It’s been on the cards for a while, and in Mark Zuckerberg’s New Year address
he committed himself to changing the way information was consumed on the platform to try and solve some of the problems Facebook has brought to the world in terms of a boundless ability to misinform.
And this year is off to a bang with a news-focused news feed patch, heavily deprioritizing page-posted content on user feeds. One that was potentially trialled-in-extreme earlier
and resulted in a 2/3 drop in reach for pages, and 4x fewer interactions. It is certainly looking to me like that kind of significant move rather than the tweaks that have been suggested year after year.
The news feed change will be just the start of a large shift in the product’s focus, and may have many further implications down the line, but publishers, especially those focused on large Facebook followings, are in for a shock as the change goes live over the year
But how can Facebook, which has built itself on being a sticky-engagement platform, measuring itself on likes, time sunk, and seconds watched, evolve into something that cares little about these facts so long as your likes are 'good likes’, your seconds 'quality seconds’.
Internally it seems quite easily: employees, from talks with BuzzFeed
, seem almost jubilant about the opportunity to stop courting news organisations as a traffic driver and get back to the product and problem at hand. The move to drive third-party content off the feeds of many users is also hoped to perhaps bring back some of the first-party sharing that Facebook has over the years lost to private, harder-to-monestise spaces like WhatsApp, iMessage and Instagram. And in terms of defining quality, the platform has been working for years to try to eliminate the power of click/engagement baiting content
Ultimately to me it seems that Facebook are quite serious in changing their product here: the news feed has languished with only minor changes for many years, and an overhaul is necessary to bring engagement back to the platform that it is losing to competitors (admittedly many of which is owns).
Though it will sting for media that are heavily reliant on traffic from their pages, that is ultimately all they ever had, and I hope those businesses will prioritize relationships with readers as a result. In the end this may help ensure the independence of organisations now too-reliant on tipping their hat to the Silicon Valley giants.
And on working our way through this, more businesses optimised on trust, veracity and human storytelling, especially those that resonate with local audiences, will succeed.