Today morning, I was on a call with a well-known online publisher who is changing his business model from banner advertising to native. “Thanks to Facebook, in the last few months our page views have gone down dramatically. Whether it be the frequent News Feed change or the push to join the Facebook’s walled garden approach, life is tough for publishers. Making money from advertising only is no more a good option.”
A little before the call I came across a blog post – “Building a better News Feed for you” written by Facebook’s News Feed Product Manager Adam Mosseri. The summary of the entire piece: Facebook is again tweaking the News Feed, favoring family and friends over publishers. A mighty blow for publishers especially the small and medium ones who rely majorly on Facebook for traffic.
It isn’t the first time that Facebook has tweaked the News Feed and it certainly won’t be the last. Earlier in April, Facebook made a major News Feed change with the intention of stopping click bait stories and giving preference to interactive and in-depth stories (Read: Clickbait Publishers, Your Time Is Almost Over On Facebook). The move was applauded by the industry as it did in February when the social network gave preference to brands and publishers who create user interest content (Read: Facebook’s Latest News Feed Change Is All About User Interest Content).
What is the latest News Feed change all about?
According to Facebook, the social network was built on the idea of connecting people with their friends and family. This core mission is the driving principle of the News Feed today.
“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. To help make sure you don’t miss the friends and family posts you are likely to care about, we put those posts toward the top of your News Feed.”
This isn’t the first time Facebook is giving preference to user content on News Feed. But the latest change going by Facebook’s own acceptance, will impact pages. “Overall, we anticipate that this update may cause reach and referral traffic to decline for some Pages.”
Why is Facebook doing it?
But why is Facebook becoming a nightmare for small and medium publishers?
The answer lies in a recent report from The Information and Bloomberg, writes Tech Insider. “Facebook started as a place for people to share personal moments from their lives, like engagements and baby photos. But now Facebook is seeing people share fewer personal posts with friends.”
More than a billion people on Facebook are starting to use it differently — namely for sharing videos and web links. “As of earlier this year what Facebook internally calls “original broadcast sharing” had declined by 15% from the year before,” according to data obtained by The Information.
The drop may not be huge but it fails to tie up with Facebook’s core mission. This also means that users are sharing such content somewhere else such as on messaging apps like Snapchat. Understandably, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg isn’t happy with such growing trends.
In fact, if sources are to be believed, Facebook’s subtle change to one of its Like buttons have come up due to the fact that people are sharing less on Facebook.
The sufferers – Small and Medium publishers
The latest News Feed change will affect publishers who have solely depended on Facebook’s referral traffic. Rob Toledo, editor, and co-founder of Exstreamist.com, a site about streaming services that gets roughly 500,000 monthly page views, has already started looking to other platforms like Twitter because his site’s Facebook page is not adding to his audience in a significant way.
Still, Rob said to The New York Times, the algorithm change was frustrating and could have the number of Facebook users his site reached. “It’s almost not worth it for small publishers.”
In an earlier interaction, Ritu Kapur, Co-Founder at The Quint, mobile first digital media publisher had stressed the fact that Facebook should not be and cannot be the main driver of your traffic.
“It is one more distribution platform and has been a great enabler helping our brand to get out there but after a while it is the users who choose your product or not. Initially Facebook was the biggest traffic driver, today it is the direct traffic.”
However, Facebook states that it will give a user’s friends and family more control over which Page posts appear in the News Feed. But if you think over it is a bit of a chicken and egg problem for small publishers as rightly pointed by Marketing Land. “If people aren’t already sharing a Page’s posts en masse, how’s that Page supposed to get their newly more shareable posts in front of people in the first place?”
Additionally, Digiday states that the latest news feed change would seem to give less priority to meat-and-potatoes, inverted pyramid-style news. That doesn’t mean all news is doomed but run-of-the-mill news bulletins and updates are less likely to make the cut.
And who are still safe
Facebook states that if a lot of users are sharing a publisher’s Facebook posts with their friends and those friends like or comment on it a lot, then that Page shouldn’t see its organic reach going down that much. “We encourage Pages to post things that their audience are likely to share with their friends.”
Consequently, publishers are investing their time and effort in creating videos along with live videos. Earlier Facebook had tweaked the News Feed to give preference to videos and it even began paying large publishers and content creators to create videos on the platform. According to Wall Street Journal, the social networking giant has signed as many as 140 contracts worth a total of $50 million.
And finally, publishers who have joined Facebook’s Instant Articles program obviously need not worry.
Nonetheless, by Facebook’s own admission, we will see more changes in the near future. “We view our work as only 1 percent finished — and are dedicated to improving along the way.”
To put it bluntly, publishers (small and medium ones) should be ready to swallow the bitter pill that “organic reach is dead” as it has been the case for brands. At a time when Facebook wants to be the publisher itself, it makes no business sense why the social network will still allow referral traffic.