Facebook has today unloaded a heap of information about the priorities that drive the development of their News Feed algorithm, and all of it is highly relevant info for anyone who's trying to work with the system and establish best practices to maximize their performance on the platform.
First off, Facebook has announced a News Feed ranking update - and a significant one at that.
In response to user concerns that they're missing stories from friends, Facebook's changing the News Feed algorithm to prioritize update from your friends and family above those from Pages and publishers.
"Our top priority is keeping you connected to the people, places and things you want to be connected to - starting with the people you are friends with on Facebook. That's why today, we're announcing an upcoming change to News Feed ranking to help make sure you don't miss stories from your friends."
This change will likely impact Page reach - as noted by Facebook:
"...we anticipate that this update may cause reach and referral traffic to decline for some Pages. The specific impact on your Page's distribution and other metrics may vary depending on the composition of your audience. For example, if a lot of your referral traffic is the result of people sharing your content and their friends liking and commenting on it, there will be less of an impact than if the majority of your traffic comes directly through Page posts. We encourage Pages to post things that their audience are likely to share with their friends."
Basically, if your posts are not generating Likes, comments and shares, this update will impact you.
How much? According to Facebook's VP of Product Management for News Feed Adam Mosseri:
"I'd expect reach for publishers to go down a small amount but a noticeable amount"
Though, of course, "small" in this context is relative - even the slightest decline can cause a major impact for businesses that are now reliant on Facebook referrals. And there's a lot of Page owners in that boat.
According to data from Parse.ly, Facebook is now the biggest driver of referral traffic for publishers, just beating out Google and dominating everyone else.
As such, any change to the News Feed is significant, and any "small" reduction will have an impact.
That report looked at the performance of 3,000 Pages, while there are more than 50 million active business Pages on the platform, so those numbers are not all-inclusive. But the fact remains that many Pages had already been suffering reach declines before this update, and that's not likely to improve with personal posts being given more priority.
And while Facebook notes that this change is in response to user feedback, you can't help but wonder whether recent reports of a decline in personal sharing on the network have also played a part in this decision.
According to data published by The Information, overall sharing on Facebook fell 5.5% between mid-2014 and mid-2015, with sharing of personal posts - people's own thoughts and photos - falling 21% during that period. That's a big problem for Zuck and Co because their advertising network is built on the back of personal data, all those updates and interactions help Facebook learn more about you and your interests, insights they can then use to better target you with relevant ads and content. If that data flow slows - or worse, shifts to another network (like Snapchat) - Facebook could eventually lose ground.
This is particularly relevant in case of Snapchat - Facebook's clearly concerned that the decline in personal sharing is as a result of users conducting that share activity over on the ephemeral content app instead, as evidenced by a recent survey shown to some users which included questions about their behaviors relating to personal updates.
Essentially, Facebook needs you to keep sharing personal updates on the platform and this latest News Feed update could be geared towards that - though at the same time, Facebook's going to more effort to explain their changes and provide more transparency on how they do things.
On this front, Facebook's also released a new "News Feed Values" document which outlines the driving logic behind their decisions as to how they refine and improve the News Feed algorithm.
According to Facebook:
"We often make improvements to News Feed, and when we do, we rely on a set of core values. These values - which we've been using for years - guide our thinking, and help us keep the central experience of News Feed intact as it evolves. In our continued efforts to be transparent about how we think about News Feed, we want to share those values with you."
(An extract from Facebook's News Feed Values document)
That emphasis on transparency is likely a response to the recent Trending Topics controversy, where Facebook was accused of political and anti-competitive bias in how they presented news to users. In order to avoid such concerns in future, Facebook's working to implement more measures to explain their logic.
So what are Facebook's News Feed Values?
- Family and Friends Come First - As with today's update, Facebook wants to connect people with the news and information they value the highest, which is most commonly updates from family and friends. The more they can show you want you want to see, the more time you'll spend on Facebook, which is the platform's ultimate goal.
- A Platform for All Ideas - As clearly stated by Facebook: "We are not in the business of picking which issues the world should read about." Facebook's not interested in favoring specific sources or ideas, they want to show each individual the content they care most about - because when people see the content they care about, they'll spend more time on Facebook. This is also why it wouldn't be in Facebook's interests to eliminate Page reach entirely as many users do want to see updates and content from Pages.
- Authentic Communication - This element is essentially the "anti-spam" component. "We work to understand what kinds of stories people find misleading, sensational and spammy, to make sure people see those less".
- You Control Your Experience - Facebook notes that they're always looking to provide improved user controls for each person's on-platform experience, as well as additional education and prompts as to how users can influence what they see in their feeds. "For example, if you hide a story from someone, that signals that you're less interested in hearing from that person in the future." Over time, users are becoming more accustomed to such actions and the controls they have, and those tools play a big part in how content is shown to you.
- Constant Iteration - And the last element outlines Facebook's commitment to the ongoing evolution of their algorithm. When Facebook started out with News Feed, there's no way they could have anticipated the scale at which they'd be operating, and over time they need to constantly upgrade and evolve their systems to accommodate changing behaviors and expectations.
If you're looking to get a better handle on how News Feed works, this presentation by Adam Mosseri at Facebook's most recent F8 conference is essential viewing.
In this, Mosseri outlines all the key drivers of News Feed and how the system works. And while many speculate that Facebook's core logic is to keep squeezing organic reach in order to force brands to have to "pay to play" on the platform, the base logic of the News Feed actually makes perfect sense - people come to Facebook to see the updates they're most interested in, which, more than likely, are going to come from family and friends. As such, it's a given that those updates are going to get priority over Pages.
Of course, the fact that Page reach declines as a result has obvious additional benefits for Facebook, but in the end, if Facebook wasn't providing the experience that users wanted, they wouldn't come back to the platform. And as noted in the latest stats, they are coming back - each user now spends 50 minutes per day, on average, across Facebook, Instagram and Messenger, up from the 46 minutes per day on average reported back in July 2015, and the 40 minutes per day reported exactly a year before that.
And that's alongside the consistent growth in active users.
Whether you like it or not, Facebook's clearly doing something right, and the News Feed is a core element of that ongoing success.
Unfortunately, this may mean you'll see a decline in your Page reach. In order to combat this, brands could consider influencer marketing strategies and campaigns aimed at generating more word-of-mouth, as personal sharing will be more influential than direct clicks in the new system. You could also look to interact more in your Page comments as a means of generating more discussion on the platform.
But as always, it will require adjustment and testing.
We'll be working to keep you updated on the latest tools and trends to help reduce the impacts and maximize your Facebook Page performance.