Last year Facebook, the world’s biggest social networking platform made six big changes to its News Feed. From cutting back on hoaxes to focusing on user preferences to time spent on stories. Facebook has done a decent job in balancing user requirements and brand preferences. The message is clear: Facebook wants the News Feed to be more human and engaging so users spend maximum time on the network.
Earlier this month Facebook made a massive change to its News Feed again. Revealing in its blog, Software Engineers Cheng Zhang and Si Chen, wrote that historically Facebook’s News Feed has been considering actions like liking, clicking, commenting or sharing a post some of the main factors to determine what to show at the top of your News Feed. But these factors don’t always tell us the whole story of what is most meaningful to users.
To make the News Feed meaningful Facebook will now place emphasis on human assessments of what constitutes a “good” Facebook post, rather than depending on Like algorithms. Facebook is relying on the data it collects from in-Feed user surveys and feedback from its Feed Quality Panel.
Feed Quality Panel
It was early last year when Facebook announced that it is turning to humans to help improve News Feed. The social network built a team of people to give detailed feedback about their daily interactions with the News Feed, in an effort to learn more about people’s preferences.
Each person spends four hours a day on the desktop scrolling through and interacting with stories in their News Feed, clicking, sharing, commenting, liking, etc. They are then asked to answer eight questions about each story and write a paragraph explaining their feelings about the story.
This Jan, Facebook announced that it is now using human raters around the world, not just in the US. Known as the Feed Quality Panel, they are helping Facebook determine the probability that users would want to see the story at the top of their feed and the probability that user will like, comment on, click or share a story. “We will rank stories higher in feed which we think people might take action on, and which people might want to see near the top of their News Feed.”
It also goes without saying that these changes will affect brand pages.
“The impact of these changes on a story’s distribution will vary depending on the composition of your audience and your posting activity. In general this update should not impact reach or referral traffic meaningfully for the majority of Pages; however, some Pages may see some increases in referral traffic, and some Pages may see some declines in referral traffic.”
And this isn’t good news for digital agencies, especially those which are always struggling to cope with Facebook News Feed changes. “We all knew that eventually Facebook was going to be Pay to Play! And now more than ever, that belief is strongly advocated by the ‘supposed’ changes made by Facebook. Supporting that with user surveys is just their way of saying, “Hey Marketers, it’s not us, but your users who want this change,” added Rohan Mehta, CEO at Social Kinnect, a digital agency headquartered in Mumbai.
Marketers getting annoyed with frequent News Feed changes isn’t new but falling back to humans than algorithms had to happen. Google and Microsoft understood the need for human assistance to algorithms long back.
This new change also means that brands will have to focus on creating content that will interest people. “We will see user interest content growing up and brand interest content going down,” informed Preetham Venkky, Head of Digital Strategy & Business – KRDS Asia.
However, it wouldn’t be fair to say that brands haven’t been focusing on creating user interest content. In 2015 we have seen the aggressiveness for creative and real-time content. 2016 is already seeing the trend growing with love for GIFs.
The latest changes in News Feed also finds its roots in the recent feature Audience Optimization targeting publishers – an organic targeting tool to help publishers reach and engage their audiences on Facebook and better understand the interests of people clicking on their posts. This tool lets you improve the relevancy of your post by indicating who is most likely to engage with it, which can increase engagement at both the post and Page level.
The tool allows publishers to add interest tags to content to help Facebook connect people with the topics and subtopics that are most likely to engage them. “Rather than limit the audience that sees a post in News Feed, these tags prioritize, uniquely for each person, the topics that are most likely to interest them,” writes Peter Roybal, Product Manager.
Preferred audience is helping Facebook determine topics that people may like on the page. Preetham says due to this reason the new News Feed change will have a positive impact on media and publishing sites.
Entertainment publisher MTV, part of the beta testing, said the tags “did a great job at picking apart the massive entertainment audience and identifying which segments were most responsive to which kinds of stories.”
Good for Publishers
Lighthouse Insights spoke to Ritu Kapur, Co-Founder at The Quint, mobile first digital media publisher and she finds that the latest development is a genuine call. Ritu informed that specifically February has seen a positive growth in numbers for new content and video. “Publishers will have to see what content is working on Facebook at the same time they would need to introspect why certain content is not working. Facebook is a wide spectrum of audience and if it is reaching them and adding value to their interests it will create engagement.”
However, she made sure to mention 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.”
Rohan echoed similar thoughts by emphasizing that a brand’s digital strategy can’t revolve around just Facebook alone. “I don’t think it’d matter as much, as long as your overall strategy involves owned content, platforms and media, rather than just relying on Facebook.”
While it is always good not to be dependent on a single network, Facebook today has evolved from being just a distribution platform; today Facebook is the publisher and trying to be the equivalent of Internet (at least Mark Zuckerberg is dreaming of it.)
Good news for users and creators who are willing to cater to a user’s consumption behavior.