. Pages should continue to post stories that are relevant to their audiences."
In terms of the first element, the change once again puts more emphasis on genuine engagement - if you're still asking for Likes, comments and shares, that's likely not going to help you.
While Facebook hasn't spelled out every measure they're using to identify inauthentic posts, it's pretty safe to assume that the use of terms and language directly calling for engagement are going to trigger the detection algorithm and potentially reduce your reach - it might still work for you, but worth considering the possible impacts of this approach.
On the second element, the push for more real-time content, and the emphasis on discussion, looks mostly aligned with boosting news content, but it could also extend to live videos which are generate a lot of engagement, and posts that see a big uptick in attention quickly, like breaking news coverage. Facebook's note of the content being "temporarily more important" seems to lend more credence to Live content, which they can place higher in your News Feed as it's happening, then reduce the reach back to normal once the broadcast has finished.
More things to consider, more elements to test. While the impacts may be minimal, with only so much News Feed real estate to go around, any change has the potential for considerable impact.
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